The Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson last night criticised the unsettling influence of Barcelona on their transfer target Javier Mascherano after the Argentine declared himself unable to take any part in the 3-0 defeat to Manchester City last night.
Mascherano did not play at Eastlands having been in what Hodgson said was "not the right frame of mind" after a £12m offer from Barcelona was made public yesterday. However, Hodgson said that his club would not be held to ransom by the Spanish club and would be prepared to hold on to the player for this transfer window until their valuation of him is met.
Hodgson and the Liverpool board are thought to value the player in excess of £20m although the club's manager said yesterday that Mascherano's "head had been turned" by the interest from Barcelona. With two years left on the Argentine's contract Liverpool are in a strong position and could even insist that he sees it out.
Watched for their first time by their billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, who has pumped around £1bn into the club, City were under considerable pressure to deliver a result. They won the game comfortably through goals from Gareth Barry, Micah Richards and a penalty from Carlos Tevez.
With his team 17th in the league after two games, Hodgson said: "Javier Mascherano is not in the right frame of mind to play because his head has obviously been turned by the offer from Barcelona. At the moment the fee that the club [Liverpool] think is the correct fee and one that has been offered are very far apart and unless that can be resolved he might be unhappy for a long time.
"The discussions between the club and Barcelona are being held at high club level. As a result I don't really want to start speaking and saying things that may or may not be true. I have no wish to create headlines over the Mascherano situation. It's not the first time these things have happened and there are a lot of clubs at the moment suffering from their players being courted by other clubs and players therefore being unhappy and fulfilled to require their contracts."
The club have told Mascherano all summer that he can leave if their valuation of him was met by his two main suitors this summer – Internazionale and Barça. Whether the player can now mend his relationship with the Liverpool supporters is another matter.
The Sheikh did not come to the home dressing room after the game but Mancini said that he did speak to the club captain Tevez after the match. The City manager admitted that it was important that his side won playing in front of their new owner for the first time but said that it would take time for them to demonstrate whether they were serious title contenders this year.
Mancini said: "The team played with a good mentality. If they play with a good mentality I think we can beat every team. We beat a strong team like Liverpool, who can fight for the title. This win helped us believe in ourselves and this is important."
Tactics: liverpool can't blame zonal marking any more
Somewhere in his new Milanese residence Rafael Benitez, for all the kinship he will feel for former players, must have felt the urge to chuckle. Every time Liverpool conceded a goal from a corner last season the sages nodded knowingly and blamed the new Internazionale coach's zonal marking system.
Benitez's replacement by Roy Hodgson as manager at Anfield has meant a return to man-for-man marking, the usual practice in English football from the parks to the Premier League. Yet, early in the second half last night, Liverpool conceded from a corner. Micah Richards climbed above Daniel Agger and Carlos Tevez, unmarked just three yards from goal, at the very least distracted the Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina and possibly deflected the ball past him.
One of the benefits of man-marking is that blame can be apportioned: Agger thus carried the can, though why he was marking Richards, City's best header of the ball, rather than Martin Skrtel is a mystery. Equally puzzling at first sight was why Tevez was unmarked. Replays revealed he had cleverly dropped off, then stepped in front of the ball-watching Lucas.
This is the problem with man-for-man. Players have to win their individual battles and teams are often unequal in height. When, for example, Arsenal visit Stoke, the likes of Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner have a better than usual chance of selection.
Benitez frequently complained that pundits never blamed the manager's system when a team practising man-for-man conceded. Instead the finger was pointed at an individual, such as Agger and Lucas last night, and Nemanja Vidic when Brede Hangeland equalised for Fulham against Manchester United on Sunday. Which means in some ways man-for-man is the smart choice for managers – a goal conceded at a set-piece is never their fault. Glenn Moore