Martin Skrtel
De Gea was furious after being challenged by Skrtel in the dying seconds of Sunday's match at Anfield.Getty Images

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has leapt to the defence of Martin Skrtel after the defender clashed with David de Gea in the closing stages of Manchester United's 2-1 win at Anfield.

Skrtel provoked a fiery reaction from the visiting goalkeeper after he appeared to plant his right foot onto the ankle of De Gea when chasing an attempted through ball immediately before referee Martin Atkinson blew for full-time.

With captain Steven Gerrard having already been dismissed for a stamp on Ander Herrera just 38 seconds after being introduced as a second-half substitute, many claimed that Liverpool were lucky not to be reduced to nine men as a result of another controversial incident.

Chelsea striker Diego Costa, much to the annoyance of Jose Mourinho, was heavily criticised and retrospectively handed a three-match suspension for stamping on Emre Can during Chelsea's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg victory over Liverpool in January, but Rodgers obviously does not believe that Skrtel's actions merit a similar punishment and insists that the challenge was merely mistimed.

"I have seen the Martin Skrtel incident," he told Sky Sports after an entertaining second half in which the hosts fought bravely against their numerical disadvantage after a dismal opening 45 minutes and managed to reduce the arrears through Daniel Sturridge.

"The ball was played through but it probably looks worse in slow motion. It looks like he is trying to get a nick on the ball, to get a toe on it the ball went into the goalkeeper's hands. Martin is not that type of player, he was just a fraction out."

Whether the Football Association will view the clash in quite the same light following yet another controversial weekend of refereeing decisions in the Premier League remains to be seen, however.

The defeat, a first since December for Liverpool, could have a lasting impact on the race for Champions League qualification as it leaves United five points clear of their rivals in fourth place with just eight games remaining.