Is Ferguson paying lip service?

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has stated for more years than I can remember that the match versus their great rivals Liverpool is the game of the season.

That being the case, I wonder why he decided to treat is so off handedly!

Granted, United’s recent record at Anfield has been nothing short of miserable. Since December 2007 and a Carlos Tevez strike, they’ve left Merseyside empty-handed on every occasion. To witness the league leader parking the bus in front of the Kop Jose Mourinho style for much of the proceedings on Saturday afternoon was a stunner though.

Of course, Ferguson has got very little wrong over the years as demonstrated by the way he hoards trophies with the enthusiasm of the show ‘hoarders’ but this time I think he let a rarely seen side of his character take center stage, namely conservatism.

The Scotsman deployed a rarely seen five-man midfield against a Liverpool team that in my opinion is still trying to find its way and could have been there for the taking.

By handing the initiative to the Reds, Ferguson, basically said ‘I’m happy with a point,’ an attitude which is normallyt completely alien to the Scotsman. Remember, this is the man that when he has the opportunity to step on the throats of opponents, he usually jumps in enthusiastically with both feet.

How else to explain the inexplicable benching of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Nani? This trio has been in sensational form since the beginning of the Premier League season. Perhaps European Championship qualifiers and money grabbing ‘friendly matches’ were the reason for the tiredness and an element in resting the Portuguese winger and Mexican striker but it certainly couldn’t have been a factor in the England forward, who hasn’t lifted a foot since being red carded against Montenegro.

With Anderson also resting his weary body on the pine, you could basically say that 40% of the regular starting XI was missing having a ‘forced’ or ‘Fergie’ induced jolly- up.

However, for Ferguson to say that Rooney was on the bench because his head wasn’t quite right after learning the news that he was being suspended from England’s first three matches at next summer’s European Championship made no sense. Either he’s right from the opening kick-off or he should take the weekend off and not be on the substitutes list.

My feeling is that if you bring Rooney into a match that you’re chasing, his temper may sometimes get the better of him but he presses harder than almost any other player in world football.

Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and Liverpool forward Luis Suarez get closely acquainted. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Thankfully for Ferguson, the volcanic rage that can consume England’s finest wasn’t evident in his 20-minute cameo – perhaps that was the thinking behind him playing in a deeper role. Or maybe the chants of ‘who’s the Scouser in the wig’ sung lustily by the Liverpool faithful forced Wayne to not take himself so seriously.

Either way, when Rooney entered the match after Steven Gerrard saved ‘Ryan’s Privates’ or some combination thereof to open the scoring for Liverpool, he looked like a player in damage limitation zone as opposed to the usual ball of fury.

It really seems like it took Ferguson 70+ minutes to realize that Liverpool are not the team that he once vowed to knock off their perch. Maybe he offered them too much respect and one has to ask if he’s losing the edge that made him the best and the most ruthless in the business.

Ultimately will Ferguson rue letting Liverpool off the hook? I think he might if the difference between United and City is two points in May.

Regardless of how well you think the Reds played – you have to match them up against the team they were presented with.

If this was Liverpool’s first XI and United’s second XI then the gulf is way more than the 32 miles that separate Anfield and Old Trafford.

I hate to say this but when Sir Alex Ferguson is saying that ‘Liverpool versus Manchester United is the game of the season’ he’s giving it lip service. He’s paying homage to history, not the present and he’s subtly giving it the ‘big one’ to Anfield. Eighteen can never be nineteen going on twenty…

And then…on a separate note is Luis Suarez versus Patrice Evra.

Not being on the pitch, I can’t attest to who said what but we’ve got a problem here that is bigger than eighteen, nineteen, twenty, Dalglish & Ferguson, Liverpool and Manchester.

If what was alleged to have been said was said then we’re in the Stone Age era. If what was believed to be said was not said, we’re in an era that I want no part of.

Crazy times on and off the pitch.