….It didn’t exactly go to plan. It can’t even be called a performance as in the space of 38 seconds Liverpool’s captain got on the pitch, stamped on United’s Ander Herrera and was dismissed before the crowd could even get readjusted to their seats at Anfield. It was a case of blink-and-you-miss-it, it was that fast. In a game where United were 1-0 up and flying high, and the home side needed to seriously up its game to have any chance of salvaging the contest, Gerrard badly let the team down.
He was rightly brought on by manager Brendan Rodgers at the start of the second half with the aim of vitalising the side after a woeful first half performance that lacked any kind of drive, urgency or desire from a team that is fighting yesterday’s opponents for a spot in the Champions League next season. But rather than doing that, Gerrard ended up adding more woes to the day for the Anfield faithful. He will now miss two crucial upcoming matches for the Reds – Saturday’s visit to Arsenal and next Wednesday’s FA Cup quarter final replay against Blackburn.
Gerrard has apologised, and rightly so, but the damage has already been done. Not that it can be said for certain that he would have changed the game for Liverpool. In fact, with ten men, the home side actually improved in the second half, with Daniel Sturridge halving United’s lead ten minutes after Juan Mata’s wonder strike to give the Red Devils a two-goal advantage.
It was a much more spirited display in the second 45 but Gerrard’s dismissal left a hole in the Liverpool midfield that was already being physically overrun by United’s Maraoune Fellani and the incisive passing sequences between Fellani, Herrera and Mata. He would have provided some much needed muscle to combat against the United midfield. Tactically, Rodgers had gotten it wrong on the day, choosing to play Raheem Sterling, the side’s most potent attacking outlet this season, in a sort of right wing-back position which effectively nullified the threat he would have made in the opposition box. As a result, United controlled the tempo throughout the match in arguably one of their best performances under Louis van Gaal, with Mata on song from start to finish.
Ultimately it was a bad day at the office all round for Liverpool and one that has taken United further out of reach in the race for Champions League football. While its silly to blame Gerrard solely for the defeat, his dismissal certainly put a nail in the coffin. He will look back on his final Liverpool-United fixture with plenty of regret towards what was a silly challenge and being unable to exert more influence in a crucial game, as he has done countless times in the past.