Premier League – Mascherano off as United go six clear
Wes Brown put the hosts ahead before Mascherano was sent off for a second yellow card just before half time. Cristiano Ronaldo then netted his 34th goal of the season with just over ten minutes remaining before substitute Nani completed the scoring two minutes later.
The role Steve Bennett would play at Old Trafford had featured heavily in pre-match sparring between the two camps, and the referee’s name is certain to feature in most of the post match analysis after Liverpool were reduced to ten men.
Mascherano had been booked for a wild lunge on Paul Scholes as early as the 11th minute and his subsequent protestations over the booking showed the Argentine knew he would now be walking a tightrope for the remainder of the match.
But if that was the case, he soon appeared to forget when, just before half time, he received his marching orders for needless dissent following the booking of Fernando Torres.
The Spaniard had been shown yellow for protesting too loudly over a Scholes challenge, prompting Mascherano to race over to the scene and deliver his verdict on the situation.
It was not the first time the Liverpool midfielder had been in referee Steve Bennett’s ear during the first half, and with the official clearly in no mood to take any nonsense, he promptly brandished a second yellow, quickly followed by red.
In the light of this week’s calls to stamp out disrespectful behaviour towards officials, Mascherano’s actions were the last thing the Football Association wanted on such a high profile day and his exit from the pitch, when he had to be restrained by team-mates, will only have deepened that that sense of disappointment.
Liverpool had started the game well, enjoying the better of possession during the opening stages, although it was United who fashioned the better chances.
It proved to be a strange afternoon for Reina, who was guilty of some atrocious kicking and uncertain handling early on yet he still managed to pull off some tremendous stops after the break to keep the scoreline respectable.
The source of the opener could not have been more unlikely. Brown – still yet to commit his future to United – put the hosts into the lead in the 34th minute with just his second league goal of a career which has spanned 12 seasons.
Considering his contract situation, it is unclear whether Brown will score another goal in United’s colours, but if he does, it is unlikely to be a more important one. The England defender rose above Martin Skrtel and ahead of Reina to meet Rooney’s cross and settle any nerves that may have existed in the United side.
Unsurprisingly, the sending off then changed the dynamic of the game, and with a goal and a man to the good, United never really looked like letting the three points slip.
Further chances fell to Ronaldo, Rooney again and Carlos Tevez with his first touch after having been introduced with Nani in the 73rd minute, before Ronaldo headed the host’s second to effectively seal the win.
Nani applied the icing on United’s cake on 81 minutes, firing past Reina after latching onto a cute Rooney through pass.
The result hammered a final nail into Liverpool’s title hopes as their impressive five-game winning streak was brought to an end.
United, on the other hand, are in a strong position to retain their title.