I don’t know about you, but when the fixtures come out in the summer this is the one I look for. Nothing quite compares to that gut wrenching, nauseous feeling I invariably get in the lead up to an encounter with the Scousers – the morning I was set to go pick up my GCSE results I remember thinking to myself that the butterflies in my stomach didn’t even compare to the turbulence I usually felt on the morning of a Liverpool game. Question those priorities all you want, beating Liverpool means so much.
Why is this the case? Well, like a lot of rivalries, it’s all got a bit out of hand. This game certainly rears its ugly head in terms of what’s said in in the stands and who ends up getting clattered on the pitch – it’s not always pretty, but it’s always compelling.
Victory on Sunday means even more considering the context of the game. Manchester United host a Liverpool team that did the double over United last season and came painfully close to winning the league, only for a sequence of hilarious events to transpire that ultimately led to them finishing 2nd in the league, 20 points ahead of Manchester United.
Currently, Liverpool is a team vulnerable to almost any Premier League side – last season’s runners up currently sits in 9th place, 15 points behind the league leaders and 7 behind Manchester United. At this stage last season, Liverpool had netted 34 goals, but after 15 games the Merseysiders have only managed 19.
Louis van Gaal’s side sits in a rather healthy 3rd position despite having to put up with an inexperienced, tentative defence and 42 significant injuries since July. The Dutchman has mananged to steer Manchester United to 5 consecutive wins for the first time since March 2013. I think Mr van Gaal deserves a pat on the back.
The poor performance against Southampton established a couple of things; playing the 3-5-2 formation isn’t very easy on the eye, but Manchester United seems to have restored that clinical edge that becomes so important for teams challenging for European spots – against Arsenal, Manchester United were 2-0 up having only had 1 shot on target and last Monday Louis van Gaal’s team only managed 6 touches in the oppositions box as opposed to Southampton’s 32. It seems as if Manchester United is beginning to become more ruthless every week.
Brendan Rodgers’ side is nowhere near the side that triumphed at Old Trafford back in March, and will have to manage without their ‘marquee signing’ Mario Balotelli due to injury, the Italian has actually had more haircuts than goals since coming back to the Premier League. Liverpool will be forced to start Ricky Lambert or Fabio Borini as a result of Daniel Sturridge remaining injured – the striker, who netted 22 times last season, has missed a large portion of this season due to injury.
Although Louis van Gaal has claimed that Manchester United’s injury woes will soon be a thing of the past the current list of injuries suggests otherwise. Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria and Chris Smalling all miss out on the encounter with the Scousers – Phil Jones and Rafael face late fitness tests. Falcao could start.
A game that for years has sent me into either dizzy elation or deep dismay will undoubtedly do the same tomorrow. Anything less than a win against an uninventive side that lacks confidence and penetration will be a massive disappointment – as a sixth consecutive win looms, Liverpool provide the ideal opponents for a bold Manchester United team.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Liverpool