Ian Herbert: Benitez suffers from reverse psychology

Liverpool manager cuts increasingly frustrated figure after latest setback

It's about a year since Rafael Benitez stood in an Old Trafford press room, gently ridiculing Sir Alex Ferguson's barbed suggestion that a knowledge of Freud was required to understand the inner recesses of the Spaniard's complicated mind. His side had just overwhelmed Ferguson's 4-1 at the time, so there was good reason to smile along a little. By last night, however, you wondered whether Benitez's nemesis perhaps had it right all along. The Liverpool manager's press conference was a complicated mixture of near unfathomable irony and unvarnished frustration at the manner of another defeat, though the most baffling part of a reverse that puts Liverpool such a dreadfully long way from Champions League football is that they should have forgotten the recipe for undoing United which Benitez articulated so clearly last March.

Benitez declared then that United's defence was not all it had been cracked up to be: "When they don't have the ball and you move the ball quickly behind the defenders you know you can beat them." It was some assertion, given that the Premier League champions had just completed a British record of 14 successive clean sheets at the time.

The first five minutes of yesterday's play were a continuum from that March day. Steven Gerrard demonstrated that Rio Ferdinand is vulnerable to a midfielder running towards him at speed, seconds before Fernando Torres rose to power a majestic header past Pepe Reina. That made it three goals put past Ferguson's defence in 18 consecutive minutes of competition between the sides at Old Trafford.

Given that Xabi Alonso did not even play last March, there was every reason to believe that Liverpool would walk out of this stadium with a fourth consecutive win and, for half an hour, they pressed with an intensity which has not been seen all season. Dirk Kuyt looked like a world beater, Lucas Leiva like a commanding Premier League footballer. They wanted it more.

Then the vision was extinguished as fast as it materialised. One minute Torres was nutmegging Nemanja Vidic and Kuyt crossing dangerously, forcing Ferdinand to deposit the ball unconvincingly into touch with his shin; the next Darren Fletcher was reasserting United's pre-eminence. The low, fast balls behind the defence were replaced by high punts which Vidic dealt with. While United pushed on unceasingly, Benitez removed Gerrard from the advanced role he had started him in. There was even a spell on the left wing – the "graveyard shift" Gerrard so detests.

Wayne Rooney had started out looking like the nervous striker, wearing black gloves on a warm spring day out of a belief that it would take superstition to put paid to his goal drought against Liverpool. But he was the one in command of himself, restraining the goalscoring celebrations when you felt he would vent himself on the Liverpool fans. Torres cut a sorry sight: scuffing up the penalty spot before Rooney's penalty, booked for the fourth time in five matches after a hack at Park Ji-sung, clapping ironically so frequently that he generated the most animated of responses you will see from Howard Webb. Ball control disappeared with his self-control and he was mentally unequipped to stroke home the ball Gerrard levelled for him in the 89th minute.

Benitez's claims for a top four place seemed thin last night, demonstrating how far football can move in 12 months. The banner hanging from the Stretford End will have cut Gerrard the deepest. "Making history, not living it," it read.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there