The Super Sunday matchup between Manchester United and Liverpool turned into a disappointing farce through the unprofessional conduct of two men—Steve Bennett and Javier Mascherano.
One of the more outrageous rumours I've heard in the aftermath of this fiasco is that the EPL instructed Bennett to ensure a Manchester United victory.
It is not clear why the league would want this when a win by Liverpool would have tightened up the title race and generated greater interest.
It is equally unclear why Bennett was in charge of what was arguably the most important single match of the campaign after his part in the Cole incident earlier in the week.
Keith Hackett, the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board stated, "It was unfortunate that Steve Bennett didn't come in to say to Mike Riley that it was a red. I'm waiting to discover why the two of them didn't have the trust in each other to come to the right decision."
Why give him this assignment immediately after questioning his competence?
Bennett openly favored United and seemed to be deliberately antagonizing the Liverpool players. This behaviour is consistent with his headline-hunting history. It is likely he began the game hoping to strike the first blow in the battle against players questioning officials.
Mascherano seemed all too willing to take the bait. After receiving a yellow card for a poor tackle, he lacked the self-discipline necessary to carry on in the game. His claim that he simply asked what was happening was belied by his body language and facial expressions. It is possible he said nothing untoward to Bennett but his actions sent a very different message to all who watched.
After being sent off, Mascherano's antics were inexcusable.
Was the game in question fixed? Probably not.
Does the game in general need fixing? Absolutely.
The players need to show the referees more respect and the league needs to provide the players with officials who are worthy of respect.
Certainly, neither happened on Sunday.