London calling for injured Gerrard rankles as United duo allowed to rest

THOSE of you whose teeth grind painfully on seeing the words “one-man club” should look away now.

Oops, too late.

Liverpool aren’t experiencing quite as much grief with their captain as Arsenal but it’s been an unusual week all the same.

Gerrard was dragged from his sickbed to prove he couldn’t play for England while Rooney and Ferdinand were left to recuperate miraculously for the weekend.

Our place in the pecking order was always a bone of contention and this episode did little to stifle the bitterness.

Rafa whimpering for an apology will cut no ice with the authorities, compared to the dreaded Laird of Old Trafford in “every blood vessel in my face just detonated” mode.

We worry too much about what outsiders think of us. It’s taken United at least three decades to develop such a thick skin, whilst we still mewl about various know-nothing hacks and their England obsession.

Nearly all of them support clubs who have not been at the business end of the table for years, if at all, so the odd international is all they look forward to. God help anyone who does not smother themselves in the last refuge of scoundrels. They conveniently forget how Gerrard played through the pain in England’s miserable attempt to qualify for Euro 2008 last autumn, and stir it up regardless.

Some Reds entertain the notion that Capello’s hardball will rebound and antagonise Steven into a Carragher-style rejection of the whole circus. Not a chance.

Bayern, Napoli and Santos fans may revere Beckenbauer, Maradona and Pele in their own way, but those men are icons because of international football in general and the World Cup in particular.

Even that foulest of modern phenomena, Brand Beckham, was forged on his England ‘achievements’ and not on his impressive club CV.

If by some miracle we should stumble towards our first title in two decades, Gerrard has one target left and will stretch every sinew to reach it. It’s actually quite admirable in a way.

After complaining about the decision to plonk a Premiership midweek fixture in the middle of Champions League qualification, and its affect on the Big Four, International Week proved similarly debilitating.

There was a touch of arrogance in selecting Lucas for Fulham, as there was when he appeared against Portsmouth weeks ago. Sadly, no Cottager punched the ball clear at a corner to spare our blushes and the game petered out. They were unnervingly comfortable by the end.

With no Gerrard and two forwards selected we’d have lacked creativity anyway. Dropping Alonso only made matters worse, and some of our play was painful to watch.

You don’t know with Benitez sometimes. It may still rankle that Xabi wouldn’t be making his significant contribution had Rafa got his way and sold him. Barry might have done even better of course, but it’s debatable.

He knows full well that the Kop weren’t singing Alonso’s name because he happened to be warming up in that corner of the stadium, and pontificated loftily in the press conference.

Lucas isn’t in the same naughty corner as Dossena but for many he’s on a final warning. The groans grow louder every time he screws up, or even if he just passes backwards. Which he does. A lot.

It would be futile to tell the grumblers that Mascherano’s contribution was even more abject. When were football supporters reasonable? Fulham are no mugs and in form. Without the early goal we always look ponderous, scared to break out of position in case we concede. I must find out what the Spanish for “gung-ho” is.

We could quibble about the finishing but that record’s too scratched to play now. We just didn’t play well. It happens.

Of course the rest of the results went our way and we’ve become accustomed to Lady Luck nibbling our ear and whispering sweet nothings. Whether she’ll go all the way to May or pack her bags and go home to Manchester remains to be seen.

A besieged Wenger had already claimed before his current difficulties that the title could be won with a smaller total than usual. It sounded like a chronic case of delusion at the time.

As we continue to struggle at home against the bus parkers (like Chelsea do) we’re beginning to think he may have a point.

To quote every two-bit columnist in the world; Coincidence? I think not.

* For information on Steve Kelly’s Rotation Rotation Rotation: a season at Anfield, visit www.ttwar.net

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