Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Riley's Gaffes. Torres Laughs

Liverpool 2 (Torres 84, 91min)
Chelsea 0

In the whirling wind and snow of Merseyside, a drama of epic proportion unfolds before the eyes of millions of viewers. It was not only about the sterling performance of Fernando Torres but also the laughable non-performance from referee, Mike Riley.

Liverpool fans will surely argue that Mike Riley took the gloss off their victory over Chelsea and I have to agree. His decisions ranged from puzzling to abysmal. It is such a wonder that he is still undertaking major games like this after all the controversial decisions he’s involved with.

Him, along with Rob Styles, are two ‘big name’ referees who consistently come up with terrible and ridiculous decisions, week in week out and yet, have never really paid the price for them.

This game will surely be put up as one of those evidences to prove that football is in need of some help from technology. Because the state of refereeing is dismal and it is inconceivable that at this level, the standards could have stooped to such worrying level.

Yet we need to understand from a football fan’s point of view that Frank Lampard’s sending off did not turn the tide of the game. Whether the visitors were playing with 11 or 10 men, they never really look threatening or mildly interested in the game. Liverpool, meanwhile, controlled and enjoyed the lion share of possession from first to last.

Yet, Mike Riley’s failure to send off Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, would be on the lips of many. Twice, the over-zealous midfielder committed fouls which deserves straight dismissals yet he escapes.

If Gerrard was sent off, in accordance to the law book, the outcome of the game might have been different.

The marauding midfielder was the catalyst to Liverpool’s first goal, the one which broke Chelsea’s heart, in the 84th minute. Fabio Aurelio’s cross was subsequently met by the instinctive Fernando Torres, who got ahead of the colossus, Alex, and headed past a badly positioned Petr Cech.

The Czech International goalkeeper, who was once acclaimed to be the world’s top goalkeeper, seemed badly out of form and had a couple of nervous moments. Low on confidence, he never really recovered from the head injury he suffered a year and a half ago.

It was the mistake of another Chelsea player which gifted Liverpool their deserved second. Ashley Cole’s bad first touch let him down and substitute, Yossi Benayoun, was able to steal possession from him before laying it into the path of Torres, who had the simplest of finishes to put the game beyond any doubt.

‘I will score against Chelsea’ was the word from the horse’s mouth and he duly delivers. His sharpness and goal-scoring instinct was found sorely lacking for months and Rafa Benitez would be pleased to see the Spaniard hotshot back on the score sheet.

Injured for majority of the season, he has been looking to improve on his fitness rather than adding to his tally. The 2 goals will surely be a big booster for him and if he remains fit, he could give Liverpool a fighting chance at the title.

With Robbie Keane’s departure from Anfield, Liverpool’s goalscoring burden will now be placed back solely on his shoulders.

A sweet victory for Rafa Benitez and his men, doing a double over the Blues of London for the first time since 1990, the year we last won the title incidentally. It gives a little hope but hope can easily be turned into disappointment with a twinkle of an eye.

This game also highlights the inconsistency and incompetence of referees and the discipline board alike.

Jose Bosingwa was let off with a karate kick at the back of Yossi Benayoun. These are two very unimaginable decisions in a space of 2 days. By planting his studs into the Israeli midfielder, how did he escape unscathed, getting a freekick in the process and got away scot-free with only a word of apology?

While Frank Lampard’s genuine tackle right in front of Riley’s eye was deemed worthy of a straight red in a game where every decision counts and weights.

Some would argue that ‘luck’ balances out itself. The last time these two sides met at Anfield, the other ‘superstar’ referee, Rob Styles, awarded Chelsea a non-existent penalty which gifted Chelsea a draw.

But whatever it is, bad referee calls or a world class striker on form, the title race is very likely down to the two horses. Man Utd. being favourites and Liverpool now have to play a little catch up. The meeting of the two giants in early March could tilt the balance both ways.

While Chelsea, post Mourinho era, never looked threatening and lacked the fight and drive which they used to have. With the first team ageing and lacking passion while the sub bench without proper and proven quality, Big Phil now have a couple of problems at hand. Expect the revolving doors to spin at 100km/h this summer, if he keeps the job that is…

Arsenal, now more intent to sign Andriy Arshavin that actually winning games, have too much injury problems. While Aston Villa a little bit of extra quality and experience.

This year’s Premiership could prove to be one of the best in years. If only referees stop being the spoilers of it all.

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