Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of anything season-defining coming from yesterday’s match between Liverpool and Manchester United, the post-match speculation has largely centred upon claims made by Patrice Evra in the direction of Luis Suarez to a French television station after the match. Any meeting between these two clubs becomes, in the manner of the gravitational pull of a planet, a magnet for speculation, rumour, counter-rumour and, inevitably, abuse that covers every colour of the spectrum. The lunchtime kick-off awarded to the match by its live television coverage also gave supporters of the club the whole of the afternoon and the evening to entrench their opinions, and by this morning they had solidified completely, to the extent that it now seems unlikely that we will ever get to exact bottom of what happened between Evra and Suarez at Anfield.
The build-up to the match was as hyperbolic as ever, and was given an added frisson of tension by the comments of Liverpool’s Managing Director Ian Ayre regarding the collective bargaining for television rights during the week. Manchester United, perhaps sensing a PR open goal that had been presented to them, “distanced themselves” from these comments, but they did at least blow open a story that has felt likely to emerge since the new generation of football club owners first started to kick the tyres of the clubs of the Premier League. In the middle of October, of course, we are unlikely to see anything that could be described as definitive in terms of the progress of a football club – football is a perpetual cycle which cannot, as the comedian David Mitchell succinctly noted be “finally decided” – but we found out very little yesterday about either of these two teams, and the biggest beneficiaries of their stalemate turned out to be Manchester City and Chelsea, whose wins against Aston Villa and Everton opened the top of the Premier League table to a level that might have appeared difficult to imagine, two or three weeks ago.
A goal apiece, then, and little to seperate the two teams on the pitch. Liverpool versus Manchester United wouldn’t be Liverpool versus Manchester United, however, without something happening after the final whistle which would lead to accusations of some sort or another, and so it has proved with the Evra/Suarez/Canal Plus spat. The Premier League will, of course, investigate the claims made by Evra – that Suarez repeatedly directed racist insults at him during the match – but the battle lines have been drawn and presumptions of innocence or guilt have already been made. For now, though, the most appropriate way to treat this matter would be to leave the Premier League to their investigation until they have reached their conclusions. The notion of this actually happening, however, seems so remote as to be close to supernatural.
Suarez was always likely to end up as something of a pantomime villain figure in the black and white, good versus evil world of the Premier League. His last minute handball for Uruguay against Ghana in the last minute of extra-time at the World Cup finals last year was an incident which gobbled up newspaper space like a hungry caterpillar, and his dive in the recent Merseyside derby was from the same school. We might have expected him to wish to keep a slightly lower profile after that particular incident, and the mud from this incident will likely stick, even if nothing ends up coming from it. For now, however, we should presume innocence until proven guilty – a concept which seems more and more difficult for some to grasp, these days.
None of this is to say that nothing interesting happened at Anfield yesterday afternoon. Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave Wayne Rooney on the substitutes’ bench for a match of such symbolic and practical importance was a curious one. Ferguson has an arsenal of attacking talent at Old Trafford which would cause most other Premier League managers to have wipe a bead of drool from the corner of their mouths, yet the decision to leave a player that has, regardless of what happened in Podgorica last week, sparkled like a polished jewel so far this season out of the team was one which could be regarded as being one that he came to regret, although it is also worth pointing out that this was a match that might have seen Rooney roaming the pitch like a caged tiger, getting increasingly frustrated at his lack of opportunity, until… well, we can hardly say that we haven’t seen this happen before, can we?
The overall residual feeling to come from yesterday’s match, however, was one of it having been a book without a final chapter. Both managers can take positives from it – for Ferguson, it was a point rescued from a venue at which his team has struggled in recent years, while Kenny Dalglish will likely to pleased enough to have held a team that has exhausted many superlatives already this season – but both will also have cause to consider what might have been. What might have happened if Ferguson has started Rooney – or, perhaps more significantly, Javier Hernandez, whose late equaliser rescued a point and their unbeaten start to the season? Dalglish, meanwhile, couldn’t mask his disappointment ub the post-match interviews, but he was right to say that this result was an indication in itself of how far his team has come in recent months. All in all, it was a curiously unsatisfying afternoon at Anfield for all concerned.
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