James Lawton: Benitez's clarion call reinforces thin red line

Give it to Rafa Benitez, we must. On arguably the most critical day of his football life, he created an extraordinary emotional response – the kind that used to be routinely called down from the heavens by the founder of the empire which has been shaken to its foundations in recent weeks.

But then Bill Shankly traded on the raising of his team's and his adopted city's spirit – and by surrounding himself with good players.

These had not exactly been seen as the Benitez hallmarks in a run of four defeats but here yesterday, when victory by Manchester United would have extended the gap between the teams to 10 points, he had all the emotion he needed... and just enough good players to exploit an appalling afternoon's work by the reigning champions.

Whether he can build on and, who knows, learn from this example of a team being required to play to its own limits rather than the strict tactical protocols of the man in charge, is now a question quite pivotal to Benitez's future. In the meantime, only the churlish would deny that, between them, the coach and the players had stood and held a red line that had become hazardously thin.

Still, it would be dishonest to suggest that United hadn't betrayed themselves more deeply than at any point since their mystifying collapse in the Champions League final in Rome last spring. In fact, United were at times so inept that Liverpool might have got by with any old jumble of pros plus the man who put them to the sword with a piece of trademarked, exquisite action that cast further question marks against Rio Ferdinand's ranking among the world's top half-dozen defenders.

Fernando Torres discounted the attention of Ferdinand with some contempt before driving home the opening goal past a previously underworked Edwin van der Sar, and when he came off near the end, with the devotion of at least half the city secured for the foreseeable future, it was ironic that one of the players who has been caught in the glare of criticism that Anfield is inhabited by too many mediocre players, delivered the coup de grâce.

Torres, like the injured Steven Gerrard in the stands, threw up his arms when the gangling David Ngog ran in unopposed to make it 2-0, and he was joining a thunderous consensus that indeed the crisis had passed. Naturally, Benitez made the point with some vigour when he faced his doubters, and no one could question his right. When the pressure was at its height, his team undoubtedly produced a degree of momentum that was guaranteed to bulldoze all but the most committed and talented of teams. United, it became increasingly clear as Liverpool rebuilt their self-belief, qualified on only one of those counts this day – and quite often the talent was as elusive as any evidence of force or commitment.

Naturally, Benitez didn't change his normal operating style. His language was the usual torrent of concern and impatience in the technical area, but for whatever reason his players had plainly been touched by the need to produce a heightened performance, if not only for the salvation of their manager, possibly the minimal disruption in their own lives.

Predictably in the absence of Gerrard, Liverpool's hopes hinged hugely on the ability of Torres to spread sufficient terror among the United defenders – and hope among his team-mates. This he did frequently and with the additional bonus that the referee, Andre Marriner, also slipped under his spell, United's defender Patrice Evra being handed a yellow soon after a blatant dive by the Spaniard.

Liverpool also benefited from the strange decision of Marriner to allow Jamie Carragher to stay on the field after he had, as the last defender, hauled down United substitute Michael Owen. Nemanja Vidic, who collected his second yellow card when he brought down Dirk Kuyt, albeit in the Liverpool player's half, pointed out the discrepancy to Carragher shortly before he marched off the field early, for the third successive time against Liverpool. If there was any comfort at all for the big man from the Balkans, on this occasion he had not withered under the heat of the Torres game. Indeed, there were times when Vidic and Paul Scholes were almost alone in their belief that they had the means to bring further anxiety to the hearts of their most bitter rivals.

This is not to question the legitimacy of Liverpool's victory – or the force of their reaction to suggestions that they have become misplaced in the top echelon of both the domestic and the European game.

However, when you took away the dynamism of Torres, the typically probing craft of Yossi Benayoun, and the confidence of a Javier Mascherano who must have been stunned by the lack of menace produced by some of his more august opponents, any deep belief in the quality of the Liverpool squad would surely have provoked some concerned investigation.

Ditto, though, on this occasion, United. Apart from Ferdinand's latest incidence of being overwhelmed at a critical moment, Dimitar Berbatov was the principal source of worry. In the first half he produced a couple of silky touches, and the usual air of a man about to take off into another dimension, and then produced possibly the most overpriced piece of football action in the history of the game. We are told he sometimes frets over his lack of impact. Yesterday, you were bound to ask: "How can we tell?"

There is never much mystery, however, about the mood and the style of Rafa Benitez. Yesterday he had plainly reorganised his football world. How permanently is, of course, an entirely different question.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Life and Style
i100

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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week