The 4-1 hammering Manchester United took at the hands of title rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford has given the world champions a very rude awakening, said Rio Ferdinand. After carrying all before them since their last defeat at Arsenal in November, collecting the Club World Cup and Carling Cup, as well as establishing a handsome lead in the Premier League, reaching the last four of the FA Cup and last eight in Europe, United suffered their biggest home defeat by the Merseysiders since 1936.
It has cut United's advantage to four points - although they do still have a game in hand - and given them a few problems to address ahead of next weekend's trip to Fulham, when Nemanja Vidic will be suspended because of his red card. "We have got a rude awakening," admitted Ferdinand. "None of us has been taking anything for granted but subconsciously there may have been complacency. "Losing any game is disappointing but losing to a team who we have such a big rivalry with is even worse. And the scoreline takes it beyond that. It is very hard to take."
Ferdinand felt Vidic's dismissal was the turning point. Although time was starting to tick down for the Red Devils, they were enjoying one of their few fruitful spells and had just introduced Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in a triple substitution. Most observers felt referee Alan Wiley got it exactly right when he showed Vidic the red card for his blatant foul on Steven Gerrard. But Ferdinand, the nearest player to the incident, was not so sure.
"It was debatable," said the England defender. "I don't want to jump on the referee's back but I would probably have got over there given the direction the ball was going in. But the referee made his decision and you have to get on with it." The dismissal compounded an already pretty miserable day for Vidic, who gifted Fernando Torres Liverpool's equaliser with two elementary mistakes. First the Serbian allowed Martin Skrtel's long punt forward to bounce when he could have headed it away under little pressure. Then he allowed Torres to nick the ball away from him before he could get it back to Edwin van der Sar.
"Nemanja has been one of our most consistent players this season," said Ferdinand. "Everyone is allowed to make a mistake here and there so we won't be getting on to him about it." Meanwhile, Rafael Benitez feels Liverpool have shown the rest of the Premier League how to beat Manchester United. Five days after putting four past Real Madrid to reach the Champions League quarter- finals, the Merseyside giants repeated the feat at Old Trafford to revive some hope of lifting the Premier League trophy.
If the odds remain long, the one straw Benitez can clutch at is that in inflicting upon United their first league defeat since November - and their first at home since Manchester City won on the day they commemorated the 50th anniversary of Munich - Liverpool have proved Ferguson's team are human. "We have shown the way," said Benitez. "United have been playing with so much confidence. At least people will now see that they can lose.
"In attack they are fantastic. But in defence they have some weaknesses and we tried to exploit them. "We have made mistakes and ended up dropping points. It is something we need to learn for the rest of the season because we cannot make any more mistakes." * PA Sport