Shelvey and Evans highlight the Premier League's dangerous path
The game was 48 hours ago but still the fall-out continues. What should have been a showpiece occasion based on mutual respect never stood a chance once Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey was dismissed in the first half and followed it up with a finger-pointing display of petulance towards Sir Alex Ferguson as he stormed angrily down the tunnel.
Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez managed to bury the unsavoury history between them by mustering a handshake during pre-match ritual but the focus of Sunday’s Liverpool-Manchester United showdown still centres on whether Shelvey's totally correct dismissal should have been matched by a red card for his supposed victim, Johnny Evans, following the ugly challenge that brought the pair of them crashing to the ground.
Everyone who saw the incident wherever the game was screened – and you are talking about the entire globe – has an opinion. Mine is that Shelvey deserved what he got. Both players went flying in for a 50-50 ball. The 20-year-old Liverpool player launched himself through the air, legs apart, with his studs showing so much that even those at the back of the Kop could see the sunlight glinting off the metal tips on the underside of his boot.
Evans, too, hurled himself into the impact zone, with the underside of his boot finishing upwards and his two feet together. But luckily for Evans – and possibly Shelvey’s ankles – the United centre-half avoided a solid connection.
Referee Mark Halsey had no option but to send Shelvey off; the tweets he subsequently received referring to the throat cancer he suffered a while ago were disgraceful.
Hot-tempered clashes are not uncommon when these two powerhouses of English football meet, with Nemanja Vidic holding the unwanted record of being sent off in three consecutive meetings between the two sides, twice during the 2008-09 season and then again in October of the following campaign.
Shelvey was the twelfth player since the 1999-2000 campaign in matches featuring Liverpool and United to receive his marching orders. One can only bemoan the fact that this particular incident occurred in this particular game given the big build-up about fair play.
It wasn’t the only shocking negative talking point of the weekend, however. Away from the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a fierce rivalty, there were equally reckless challenges by Chelsea’s David Luis and Swansea City’s midfield meanderer Nathan Dyer.
Luis, who often displays more attacking flair than defensive prowess, got away with it when he produced a horror tackle that could easily have put Stoke City’s John Walters out for the season. While Luiz was lucky not to see red, Walters was lucky to even be walking. Dyer was not so fortunate when he went in knee-high and clattered Everton's Leighton Baines to the ground.
The pundits tell us that the game has simply become too quick. But speed shouldn’t be causing players to lunge into challenges with both feet raised; nor should it mean they can’t time their challenges with precision.
If speed has increased so much, then so has the speed which which a defender must react. Using both feet to make a challenge, especially with raised studs, won't help reach the ball quicker. All it will do is put a fellow professional's career at risk.
What is needed in the coaching manual, perhaps, is way for players to learn how to make a safe but solid sliding challenge before the fine line between strong but fair, and unnecessarily aggressive, becomes too blurred to tell the difference. Otherwise reckless challenges will continue to feature more and more to the detriment of individual talent and, ultimately, us, the fans.