By the end of next weekend Liverpool will have played FOUR Big Six fixtures. FOUR! (Assuming that you can still count Man United, although as they’ve spent more than anyone else, they still have that obscene financial might.) Man City will have played ONE.
(Liverpool have also played Leicester, currently sitting third in the table, as the best of the non-Big Six clubs.)
Liverpool have had all these difficult fixtures thrown into the mix with the Champions League group stages (along with the European Super Cup on the edge of Asia), while Man City get to wait until December, when everyone else has tons of games to play too. Liverpool have done amazingly well to be this far ahead of City with the piss-easy fixtures City have had.
Add Martin Atkinson into the mix, and Liverpool still have a six point lead at the top of the table despite the far trickier games, and if you wanted evidence of a ref being as biased as fuck this was it.
Martin Atkinson gave Liverpool absolutely nothing in the Man United half for the first hour, despite “United players flying into tackles” as they noted on Sky (often from behind), and the joker in black conveniently ignored a clear kick on Divock Origi’s shins (the slow-mo replay shows the boot going into his leg), just as he ignored fouls from behind on Origi and Sadio Mané earlier in the half. But as VAR won’t overturn even clear contact decisions it was a waste of time. Even Gary Neville could see it was a clear foul on Origi. If Gary Neville is less biased than the referee you know you’re fucked.
But never mind that the technology can show clear contact – if the ref can’t see it from 50 yards then, well, his word is still God. As I noted a few weeks ago, it’s like having a dozen CCTV cameras catch a crime on tape, and then the police go with the middle-aged fella who was 50 yards away and who had the worst view of it all, and who also happens to be legally blind.
(EDIT: I just want to add, if you slow down a video that shows clear contact, what it does, as well as showing the clear contact, is make the contact look less violent or transgressive. Because it’s in slow-motion. A kick on the ankle, or a kick on the calf or shin, when getting nowhere near the ball, is a foul. To slow it down and ask if it was enough contact is daft. Virgil van Dijk barely caught Erik Lamela two seasons ago but it was a foul. If you reduce it to super slow-mo then it looks like less of a foul because in the video it suddenly has all the speed and momentum of a much less forceful encounter.)
But the tone was set before then, with Atkinson allowing United’s defenders to go right through Liverpool’s attackers. Origi could have been knifed in the back and Atkinson would have told him to play on. The most remarkable thing from this match was that Adam Lallana’s goal wasn’t chalked off for uneven eyebrows at the moment he made contact with the ball, or for having too many Ls in his surname.
Atkinson didn’t book United players for cynical fouls, such as the pull-back on Fabinho bursting through by Marcus Rojo just a minute after booking Fabinho for much the same offence; a clear, letter-of-the-law yellow card in both instances. It’s not even debatable. This is why refs do my head in. They can’t even get the unarguable stuff right.
Liverpool were pretty poor for 80 minutes, as they faced the plucky £1bn underdogs, until they somehow scraped that late Lallana equaliser, but it’s not easy when the referee is a total homer who is stopping your attacks by letting the opposition make fouls, then giving the home team every little thing in the other half. And as Liverpool generally get so few penalties at Anfield these days, and no opponent is ever sent off at Anfield, it makes it hard to redress this blatant homer balance. This shitty Man United side are almost twice as likely to get a penalty as Liverpool over the past 18 months, and that shows something isn’t right.
I always felt this would be a potential banana skin, as United were allowed to treat it like a cup tie as the plucky £1bn underdogs. They were always going to raise their game, as that’s what such teams do. In 1988 Liverpool lost their 29-game unbeaten league streak to Everton. In 1992 Liverpool stopped Man United winning the league. Poor Liverpool sides beat Man United when they were the best team around, and in recent years, at Old Trafford at least, United fans treat this fixture as their cup final (as it’s the only meaningful thing they can now win: and here they couldn’t even win that).
While Liverpool have been busy leading the league, winning the European Super Cup and, above all else, winning the Champions League, United are now a callow, hollow shell of a side who only turn it on and press like maniacs when Liverpool come to town. Take a look at the league table. They are where they deserve to be as they cannot raise their game against anyone else. Two shots on target (to Liverpool’s four) in a home game with a pathetic 32% possession is now seen as a “tremendous United performance”; that’s Roy Hodgsonesque levels of lowering expectations. That’s why United are near the relegation zone. They can defend in numbers but the only time in the game that they attacked Liverpool with any meaning came after a clear foul.
(Yet two weeks ago, when Liverpool had 18 shots, and half a dozen big chances, to Leicester’s single shot on target, Liverpool were “lucky” to win.)
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