James Lawton: It's a scandal that Carragher will get away with his assault on Nani

United are in trouble. Whatever happens between now and the season's end, they have to be remade, most urgently in midfield. There, they reeked of decline

This was a brilliant and complete Liverpool victory. It confirmed so many of the hopes raised by Kenny Dalglish on his return to Anfield.

At the same time it was a devastating exposure of the weaknesses that, until the last few days, have lurked not so far below the surface of Manchester United's resilient but often unconvincing challenge for their 12th Premier League title.

Yet, if this important football match bears huge implications, especially for Arsenal – now just three points behind United with a game in hand and with a goal deficit that might be swept away in just one burst of virtuosity – none of it was momentous enough to provide even a wisp of a smokescreen for the scandal that lay at its heart.

At the end of a week of refereeing controversy it was that Jamie Carragher was merely given a yellow card for a tackle on Nani so sickening, so dangerous, that it rendered more farcical than ever the insistence of the football authorities that they cannot revisit extreme cases of negligence, irresponsibility or – let's not fail to explore the full range of possibilities in this case – outright failure of nerve by a match official.

Phil Dowd was close at hand, was surrounded by protesting United players and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard – who appeared to be suggesting that his team-mate was not guilty of one of the worst fouls to disfigure any ground in recent memory – and then administered two yellow cards, one to Carragher, still protesting his innocence, and the other to Edwin van der Sar, incredulous that a tackle of such crude violence could elicit such a mild punishment.

Sometimes you have to despair of the inability of football to police itself – and of those who watch it to separate their tribal instincts from the evidence of their own eyes.

We had another example of this after an incident that followed hard on the Carragher tackle when Rafael, United's young Brazilian full-back, was yellow-carded for a tackle on Lucas, a moment after the latter's team-mate Maxi Rodriguez had come at him thigh-level.

Rafael was inflamed, no doubt, and his tackle was reckless – but his feet were low, unlike Carragher's, whose boot hit Nani's standing leg shin-high – and Lucas was unscathed. However, this did not prevent Rafael being booed relentlessly through the rest of the match.

Some will say Nani's notoriety in the play-acting department worked against his outrage and that of his team-mates – especially when he got to his feet to join in the protests before falling again – but you didn't have to be a drama critic to detect authenticity in his tears and his shock or, as United's most threatening player, his departure on a stretcher. Sometimes there really is a wolf in the grounds and yesterday his name was Carragher.

This may offend some Merseyside sensitivities – and we all know what a sterling professional Carragher has been down the years – but you had to be living on another planet not to be revolted by this piece of action. Nani wasn't tackled – he was, in effect, assaulted – and we can re-run the film a thousands times without a softening of that verdict.

Certainly it will not do for Dalglish – who was hinting before the game that Sir Alex Ferguson's criticism of officials tends to work in his favour – to offer only this bromide: "It's not correct to talk about incidents because the match was played in a great spirit."

Silence, you have to say, would have been the better option.

Did the absence of Nani have a decisive effect on the outcome? It's not the point but, of course, the answer is plainly no.

If you had drawn up a list of the advantages of Dalglish's appointment – one which will now surely be made permanent – you would have spent most of this match ticking them off. Most striking, of course, is the fact that Liverpool now look like Liverpool again, a team of conviction and self-belief, one capable of growing before your eyes.

In terms of manpower, the differences between the team that finished last season so bedraggled and lurched into this one so unconvincingly is slight enough but the psychological change is huge. Luis Suarez is a player of thrilling nerve and touch and Raul Meireles continues to develop as a force of brimming value.

Dirk Kuyt, who has always been a superior scavenger, surely put down a solid footprint on Dalglish's new Liverpool with a hat-trick that owed everything to his trademark resolve to turn over every stone in pursuit of victory.

United? Five days after crumbling at Chelsea, they again lacked their own Dutch boy to put his finger in the hole in the seawall. No doubt, Ferguson will ransack all his reserves of defiance in an effort to get his wounded team over the line, but, if Arsenal can find some of the resolve that deserted them so profoundly against Birmingham City in the League Cup final and at home to Sunderland, United are clearly in trouble.

Whatever happens between now and the season's end, they have to be re-made, most urgently in the midfield. There, they reeked of decline. Nor does it help that Wayne Rooney appears to be operating from an imperfectly working memory.

It was an inept performance – almost as shocking as that tackle.



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
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

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on