Monday, March 24, 2008

Javier Mascherano Facing Lengthy Ban After Manchester United Red Card

Javier Mascherano is facing a lengthy ban and hefty fine after his refusal to leave the pitch following his sending-off at Old Trafford yesterday.

Liverpool were already 1-0 down with Mascherano on one yellow card when he raced over to referee Steve Bennett to protest against Fernando Torres’s booking for dissent in the 44th minute.

Bennett showed no tolerance for further confrontation and promptly sent Mascherano off – sparking chaotic scenes by the touchline as the player and his team-mates surrounded the official.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez eventually had to calm Mascherano down and usher him away from the pitch – but he leapt to the defence of the midfielder, who will definitely miss the Merseyside derby next Sunday and possibly further games beyond that.

Benitez, who is set to withdraw Torres from the Spain squad this week after the top scorer picked up a rib injury yesterday, said: “The player told me he was just asking what happened (with Torres).

“A player who is as good a professional as Mascherano is really, really surprised – like I was.

“He couldn’t understand what happened as he was only asking.

“The player knows he made a mistake but in a big game like this, to leave one team with 10 players just for asking is a difficult decision to understand.”

Liverpool were trailing to Wes Brown’s opening goal beforebut were still in the contention when they were reduced to 10 men just before half-time.

Despite a brief spell of pressure in the second half late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani completed a victory that moves United five points clear at the top of the Premier League following Chelsea’s

2-1 win over Arsenal and Benitez feels the final result was ultimately determined by the dismissal of Mascherano.

“We saw two games,” he added. “Before the sending-off we had a few chances, some counter-attacks and could have scored but we conceded from one mistake.

“But after the sending-off the game was almost finished.

“We pressed a bit in the second half but they have quality and ability so it was difficult and after the second goal everything was over. We could be in the game, but with 10 players? Forget it.”

Despite initially showing his fury with Bennett, Benitez eventually coaxed Mascherano away from the argument, although his intervention is unlikely to prevent the player receiving further punishment.

Benitez said: “I was speaking to him in Spanish and saying ‘finish!’ but he was saying he didn’t say anything, just asking. I said ‘listen, finish because you cannot change the situation’.

“But he was surprised. Javier has been a fantastic professional and has been for years, playing at the maximum level, so he couldn’t understand. And in these games you want to know why.

“You want to win and you have passion and you make mistakes but the sending-off was really difficult to understand. To ask the referee is not a big problem.

“All our people will be really disappointed and I’m the first to be disappointed but we know we cannot change anything now.

“We have an important game against Everton. We also have an international break which we cannot control but then we have Everton and it’s up to us.”

Torres was due to be in the Spanish side to play Italy in a friendly on Wednesday but a scan on his ribs is likely to rule him out and boost Benitez’s derby preparations.

Liverpool Waiting On Torres Scans After Being Subbed Against United 'For His Protection'

Liverpool will await the results of scans today on injuries sustained by top scorer Fernando Torres in the controversial 3-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Manchester United.

The match was marred by the first-half red card for Javier Mascherano, after his protracted dissent in a confrontation with referee Steve Bennett.

Many suggested yesterday's dismissal was a product of the Ashley Cole incident in midweek at Spurs - when the Chelsea star showed dissent, and his back, to referee Mike Riley but received only a yellow card.

Bennett was the fourth official on the touchline at White Hart Lane that night.

It has emerged, however, that the root cause of Liverpool's anger and frustration at Old Trafford was the treatment meted out to Torres by United defenders.

Torres was taken off near the end - according to Reds boss Rafael Benitez, "to protect him", with the game already lost.

Wes Brown scored in the first period, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani adding late goals for the champions.

It was a great day for Sir Alex Ferguson's men, who are now five points clear at the top - following Arsenal's defeat at Chelsea yesterday.

But Benitez must now pick up the pieces before Sunday's Merseyside derby with Everton, whom Liverpool lead by two points in the race for fourth spot.

Mascherano will miss that match, serving a one-match ban.

Benitez said: "Torres had some knocks on his ribs and ankle - a lot of knocks and a lot of kicks. I was just trying to protect him. The doctors will do a scan, and we will see.

"Was I disappointed by intimidation of Torres? Maybe I should ask others for their opinion. I have my own opinion, which was very clear.

"We have seen a lot of things and we do not need to talk about problems with referees. It was very clear."

Benitez tried to defend Mascherano, who could even find himself the subject of further investigation by the Football Association for refusing to leave the pitch quickly.

"The player knows he has made a mistake - but in this kind of game to be sent off just for 'asking' I find a difficult decision to understand. I don't know whether it was anything to do with the Ashley Cole incident.

