“I think I’ve always shown the right respect to Liverpool and the history they have and great team they are. But I also know that it’s the team I get the most pleasure out of beating.” – Ryan Giggs
There are many rivalries in England, there are many rivalries in Europe, there are many rivalries in the world, but very few match up to the intensity, animosity and combativeness of United – Liverpool. The rivalry is about more than just football, but is immersed in cities, culture and history. The ensuing hatred can leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many, but in a footballing sense there there is nothing more pleasurable than United beating Liverpool. Equally the displeasure of a loss can lead to severe repercussions for the ensuing weeks.
Sunday’s game is no different, in fact, it’s even more important, for the first time in my lifetime United go into the game as underdogs and instead, it is Liverpool who are challenging for the title. However, more so than ever, the magnitude of the game has increased beyond just that of a rivalry, but instead it could define the immediate future of both clubs.
A Liverpool win, will see them regarded as proper title contenders, not only in the eyes of the media but also in the eyes of their many skeptical fans who through previous disappointment refuse to believe they can actually win the league. It could even provide the players with an increased belief in their own ability to become champions for the first time since 1990. However, a loss will almost certainly end any chance they have of securing that allusive league title.
A United win could kick start our stuttering season and provide Moyes with a platform upon which he can get many of the disgruntled fans slightly back on side. Lose and once again the vultures will be out in force, the pressure will mount and the Moyes out campaigns will resurface, this time bigger than ever.
On the back of that disastrous display in Athens, United perhaps put on their best performance of the season thus far under Moyes, at the Hawthorns. United who had only managed one win in their preceding five fixtures, badly need a result as the pressure was mounting on Moyes.
The 3-0 win not only seen the attacking quartet of Januzaj, Mata, Rooney and Van Persie unleashed for the first time, but also brought about a much improved performance from Fellaini, who, having missed the majority of his maiden season through injury, is finally displaying encouraging signs of returning to form. Written off by many after only four league starts, the big Belgium may yet play a major role in the final furlong that is the dash for fourth place (yes my hart hasn’t entirely given up yet, even if my head has).
The impressive win against West Brom also brought to attention the damning statistic that it was the first time United scored three goals in a league game since December 26th, a 3-2 victory over Hull. While goals have been hard to come by, it has been defensive issues that have been most discouraging and this is further evidenced by Moyes’ inability to choose a settled back four. Jones and Smalling started together in the favoured positions and didn’t disappoint, with an assured defensive display and subsequent clean sheet.
With Ferdinand all but finished and Vidic opting for pastures new, the general consensus is that with nothing to lose, it is time to trust in the raw but talented centre backs of Jones and Smalling and the more experienced Evans, to usher in a new era at United.
United Team News
Upon the back of the encouraging win and improved performance against West Brom, there is most definitely a call for if it’s not broken don’t fix it. With the pace of Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho there is cause for Jones and Smalling to retain their respective places at the heart of the United defence. Nani has trained all week and is in contention for a place in the squad, however despite making encouraging progress, it is less likely Evans and Hernandez will play a major part. With Welbeck’s cameo appearance resulting in a goal last week and Van Persie’s abject display; it is believed that Van Persie will retain his place at the head of United’s attack. Despite for calls on the contrary. Fellaini and Carrick will anchor in midfield however, it remains to be seen if Moyes’ will start Januzaj, Mata and Rooney in such a big game, if so, it is likely Januzaj will drop to bench.
It is most certainly a case of roles reversed this season as Liverpool, against all the odds have mounted a serious title challenge for the first time since 2009, and the infamous “Rafa Rant”. Brendan Rodgers, within the space of a year, has transformed Liverpool’s style of play into one of a controlled counter attacking nature, characterised by the devastating pace of Sterling, composure of Sturridge and all round excellence of Suarez. Ironically the current Liverpool side exhibits many of the characteristics akin to that of some of Ferguson’s most famous sides.
Despite the fact that Liverpool currently lie in 2nd place in the Premier League, 7 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, it is with a degree of trepidation that even the most hardened Liverpool fan talks about a real title challenge. However, their current form suggests otherwise as they come to Old Trafford on the back of nine game unbeaten run. Furthermore, within this run, they have had comprehensive victories over genuine title contenders Arsenal (5-1) and potential fourth place candidates Everton (4-0). Despite such fantastic free scoring results against so-called big teams, it is the manner in which they have beaten Stoke, Fulham and Swansea, when it looked like they may drop points that suggests, they as a club have turned the corner. Infamous in recent times for dropping points against inferior opposition, Liverpool seem to have put a stop to the perpetual inconsistent tag that has characterised their Premier League life thus far.
On the back of a 3-0 win away to Southampton, and an extra weeks rest having had no game last weekend, Liverpool will be rejuvenated and raring to go at Old Trafford come 1:30 Sunday
Liverpool Team News
Liverpool will have an almost fully fit squad to choose from, with Jose Enrique, the only unfit player. Lucas and Sakho have returned to the squad upon recovering from knee and hamstring injuries respectively, however it is unlikely they will start. Premier Leagues top scorers Suarez and Sturridge will start up front while it is expected that Sterling will return to the starting line up upon coming off the bench in their previous game against Southampton.
A win on Sunday will finally put to bed the perpetual notion of one-step forward two steps backward that has personified the season to date. Too many times have we been filled with a sincere sense of hope on the back of a good result, only to be brought, crashing back down to earth with yet another lacklustre performance and inexcusable result. Good wins against Arsenal, Swansea and Cardiff were all followed by a series of poor performances. Beating our biggest rivals at home on Sunday would see us win three consecutive league games for the first time since the 15th of December, when we won four on the bounce. Since that mini run of results, albeit against inferior opposition we would seldom expect to drop points against, we have once again fallen into the depths of despair, highlighted by inconsistent performances and infrequent wins.
The final day of the Cheltenham racing festival yesterday, will be remembered in modern day racing folklore as the day of the underdog – long odds outsiders trumped well fancied favourites. For the first time in the Premier League era United come up against their fiercest of rival as the un-fancied underdog, lets hope they can draw inspiration from Lord Windemere and co.
Ciaran: United 2 – 1 Liverpool
Rodger: United 2-0 Liverpool