Manchester United visited Liverpool on Saturday hoping for their first League win at Anfield since the 2007-2008 season. Thanks in large part to two huge calls made by referee, Mark Halsey, United succeeded in their quest with a 2-1 victory over the Reds.
One never likes to make the officiating the centerpiece of the story, but in this case it is hard not to when the referee chooses to make himself the centerpiece of the story.
In the 39th minute Halsey showed Jonjo Shelvey a straight red card following a tackle on United’s Johnny Evans. Replays and photographs show that both players went into the tackle fully committed. Evans may have gotten to the ball a hair early, but did so with a two-footed, studs up tackle.
Shelvey for his part also went in studs up, in what many would objectively regard as a yellow card tackle. Certainly, if red were to be shown it should have been on both players, but that was not to be.
Still, Liverpool showed heart in not only taking the clean sheet to the half, but by coming out of the locker room with the same dogged determination they showed throughout the first half.
Steven Gerrard latched onto a pass from Glen Johnson in the United box and slotted home past a flailing Anders Lindergaard in the United goal to put the home team up 1-0 in the 46th minute.
Six minutes later United right back, Rafael da Silva equalized with a beautiful curler off the inside of Pepe Reina’s far post, and United seemed to be on the front foot.
Liverpool kept heart however, and continued to create chances for themselves by playing Rodgers’ preferred style of short crisp passes, staying true to their game despite the man disadvantage.
The match was undone through a combination of insidious play by Antonio Valencia, and hapless officiating by Halsey. Liverpool substitute Suso misplayed a ball meant for Daniel Agger in midfield, allowing Valencia to pounce and go in on goal.
Agger collided with a team mate in trying to win the ball back, allowing Valencia to spring free before a hustling Glen Johnson tracked him down in the Liverpool box. Halsey ruled that the Liverpool player fouled Valencia on the challenge, and did not hesitate in pointing to the spot.
After a four and a half minute delay for treatment to Agger, Robin Van Persie stepped up to the spot in the 81st minute and slotted home despite a game attempt by Liverpool custodian, Pepe Reina to send the visiting fans into a state of ecstasy, and home supporters into despair.
It was a controversial finish to a highly charged affair, on a day which saw tributes paid by both teams to the memory of the Hillsborough victims. Sadly, the moment proved too big for the referee as he put in a performance that failed to match the occasion.
It seems almost an afterthought to rate the players, but as always, ratings are presented by position (back-to-front) below, along the following guidelines:
10: Exceptional—superlative performances only.
9: Excellent—outstanding performance.
8: Impressive—very influential game.
7: Very good—eye-catching game.
6: Average—good game, but nothing overly impressive.
5: Below Average—decent performance, but with some faults.
4: Poor—many faults, performance stands out for all the wrong reasons.
Additionally, any performance that affects the outcome of the game will increase or decrease a player’s rating by half a point (.5).
Reina— had a decent game in goal, something of a relief to Liverpool supporters used to seeing better Could not have done anything with Rafael’s goal, and did well enough to get a hand on Van Persie’s penalty shot. Grade 6.5
Martin Kelly — with José Enrique apparently playing his way onto the bench midweek, Glen Johnson was again shifted to left back and Kelly inserted into the right back role. It was commitment he brings to the defense. Grade 7
Daniel Agger (Jamie Carragher, 80th)— had a relatively quiet game in central defense for Liverpool. Made the occasional run from the back, drawing a foul for a free kick early in the game. Collided with a team mate on the Valencia challenge and had to be stretchered off with a shin injury. Grade 6.5
Martin Skrtel— Skrtel had a quietly impressive performance on the day, made easier by the work of the Liverpool midfield. Grade 6.5
Glen Johnson— Johnson was superb once more in the left back role. The dubious penalty decision aside he did not put a foot wrong the entire game, intercepting balls, defensive headers, supporting the attack. Grade 7
Joe Allen— had another quietly superb game in midfield. Liverpool’s dominance on the ball was largely the result of them working the offense through Allen. 63 percent possession by Liverpool in the first half dwindled to 52 percent at the end, but that they finished by dominating possession at all was largely the product of Allen’s industry. Grade 7
Steven Gerrard— Gerrard was simply fantastic. The rest at midweek paid dividends as he seemed possessed of boundless energy, tracking back deep, intercepting at midfield and attacking with seeming abandon. Well-taken, well-placed shot on goal to open his season account. Grade 8
Jonjo Shelvey (Red card, 39th)— the England U-21 continues to improve all-round as a player, but has shown a disturbing penchant for the odd reckless challenge. Although the red card was harsh, it was always a dangerous tackle, one in several dodgy challenges put in by Shelvey on the day. Grade 5
Fabio Borini (Suso 45th) —another in a series of frustratingly pedestrian performances by the Italian. Very little else needs be said. Grade 6
Raheem Sterling (Jordan Henderson, 66th)— Another fine performance by the young winger, as he tormented United right back, Patrice Evra, until being subbed out in the second half. Johnson has been excellent early, intercepting balls, defensive headers, supporting the attack. Good understanding early with Suárez. Grade 8
Luis Suárez — had a brilliant game notwithstanding the circumstances. His interplay with Sterling created a number of early opportunities, even if his finishing continued to desert him. Grade 8
Suso — had an immediate impact on the game after coming on for Borini at the half. His exchange with Johnson resulted in the Gerrard opportunity and goal. Did give away the ball cheaply leading to the Valencia penalty, but otherwise had a very impressive 45 minutes. Grade 7
Jordan Henderson — had a good game off the bench, particularly effective in playing within his role of shoring up the defensive midfield with Liverpool down a man. Grade 6.5
Jamie Carragher — had a good game in limited minutes, wasn’t really asked to do much, but when called upon did well to intercept a pass or two. Grade 6
Brad Jones, Nuri Sahin, Oussama Assaidi, José Enrique