You are viewing the content for Wednesday 22 February 2006

It doesn’t get much better than this

Steven Kelly

By Steven Kelly
I’VE HAD better weeks. Give me a minute and I’ll try to think of one.

Regulars will know I break out in a rash when everyone tries to tag us The Main Threat To Chelsea. A few poor results put paid to all that but sure enough, it’s creeping back again.

Despite their protestations, you imagine the other two don’t disapprove of the idea as they set about their own transition. Like when Goliath shouted "who’s next?" and David felt this big shove in his back as he ‘volunteered’.

I loved the two victories but what they prove or disprove is another matter. We know we can do this. If we score first we are a difficult team to break down, but that’s been the case since Houllier.

The Arsenal game was exciting, but you can’t dismiss the theory that had the goal come in the eighth minute, not the 88th, we’d have seen an entirely different performance. With key players absent (or in Henry’s case, invisible) it’s hard to gauge what’s going on at Highbury.

Three years ago their hilarious "hoof" chants were at least sung in the smug knowledge that they themselves could produce football from another planet. Last Tuesday, it sounded like a desperate attempt to ignore the evidence of their eyes as they’re all-too-hideously earthbound. Mocking another team’s agricultural clearances when you’ve got Senderos really is a bit cheeky.

It’s amazing how the tables have turned. Back in 1991, Liverpool were a gifted but erratic team coming to the end of a golden age when the football had dazzled a nation.

I’ve sworn not to keep mentioning Chelsea but there is a remarkable irony about an efficient side with an airtight defence doing to Wenger’s Arsenal what Graham’s Arsenal did to us.

Our superstar, John Barnes, haggled over a contract and when he was on fire, we were too. We’d score seven one week and dismally capitulate the next. Now it’s Arsenal’s turn.

McMahon and Whelan were badly injured - Arsenal sold Vieira. The side as a whole just wanted to play their football but balked at the ugly, necessary tasks that make a team great.

I’ve noticed for a while in Wenger’s comments (and even Bernard’s column) the odd reference to entertainment and concern for the "customer."

Sorry, but I’m really not having that from Arsenal! Like Everton and their School of Science, and United’s preposterous Theatre of Dreams/Cavalier bullshit, there’s no point slagging something off just because you can’t do it anymore.

How much do you think United fans wished they had Sissoko, Hamann and Gerrard in their side on Saturday? Despite the obligatory sour grape-fest from the red-faced one we thoroughly deserved to win. Mr Kurt was right to err on the side of caution.

From the moment Neville did his demented lap-dance and searched desperately for wherever the badge is on his shirt this month, United were on a hiding to nothing the next time they slunk into Anfield. Thus it proved. His performance, especially in the early stages when the damage was done, only proves my point: right-backs really should stay as far away from the spotlight as possible.

When Rooney scuppered us last year someone threw a phone. This year, Neville was almost hit by a half-eaten burger. That just about sums you up.

The usual pre-match dirty tricks in the press didn’t work. The pressure on referee Webb produced a few weird decisions but nothing damaging.

One newspaper linked Benitez to the Inter Milan job on Friday. Having watched their favourites outfought and outplayed, the same paper naturally took it badly and shoved the Alan Smith chant front and centre.

Distasteful as it was, it once again reiterated the papers’ bias. Liverpool, Leeds, City, and especially Wenger, can all testify to the press whores’ selective deafness.

So United fans want to mock Michael Shields (the young Liverpudlian wrongly imprisoned in Bulgaria), call us murderers and sneak your little sotto voce Hillsborough stuff in too? Whatever floats your boat, but keep the lectures on etiquette to yourselves. We’re on to you, have been for decades, that’s why you hate us so much.

That and the trophies.

"We achieve your dreams," said one banner. "Back on our perch" read another. Ain’t it the truth? I made a joke on the website about Neville being tarred and feathered when the draw was made. It was reported in a national newspaper as a genuine threat!

When you encounter that kind of stupidity you know you’ve entered the realm of the disturbed. Liverpool v United in a nutshell.

Blood, broken bones, temper tantrums, square-ups and stand-offs, heart-stopping clearances, seven yellows (but nothing for Sissoko)! There may have been the odd bit of football in the 101 minutes. I lapped up every insane, ferocious second of it. Winning helps, of course - and that so many of their fans were there to witness it.

They were hardly roused by a team that belied its concocted image of uninhibited attack. It was hard to know what if anything the English game’s greatest talent was meant to be doing. Apart from getting more wound up by the minute.

How many times have we heard it this season? "If only we had United’s forwards," etc. Maybe we should form a new club to challenge Chelsea. FC Mancpool of Lancashire? Now there’s a thought.