Kenny Dalglish should be appointed permanently, Michael Carrick disappointed and Luis Suárez is no Dutch flop
What's the delay? Liverpool, once again, is a happy place to be. The change in atmosphere is quite remarkable, both in the stands and out on the pitch. The players' body language has changed, as if they have been reminded about what it actually means to play for this club. On 29 December, Liverpool lost here, 1-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Roy Hodgson's players left the pitch to a mixture of disbelief and voluble anger. It feels like a trick of the mind now. Two months on, Kenny Dalglish has reinvigorated the place. We know he is the man for the job. The fans who serenaded him with a chorus of "Happy birthday" know it makes sense. Over to you, John W Henry.
When a striker joins English football from the Dutch league there is a natural tendency to reserve judgment. Blame Afonso Alves, the scorer of 45 goals in one Eredivisie season for Heerenveen who could not tell the difference between a goal and a barn door at Middlesbrough. Or Mateja Kezman, who scored 105 goals in 122 games for PSV Eindhoven but was hopeless for Chelsea. Luis Suárez, however, had already shown in these embryonic stages of his Liverpool career that he could prove to have been an astute piece of transfer business. His vision and awareness of space was a feature of Liverpool's domination; the slalom past four players for the first goal was the game's outstanding moment.
And probably always will be when these two sides lock horns. That little period at the end of the first half, when the tackles started flying and tempers became frayed, reminded us how much it matters for both clubs not to give an inch to their rivals. The referee, Phil Dowd, did a reasonably good job of maintaining a sense of control but he also got the key decisions wrong. Jamie Carragher deserved to be sent off and Rafael da Silva, if to a slightly lesser extent, was also fortunate he did not get a red card for the immature way in which he dived in on Lucas Leiva.
Maybe that's a little harsh and to give him his due Nani, who was taken off on a stretcher at the end of the first half, was entitled to be upset by Jamie Carragher's tackle. And the impact of football studs on flesh – at speed – can be painful in the extreme. And maybe Nani's head was still a little blurred by his accidental contribution to Liverpool's second goal. But crying? Bryan Robson never cried. Roy Keane never cried. Heck, we never even saw tears from Cristiano Ronaldo, the man who wrote the book on football prima donnas. Sorry to sound unsympathetic, but this is not a fixture in which to start blubbing. Don't think for one second that Sir Alex Ferguson was giving Nani a cuddle and passing him chocolate drops in the dressing room. As Tommy Smith growled in the pressbox: "It's Liverpool against Manchester United, for Christ's sake."
It would be unfair to make Carrick the only scapegoat for United when the truth is that so many of Ferguson's players could have done better. Wes Brown demonstrated at times why Ferguson has not started him in the Premier League for over a year; Wayne Rooney was on the edges; the usually unflappable Edwin van der Sar had a bad afternoon; and we have dealt with Nani above. Yet Carrick leaves you wanting so much more. This is a man who could be United's Xabi Alonso but who never steps forward, as though he does not have it in his personality to decide it is going to be his moment. Is it a question of self belief? Carrick is 30 this year and at that age it is fair to say we will probably never see the player he really could be. He signed a new contract at Old Trafford last week and the reaction among the supporters was underwhelming, to say the least.