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Red reversal?

In light of some recent shock results, could Liverpool be set to overturn Manchester United’s title lead? It’s unlikely – but the way things have been going recently, nothing can be ruled out. Meanwhile, Ireland are improving steadily under Trap – and we’re well-positioned ahead of two crunch qualifiers

Tony Cascarino, 30 Mar 2009

First off, I’d like to extend my congratulations to the Irish rugby squad on the occasion of their Grand Slam triumph. I wouldn’t be a massive rugby expert, but I usually watch it when it’s on and thoroughly enjoy it, and the match the other day was absolutely savage. I didn’t see the whole thing, thanks to work commitments, but the final stages were incredible, the tension was unbelievable. Hats off to Bernard Dunne as well for his world title win.

Soccer-wise, there’s been a fairly dramatic shift in the English title race lately. It looked done and dusted a couple of weeks ago, but now United have hit the skids and Liverpool look completely transformed. Man U have got three red cards in a week, which indicates there’s a major discipline problem there. Wayne Rooney’s sending off against Fulham was completely daft, and I think it sprang from his frustration at being left out. I can understand that, because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he wasn’t picked, with him and Tevez having destroyed Fulham a few weeks ago. I think Fergie just dropped him, which makes you wonder if there’s something going on that we don’t know about.

Berbatov and Ronaldo more or less went missing. Neither of them are exactly the hardest workers in the world when the going gets tough. Berbatov is a strange character. He’s seriously talented, but there are times when he looks disinterested, Ronaldo was in one of those petulant moods where he just wants to argue with everybody. United were awful, especially in the first half. Evra has got the run-around in the last three games, he’s in absolutely stinking form, and the team in general looked a mess. Fergie’s lucky that there’s a break coming up now for the internationals, which will give him time to get them sorted out.

A lot of the ill-discipline is down to Fergie himself. Down the years, he’s always been defending his players when they do things that are completely out of order, and encouraging them to terrorise referees. That’s the modern game, and you could say it’s part of his job. Fergie likes to intimidate, and the simple fact is that sort of behaviour puts pressure on referees and makes them more likely to give you decisions. He likes to intimidate other managers with his mind games, and his team are a reflection of his character. He’s a bad loser, which explains why he comes out with some unbelievable stuff, like saying Paul Scholes shouldn’t have been sent off for blatantly handling the ball on the goal-line, or saying ‘we were the better team’ when you’ve just been done 4-1 at home.

All that said, I think the break’s come at the right time for United, and you’ll see them refreshed. They’re also blessed that their next game is against Villa, who’ve hit a horrible run of form.

Meanwhile, Liverpool suddenly look devastating. A few weeks ago, they were struggling to put away mediocre sides. Look at them now – 4-0 against Real Madrid, 4-1 at Old Trafford, 5-0 against Villa. Rafa’s rotation system means his players are a bit fresher physically towards the end of the season compared to their rivals, and I also think Benitez has been a bit bolder recently in his approach. When they fell seven or eight points behind, it seemed that he ditched the cautious approach to an extent, and really went for it.

Their confidence will be absolutely flying now, and players will be turning up for training with big smiles on their faces. But the break is coming at the wrong time for them – Liverpool would like to play the next game today if they could. Their destiny still isn’t in their own hands, so it’s definitely advantage United. But it looks a bit more exciting now than it did, and with Torres and Gerrard in the form they’re in, you can’t rule anything out.

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