Football fans were hoping that Ashley Cole’s disrespect of referee Mike Riley last week would be a watershed moment for the game. Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano didn’t seem to get the message after an embarrassing loss of self-control on Grand Slam Sunday. With his team trailing 0-1 to Manchester United, Mascherano raced 30 yards to aggressively question Steve Bennnett on why he had booked the Argentinian’s team mate, Fernando Torres. The answer? Dissent. The same reason that Mascherano then received a second yellow card and an instant dismissal. Mascherano had already been booked for a terrible lunge at Paul Scholes and had mouthed off on several occassions to Bennet since. The referee, exasperated, felt he had no choice.
His manager Rafa Benitez said “He knows he made a mistake. He did not understand why he had been sent off. I just told him, ‘It’s finished.'” In response to whether or not Benitez thought the FA would take more action, he replied “The player was only asking. I don’t think to ask is a big problem.” But it was the manner in which Mascherano “asked” that is the problem. For a start there is a long-standing argument that only the captain should be allowed to approach the referee and that captain should be a rational human being with the ability to discuss issues rather than wave his arms frantically and act all boggle-eyed. That was Mascherano’s problem and his subsequent reaction to the red card shows that he was walking a thin line of reason already.
Get the red out
One has to feel sorry for referees who technically could dismiss 3-4 players per game for the lack of respect they show to the decision-making process. When you see how many decisions players and managers get wrong in a game (misplaced passes, misjudging the flight of the ball, flapping at crosses, poor substitutions and tactical decisions) how can they magically expect referees to get everything right? It might be frustrating but surrounding a single man like a pack of dogs in an alleyway is not a way to get someone to change their mind most of the time. I’m sure the players themselves – many of them arrogant and egotistical – know that if someone backs them in to a corner they are going to come out fighting.
Maybe it will take one season where referees automatically book every show of dissent or disrespect to turn it around. Whether it be John Terry or John Macken, if a game gets reduced to an 8 or 9 a side then maybe players and managers will get the message. Of course I’m sure Sky will roll out the tired excuse that it’s tough on the fans that pay their hard-earned money only to see a game “ruined” by an over-zealous referee. Ironically the real problem is that the game has been ruined by the money the likes of Sky have brought in, leaving players and managers wound up and referees under pressure.
Grand Slam Sunday: Man United 3 Liverpool 0
There have been a lot worse Grand Slam Sundays than yesterday that’s for sure. Man U steamrolled Liverpool and were well on top even before Mascherano’s on-pitch breakdown. Wayne Rooney could have scored twice in the first 10 minutes, paying the price for his honesty by staying on his feet instead of going down after a foul by Jamie Carragher on one occasion. Pepe Reina was to blame for two of the goals but he was hugely let down by most of the players in front of him, Steven Gerrard being anonymous for most of the game. This was close to the first-choice Liverpool team but once again it was shown that under Rafa Benitez they have just not made much ground on the top teams in the last three years.
United were impressive, Anderson a fine presence in midfield and Rooney absolutely outstanding. Ronaldo did little, once again raising questions about his ability to influence against the top teams. And Wes Brown scored!
Ratings (out of 10):
Man U: Van der Sar 6, Brown 6, Ferdinand 7, Vidic 7, Evra 7, Ronaldo 6, Scholes 6, Carrick 6, Anderson (Tevez 73, 6) 7, Giggs (Nani 73, 7) 6, Rooney 8.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Hargreaves, O’Shea.
Liverpool: Reina 4, Arbeloa 6, Carragher 5, Skrtel 6, Aurelio 6, Mascherano 4, Alonso 5, Kuyt 6, Gerrard 5, Babel (Benayoun 66, 5) 7, Torres (Riise 82) 6.
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Hyypia, Crouch.
Grand Slam Sunday: Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1
It didn’t look good for Chelsea when Bacary Sagna put Arsenal ahead on the hour. Up till then they had struggled to make much headway against a solid Arsenal side. But their long-standing unbeaten home record was maintained with a brace from Didier Drogba, recording a deserved home win as they over-ran the tiring Gunners. Chelsea manager Avram Grant has been criticised for his inability to organise his side in big games but this time a double substitution on 70 minutes was key. He introduced Nicolas Anelka and the French striker was involved in the winning goal, adding more energy and a cutting edge up front.
It is probably not going to be enough for Chelsea to effectively challenge United for the title but for Arsenal it was a huge blow and might have ended their title hopes. But there’s still enough time for twists and turns.
Chelsea: Cudicini 7, Essien 6, Carvalho 7, Terry 7, Ashley Cole 6, Ballack (Belletti 70, 6) 8, Makelele (Anelka 70, 8 ) 7, Lampard 6, Joe Cole (Obi 88) 8, Drogba 8, Kalou 6.
Subs Not Used: Hilario, Alex.
Arsenal: Almunia 7, Sagna (Diaby 72, 6) 7, Toure 7, Gallas 7, Clichy 7, Eboue 6, Fabregas 8, Flamini (Bendtner 88) 7, Hleb 7, Adebayor 5, Van Persie (Walcott 76, 5) 6.
Subs Not Used: Lehmann, Senderos.