King Rafa purring as United miss their magic dust


TV VIEW:WE GOT a bit of sense of how important yesterday’s skirmish at Anfield was for Liverpool when their full-back Glen Johnson described it as – and apologies for the unparliamentary language — a “shit-or-bust” game for the club.

Four defeats in a row had put Rafa Benitez’s men deep in doo-doo, leaving all concerned poo-pooing their hopes of winning any trophy of substance this season. But what’s dung is dung, so to speak, and yesterday was a new day, a chance to beat the neighbours from hell, Manchester United, and get back on track.

“There are 36 miles and 36 titles between the clubs,” Richard Keys told us, a neat symmetry that was sort of mirrored by the lay-out of the Sky panel, with a former Liverpool midfielder — Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness — on either side of a United old-boy, Steve Coppell.

Coppell, like Wayne Rooney, is one of those rare enough commodities, a Scouser loved by United fans. The passion faded when he was appointed Manchester City manager all those years ago, but it was rekindled the moment he walked out on the club – 33 days later. It’s the stuff United legends are made of.

Any way, downstairs at Anfield Geoff Shreeves was giving Rafa a slightly hard time, reminding him of just how rubbish his team has been of late, but Rafa stood his ground, reminding Geoff that “we are better than people thinks”.

By then Geoff had filmed a piece with Jamie Carragher on, for some unspecified reason, the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, Jamie being told on his guided tour that “the role of this ship is to make sure that we can fight air power anywhere in the world at short notice”.

There were endless opportunities here for Geoff to talk to Jamie about Liverpool’s struggles defending set-pieces, but all credit to him, he bit his tongue.

Meanwhile, United’s own HMS Illustrious, Ryan Giggs, chatted about his 18 years of playing against Liverpool, the player asked what age he thought United wunderkid Federico Macheda was when Giggs appeared in his first Liverpool game. “Dunno,” he said, nervously. “Six weeks old,” he was informed.

But Giggs, we’re guessing, has become accustomed to this age-related line of questioning. For the first few years of his career it was “wow, you’re incredibly young, aren’t you?” Then it was “uh oh, you’re not as young as you used to be.” Then, “jeez, you’re almost a veteran”. Now: “Good Lord, you’re ancient!”. Like his inquisitors are Peter or Polly Pan. As Kevin Keegan once put it, “the 33 or 34-year-olds will be 36 or 37 by the time the next World Cup comes around, if they’re not careful”.

“We know how much you love this fixture, were you almost disappointed the clocks went back an hour?,” the omnipresent Geoff asked Alex Ferguson, who responded with that unnerving chuckle, the one that makes him sound like he’s choking.

Almost game time. “These two big Premier beasts are ready to roar again,” Richard purred, a cue for dramatic archival Liverpool v United footage set to a tune which referenced a jungle. We half expected to see Rafa emerge from the dressingroom, backwards baseball cap in place, crooning “don’t push me ’cos I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head – fact”.

And these games are, indeed, like a jungle sometimes, defeat yesterday would have left us all wondering how Rafa could keep from going under, but even without Stevie Wonder (the Gerrard lad) Liverpool were not without potential match winners. “When they find themselves in times of trouble they at least have a goalkeeper they can rely on,” said Rob Hawthorne of Pepe Reina, prompting, we suspect, groans from the viewers and a collective request that Rob let it be.

The game. Much ado about not a great deal until Fernando Torres did what Fernando Torres is wont to do: score. “He is between sunshine and cloud, if you like,” Jamie Redknapp said of him at full-time. We kind of knew what he meant, but not entirely.

Michael Owen time. The Kop greeted him warmly. “Judas! Judas!” “We knew we were in the midst of someone very special,” said Jamie of Owen’s emergence at Liverpool. We kind of knew what he meant, but.

It was 2-0 before the death, a result that left Richard wondering if “United were missing just a little bit of magic dust”? Jamie reckoned they were, but with HiMSelf now an Illustrious Real Madrid player and his heir apparent, Nani, as highly regarded by the United faithful as AC Milan’s second-half defending in the 2005 Champions League final, there wasn’t much point talking about it.

“All in all, Liverpool were the better team, they created more chances, they were better than us on the day so I’ve no complaints,” Ferguson said to our Geoff. Seriously, we’re not making it up.

Rafa purred, like the king of the jungle. Out of the doo-doo. Flushed with success.