"Javier was sent off for dissent, but to be sent off for asking the official something is a surprise. He knows he made a mistake, but in a big game like this it is difficult to understand.

Ferguson was delighted with the victory. On the sending-off, he said: "The boy had already been booked, and dissent is dissent. I feel he should not have got involved.

"He ran from centre-midfield to get involved with the referee. With things that happened in the week with the Ashley Cole incident, there is now a focus on dissent."

James Lawton: Argentine's Brainstorm Mocks Value Of Benitez's Hard-won Investment

Javier Mascherano is rated as £17m worth of hard professional acumen. He is supposed to hold the keys of Liverpool's defence. He persuaded his manager, Rafa Benitez, that his permanent signing was crucial enough to risk everything in its pursuit. Right now, though, you wouldn't trust him to guide a pub team through a tumultuous Sunday morning. You wouldn't back him to preserve peace at the Last Supper.

But then, in the aftermath of Chelsea and England full-back Ashley Cole's anarchic contempt for the role of the referee, where would you look for a sense that big-time football has a clue about protecting its image? Not Liverpool, as they prod among the ashes of the belief that they might just finally make some impact on Manchester United's well nurtured assumption that they belong in a different, classier street.

Mascherano left Benitez in a fever of denial after a dismissal which could be attributed not so much to arrogance as relentless stupidity. "He was asking a question," Benitez protested weakly after the referee Steve Bennett, who had been a distinctly passive fourth official when Cole behaved so dismissively towards the referee Mike Riley at White Hart Lane, had shown a second yellow card to the Argentine. This was true enough, but perhaps not in the way the Liverpool manager intended.

Mascherano's question took us to the heart of football's latest public relations nightmare: how long can the authorities agonise over their free-falling reputation for maintaining even nominal respect for officials when players like Cole and now Mascherano make it so clear that they feel free to operate without a moment's reflection on possible consequences?

From the moment Mascherano was booked for his 11th-minute foul on Paul Scholes, he conducted a non-stop attempt to influence Bennett whenever United committed a transgression. This was not infrequently, but the greatest certainty of all was that Mascherano was pushing ever closer to breaking point. This came, quite irrevocably, a minute before half-time when Liverpool's Fernando Torres was booked for dissent.

Mascherano ran across the field to make his statement or, as Benitez would have it, ask his question. His eyes were wild. His face was filled with contempt. It was as though the Cole affair had never happened.

For the Football Association the point was being underlined in the most lurid colours. Anarchy was indeed marching through the first leg of what had been billed so extravagantly as Grand Slam Sunday – and was doing rather more than represent the case for a serious review of existing disciplinary measures.

As the regulation stands, Mascherano would expect an automatic one-match ban for such a sending-off, but it seems likely the case will be put in a special category. Certainly, Mascherano's behaviour made a competitive nonsense of the belief that Liverpool, a team of growing coherence in the wake of Benitez's apparent rejection of a strict rotation routine, might at last be ready to strike a winning blow at Old Trafford under Benitez. They couldn't even maintain their clean sheet against Cristiano Ronaldo, the lauded superstar who had yet to score against Liverpool or Chelsea.

Ronaldo profited from Nani's corner and a second defensive mistake by a Liverpool who had become steadily stretched in the absence of the Argentine. Mascherano, who like Ronaldo, though in a starkly different way, had been so impressive in the 2006 World Cup, had played sharply enough even as he pushed himself towards the brink.

Ronaldo? The man who the former United midfield general Pat Crerand claimed was on the point of passing George Best not just in a season's goals tally but in general genius-class accomplishment , was almost embarrassingly inconsequential but for his scoring intervention.

He went to ground with a dismaying ease and on several occasions threw up his arms when he was separated from the ball in a way which would have had Best's eyes blazing in anger and disbelief.

Still, Ronaldo will have other chances to prove that he can make an impact on more than the cannon fodder of the Premier League with coming Champions League action and, who knows, possibly significant collisions with Arsenal and Chelsea.

United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, will certainly be comforted by Wayne Rooney's willingness to battle on in the absence of good fortune and there were moments when the England forward seemed just a stride from reigniting some of the fires of a game which never lacks a high degree of commitment.

Ferguson was no doubt also encouraged by the growing assurance of Scholes. As Liverpool began to count the cost of Mascherano's brainstorm, the veteran midfielder increasingly found the soft spots in Liverpool's resolve. They grew at an alarming rate, and not least in the increasingly ineffective performance of Steve Gerrand.

Gerrard, notionally at least a candidate to lead Fabio Capello's England, was less than a dominant figure when Mascherano finally pushed Bennett too far – and the same was true of his general performance.

