A right Masch of it
Andy Gray has the Last Word (perhaps) on Javier Mascherano's sending off against Manchester United.
Last Updated: 25/01/11 7:11pm
Matches between the big four rarely come and go without incident and another instalment of action between Manchester United and Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal didn't disappoint.
We've had 'Pizzagate', 'Keown v van Nistelrooy' and the three red cards in last season's Carling Cup final to name but a few. So we shouldn't really be surprised that there was yet more infamy on Grand Slam Sunday. And we shouldn't be surprised either that the subject of debate this week, of all weeks, would be about respect, or a lack of it, shown towards referees.
After Ashley Cole brought the hot topic to the top of the news agenda last week with the contempt he showed for Mike Riley, players were going to be walking a tightrope on Sunday afternoon and in the end it was Liverpool's Argentine international Javier Mascherano who put a foot wrong and slipped.
Already on a yellow card when Liverpool were 1-0 down at Old Trafford, Mascherano chose the wrong moment to ask referee Steve Bennett 'what's happening?' when team-mate Fernando Torres was booked after he was fouled by Rio Ferdinand. Bennett drew another yellow card, then a red and Mascherano's afternoon was done.
While many will continue to argue that Mascherano should have been nowhere near the referee and didn't need to get involved, Andy Gray stood up for the Liverpool midfielder, telling The Last Word, that football has a problem if you get sent off for asking the referee a question.
"First of all I think Mascherano was disappointed with his booking," he told the Sky Sports show. "We could tell the minute it happened when he slid in on (Paul) Scholes, a lot of referees would have let it go, but Steve Bennett decided that he would book him.
"He was rattled by that, Mascherano, you could see it in his play.
"Steve Bennett has his own way of refereeing a game but it is not mine. A lot of people might say that he was absolutely, 100 per cent right. I don't think he was.
"I agree that he (Mascherano) should have stayed away. He didn't, so forget that. Are you telling me that Steve Bennett is going to send off every single player that comes up to him and says, 'what's happening?'."
Gray argued that there was a big difference between Cole's and Mascherano's misdemeanours and that Cole, who escaped dismissal, should have seen red while it was rough justice on Mascherano.
He said: "Ashley Cole should have been dismissed in mid-week. No doubt about it.
"His treatment of the referee was a disgrace. To turn his back on him like that and treat him with such contempt, whether you like referees or not, was wrong, ill-advised and he shouldn't have done it. He should have been sent off and that might have been the end of it.
"But if you are telling me that if you go up to a referee and you stand in front of him and you are being not aggressive and he didn't swear at him (you should be sent off).
"Where are we going with this game? Where are we going with it? Do me a favour. There are problems in the game, we know there are, and Ashley Cole's was an unpleasent part of modern day football.
"But if we are going to send players off for going up to a referee and saying, 'what's happening?', and the referee cannot handle it and reacts like that every time, then we have got a problem.
"I will tell you something that happened in the game: Another player, in the second-half, went over to Steve Bennett and he gave him a verbal volley of industrial language. Right at him.
"I'm not telling you (who) because it is not my business to get players into trouble but that is what happens. Suddenly, if you say 'what's happening?' to the referee, you get sent off, but if you give him a volley, you don't."
Although Manchester United were leading when Liverpool went down to ten men, Gray believed that Bennett's decision had an impact on the game, saying it changed the way that Rafael Benitez's side had to approach the match.
He said: "It is a scoreline that suggests that Liverpool have been hammered but the truth of the matter is that they weren't hammered.
"The two goals came at a time when they were down to ten men and they knew they had to chase the game.
"If they had any ideas at all about being in the shake of this title race, I think Steven Gerrard and Benitez and his team knew that they had to win at Old Trafford."
With Arsenal losing at Chelsea, regardless of how or why events unfolded, Manchester United now have a five-point cushion over Chelsea in second at the top of the Premier League and a vastly superior goal difference to both Arsenal, now six points adrift, and Chelsea.
Liverpool, 14 points behind United, have a bigger battle on their hands holding off Everton for the final Champions League spot (watch the Merseyside derby live on Sky Sports from 3.30pm, Sunday March 30).
Javier Mascherano won't be there, suspended of course, but the debate about whether he should or shouldn't have been sent off will rage on.