Manchester United 3 Liverpool 0: Rooney runs show after red mist provokes Mascherano's mad moment

To the vast bank of history which fuels the vitriol between Liverpool and Manchester United fans was added a new legend yesterday: the moment Javier Mascherano lost his mind.

The Argentine's 30-yard sprint across Old Trafford to remonstrate with Steve Bennett for booking Fernando Torres just before half-time was, with the debate on respect for referees still fresh in the mind, an extraordinary piece of timing and it left Rafael Benitez pacing the tunnels of Old Trafford with a face like thunder late yesterday. Benitez declared himself baffled by Bennett's decision to send off for dissent a player who was "just asking" for an explanation of the booking. Mascherano knew he had "made a mistake", added Benitez who, before Bennett issued a red, seemed to see the writing on the wall when he leapt to his feet from the dugout to order his midfielder, in Spanish, to desist from the dissent.

Benitez resisted the temptation to suggest that Bennett had been influenced by the aftermath of events last Wednesday at White Hart Lane, where he was fourth official during Ashley Cole's outburst against Mike Riley and was later censured by the referees' head Keith Hackett for failing to point out that Cole's tackle on Alan Hutton was a red-card offence or to help Riley deal with the dissent. "Ask him," said Benitez when asked if the incidents were linked.

But the reaction of Liverpool's players to Mascherano's dismissal suggested that they knew his time was up. The game was 15 minutes old when Mascherano performed a remarkable imitation of Cole, turning his back on Bennett after his bad one-footed challenge on Paul Scholes had earned him a yellow card. The demons possessed him thereafter and, aided and abetted by Torres, he gave Bennett the rough edge of his tongue three time more before deciding to step in for a fourth.

The events which followed the player's dismissal were also as dark as any Chelsea managed to conjure last Wednesday. The sight of Xabi Alonso, the Liverpool coach Alex Millar, fourth official Chris Foy and ultimately Benitez restraining Mascherano – the Spaniard placing his hands on Mascherano's shoulders and staring into his face as he tried to compose him – did not cover Liverpool in glory. Neither did Benitez, remonstrating at the dugout with United's assistant manager, Carlos Queiroz, for suggesting Torres had dived to earn a free-kick. The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, took delight in insisting Mascherano should have been gone. But Rio Ferdinand's reaction to a 60th-minute booking better showed how his side does things. No word from him, though Torres seemed to have fallen over his leg.

Legions of Liverpool fans will have headed home last night insistent that United's dealing with Torres warranted firmer action from Bennett but when the dust settles on the controversy the cold truth is that United – now five points clear at the top of the Premier League – were, while below their best, a considerably superior team.

The system which Benitez has found some comfort in of late, conjuring seven wins on the trot, came unstuck the minute it became clear that this was not to be one of Steven Gerrard's better afternoons. So often a man for the big occasion, Gerrard's distribution was curiously poor, which meant no real supply line to Torres, the man with whom his understanding had started to seem telepathic. It was Mascherano who most proved his worth, reducing Cristiano Ronaldo to a mere mortal for once – before leaving the field. Bereft of any great flow Liverpool left United to pick up the game.

In Scholes, United do possess a player they can endlessly depend on. His own biting challenge on Mascherano with the game a minute old signalled the 34-year-old's intent and he showed, in the exquisite 20-yard crossfield pass which sent Wayne Rooney skipping through the central channel early on, that he will shape days like these for as long as he has the power inside him to do so

Liverpool too often allowed Scholes the space to do so and though another pass to Rooney was marginally overhit on 35 minutes, it proved decisive. The striker sprinted 15 yards, retrieved it and crossed towardsWes Brown. The ball looped in off his back as Pepe Reina flapped.

The pre-match comparisons had been between Ronaldo and Torres, but the more instructive one here was between Rooney and Torres. United's man may have missed two clear early chances for his first goal at Old Trafford since October, but his contribution across the field made him the game's outstanding player. He also provided its outstanding piece of skill when, with Gerrard moved into Mascherano's holding role after the break and Liverpool seemingly out of hope, he took down a long punt from Edwin van der Sar on his right foot and shot first time with his left. Reina's save was one of three of the highest order.

Torres was isolated and possessed with some of Mascherano's demons. His relentless tirades against Bennett, coupled with a dire second-half challenge on Nemanja Vidic, would have made a red to follow the yellow quite justified.

Liverpool did have fleeting glimpses of hope as the game wore on. When Ferdinand completely misjudged a Gerrard free-kick, the ball flew across the penalty area to Torres who, out of sheer surprise, stabbed it wide from point blank range. But United's finishing was assured. Nani's 79th-minute corner was headed home by Ronaldo, who left Alonso for dead and capitalised on another flap by Reina. Two minutes later Nani cut left to right across the box and blasted in a third, right-footed.

For Benitez, a rib injury for injury means more worries before next weekend's Merseyside derby, which Mascherano will miss. But perhaps, by prompting a response to a code of conduct where the Argentine runs amok and the cameras catch Gerrard mouthing the words "you're taking the fucking piss" to Bennett, the game's significance resides in the longer term.

Goals: Brown (34) 1-0; Ronaldo (79) 2-0; Nani (81) 3-0.

Manchester United (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick, Anderson (Tevez, 73), Giggs (Nani, 73); Rooney. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Hargreaves, O'Shea.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio; Mascherano, Alonso; Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (Benayoun 66); Torres (Riise 82). Substitutes not used: Itandje (gk), Hyypia, Crouch.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Manchester United Ferdinand; Liverpool Mascherano, Torres, Arbeloa.

Sent off: Mascherano (44).

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 76,000.

For Capello's notebook

Rio Ferdinand The Manchester United central defender gave a commanding performance and stifled the in-form Liverpool striker Fernando Torres with little fuss. Was booked for kicking the ball away but managed not to complain.

Wayne Rooney A superb and tireless display by the Manchester United striker, despite a lack of goals and a knock to the knee which leaves him in doubt for the match in Paris on Wednesday night.

Steven Gerrard It was not a day on which the Liverpool captain offered much for the watching Franco Baldini, Capello's right-hand man, to get excited about. Was not helped by the dismissal of his team-mate Javier Mascherano which left him chasing shadows for the remainder of the match.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album