While Scholes grew in authority – and facility with a stream of accurate passing – Gerrard's presence slid almost to the point of oblivion. It was the best possible development for a Ferguson who had been anxious that Grand Slam Sunday might puncture the growing conviction that United were just a step or two from confirming the weight – and the inevitability – of their title defence.

As the dusk came to Old Trafford, and Didier Drogba moved into another gear at Stamford Bridge, those fears were dwindling at a remarkable rate.

For Rafa Benitez, though, there was the desperate hope that he might just conjure another improbable run to the peak of European football. It was something he could hold on to quite perilously, though. Javier Mascherano was supposed to be a rock of hard-eyed professionalism at the heart of his team. Instead, on a day of vast importance, he had betrayed both his club and his own reputation for being a man who knew how the game worked.

What price such men now? At least, it seems, £17m.

Manchester United 3 - 0 LiverpooL

Champions Manchester United crushed 10-man Liverpool 3-0 at Old Trafford in a controversial north-west derby.

United took a firmer grip on top spot in the Premier League, but it was the performance of referee Steve Bennett - and Javier Mascherano's lack of control - which will be the talking point.

Mascherano, already booked, was dismissed just before the break for blatant dissent which earned him a second yellow card - and then the red.

The Argentinian had to be hauled from the pitch, such was his anger, and his boss Rafael Benitez was equally unhappy with the incident.

Wes Brown had scored his first goal of the season - and only the third of his career - to give United control at the break, before Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani netted inside the last 11 minutes as Liverpool tired.

But in a week which has seen football infuriated by Chelsea's Ashley Cole's escape from dissent aimed at referee Mike Riley, it was hardly surprising Bennett was having none of the same.

Cole should have been sent off at Tottenham in midweek - and Mascherano felt the backlash.

The midfielder had been snipping away at Bennett throughout the first period, ably assisted by Fernando Torres.

If television viewers could see the dismissal coming, Mascherano could not.

Torres had been booked for arguing seconds earlier, so when the midfielder continued the debate there was going to be only one winner. Mascherano was incensed, and had to be virtually pulled off the pitch.

United brought back goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and defender Rio Ferdinand after groin and back injuries respectively, while Paul Scholes and skipper Ryan Giggs also returned.

Liverpool were unchanged after seven straight victories - a run which was to end in the 150th league meeting between these clubs.

The opening tackles were sharp and Mascherano was booked for cutting down Scholes, before Wayne Rooney twice went close.

First the striker got behind Jamie Carragher, whose tackle could easily have produced a penalty had the former Everton man gone down. But the England striker kept his feet and forced Jose Reina into a save with his legs.

Then Scholes' lofted pass fell behind the Liverpool defence, and Reina scooped the ball away from Rooney.

Bennett decided not to book Anderson for a late challenge on Steven Gerrard, before Reina rushed out of his box quickly to clear the danger with Rooney homing in.

Ronaldo's shot hit the foot of a post before Reina half-stopped a 33rd-minute Giggs effort and needed to claw it back from under the bar.

The deadlock was broken a minute later when Rooney's curling cross into the box was met by the unlikely figure of Brown - who reached it before Reina and saw his header drop into the net.

Then Liverpool's frustrations with perceived injustices saw them implode.

First Torres was booked for dissent, and when Mascherano joined in Bennett produced another yellow - and then red.

Gerrard was pushed back into Mascherano's holding role for the second half, which started with Reina making a point-blank save to stop a Ronaldo effort.

Reina produced another improbable save from Rooney, six yards out, before Fabio Arbeloa became the next Liverpool player to be booked for tugging back Anderson.

Ferdinand was cautioned for a foul on Torres from behind, before Benitez sent on Yossi Benayoun for the ineffective Ryan Babel just before the half's midway mark.

Torres, clinical in recent matches, then missed a decent chance when Gerrard's free-kick found him unmarked at the far post.

United sent on Carlos Tevez and Nani for Giggs and Anderson after 73 minutes, and it took another wonder save from Reina to stop Tevez making it 2-0.

Liverpool were incensed by a Michael Carrick challenge on Torres - right in front of Benitez - which Bennett chose not to punish.

Reina denied Ronaldo with a block which hit the bar and went out for a corner - which proved decisive.

Nani's 79th-minute corner was headed home by Ronaldo - and two minutes later Nani created space for himself on the edge of the box to blast in the third.

A disgruntled Torres was immediately replaced by John Arne Riise - and there was no way back for Liverpool.

Sir Alex Ferguson felt his young Manchester United side found a new level of maturity as they beat Liverpool 3-0 at Old Trafford to stay in pole position in the Premier League.

Wes Brown was the unlikely scorer of United's first when he leapt to head in Wayne Rooney's cross and the visitors ended the first half with 10 men after Javier Mascherano was sent off for a second bookable offence after arguing with referee Steve Bennett.

Liverpool failed to make a period of second-half pressure tell, and Cristiano Ronaldo headed home the second from a corner in the 79th minute before Nani added a third two minutes later after good interplay with Rooney

Ferguson was hugely pleased with the display and told Sky Sports: 'It was a really good performance - a performance of maturity.

'We've seen a team mature over the last six months and today they hit their high peak.'

Asked to comment on the dismissal of Mascherano, the Scot added: 'He has been booked and kept badgering the referee. We've talked about dissent and I think that was dissent.'

Ferguson refused to accept the title was in the bag, and said: 'It's going to go right to the end, Chelsea and Arsenal going really well. We've beaten a strong Liverpool side playing good football.'

United striker Rooney said: 'It's always nice to beat Liverpool and it's opened up a bit of a gap now at the top of the league.

'I'm delighted with the win. I know the goals will come [for him personally] - I'm not too concerned with that.'

Asked whether he thought the red card was a turning point, Rooney said: 'We were always on top. The Liverpool players were tired at the end, but overall I don't think it would have made any difference.

'We know it's in our hands now - we have to try and win as many games as possible and stay top of the league. We've got a good mix in the dressing room and we know what we have to do between now and the end of the season.'

Rafael Benitez was adamant Mascherano had only asked Bennett why team-mate Fernando Torres had been booked.

The said: 'Clearly he didn't say anything. Ryan Babel was close to him, he didn't say anything, he was asking what happened.

'In these big games, to lose a player in this's strange because Javier Mascherano is a good professional and was really surprised with the sending-off.

Liverpool FC Rumour Mill: Anfield Moves For Bentley, Cattermole And Deco?

David Bentley is once again being linked with a move from Blackburn Rovers to Liverpool.

Web rumours say Rafa Benitez is confident of making Bentley a Liverpool player, so much so a £12million bid is being prepared for the 23-year-old.

However, if the rumours are to be belived, Atletico Madrid fancy their chances too.

Bentley could be a replacement for Harry Kewell, who looks set to leave in the summer.

* * *

Another player Liverpool are being linked with by the web gossips is £5million Middlesbrough starlet Lee Catermole.

The England Under-21 international, a product of the Middlesbrough academy, signed a new four-year contract at the Riverside Stadium in early 2007.

* * *

Liverpool are said to be chasing Deco, the Portugal international midfielder who plays to leave Barcelona in the summer.

DiarioSport says the Portugal international midfielder believes this will be his last season at the Nou Camp and is ready to move to England, though will seriously an offer from Atletico Madrid.

Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool have all been mentioned as potential destinations for Deco, who is currently getting his finances in order ahead of making a move out of Spain.

However, the midfielder also hasn't ruled out returning home to Brazil if the right European offer doesn't arrive.

* * *

And finally, good news for Dirk Kuyt in the wake of Sundays’ 3-0 defeat at old Trafford - he could yet force his way into the Holland squad.

Holland boss Marco van Basten insists the door remains open to Liverpool striker Kuyt.

"Can he do something to return to the squad? Absolutely: play good football," Van Basten is quoted as saying.

"He must make such an impression at his club that we cannot ignore him.

"We must make choices and at the moment our choices are different. Other players are doing better.

"But if Dirk can make himself an important player for Liverpool, it could be that he returns to the national squad."

Rafa Defends Mascherano

Rafa Benitez admitted he was shocked by referee Steve Bennett's decision to send off Javier Mascherano in Liverpool's 3-0 defeat at Manchester United.

Mascherano was shown a second yellow card for dissent just a minute before half-time with the score at 1-0.

The Argentine approached Bennett after Fernando Torres had been cautioned but Benitez insists he was merely asking the referee what had happened and was not looking to cause any trouble.

Benitez accepts that Mascherano should have been more careful but feels the dismissal killed off any chance of a Liverpool comeback.

"Clearly he didn't say anything," Benitez told Sky Sports. "I asked Ryan Babel, who was close to him. He didn't say anything, he was asking what happened.

"In a big game like this between the top four, a sending-off for asking is just a surprise."

"I was trying to say to him to calm down. Everybody knows he is fantastic professional so I was disappointed and the player was surprised.

"The player was not saying anything apart from 'what happened?'

"I have talked to him and he knows he has made a mistake."

Benitez also defended goalkeeper Jose Reina, who was at fault for Wes Brown's goal and also Cristiano Ronaldo's.

"Sometimes keepers make mistakes. These things happen," said Benitez.

"The game had finished. We had a 15-minute spell in the second half when they were feeling the pressure, but then they scored the second goal."