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When United visit Anfield there is always a rather large amount of anticipation mixed with nerves and excitement. This year is no different but the circumstances under which the game will be played dictate that pre-match build-up has been focussed on gestures and fan behaviour. The first home game for Liverpool since the sickening results of the Hillsborough inquiry means it’ll be an emotionally charged affair for our hosts. It’s important to acknowledge that and what they’re commemorating but there is also a game to be played. As ever we welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
When England’s two most successful club sides meet, there’s always going to be an intriguing battle. Should they happen to be geographical rivals with a deep-rooted social history too, it just adds to the ingredients. At present though, United and Liverpool are in many ways as far apart as they’ve been for over 20 years. League positions at present reflect form over only four games but even so, the early signs are that for Liverpool in particular, this could be another long season.
Kenneth’s departure heralded the start of the Brendan Rodgers era on Merseyside. With that comes a very specific type of football that has possession, movement and simplicity at its core. That’s fine but Brendan needs the right players to make it happen and if he was able to freely speak his mind, I suspect he might feel that’s not happened. It’s well documented that he has just two strikers – one is playing wide and is still adjusting to the Premier League pace; whilst the other is talented but incapable of regularly hitting the target.
It’s not just up front that Liverpool could be in a better position – Reina’s making at least one costly error per game (don’t expect the press to tell you that though); reliable defenders have similarly made inexplicably bad decisions; and in midfield it’s all a bit predictable. So much so, that 17 year old Raheem Sterling has found himself playing games against Man City and Arsenal. Now Raheem hasn’t played badly but he’s also not played nearly as well as the press would have you think – still, his probable battle with Rafael has the makings of an underpants-staining classic.
At present, Liverpool’s problems are quite simple – they’re not scoring enough goals and they’re conceding too many. Four goals conceded at home in two games, albeit hard games, is not classic. If there’s a positive to take from it all then Joe Allen’s performances have been good, although it’s what’s around him that isn’t. The injury to Lucas was a huge blow and although Shelvey’s done ok, you’d have to admit he’s not the scariest of replacements. Sahin was an astute loan signing but playing him alongside Allen invites pressure – both naturally like to sit deep.
Quite clearly, they need to register a first league win of the season because teetering on the relegation zone at any point of the campaign is not good enough for that club. They can maybe take some comfort from the fact it’s nearly nine years since United last scored more than one goal at Anfield and not far off five years since United last won there. Mind you, their luck is due to change.
For a change, there are no new injuries – or at least none that Fergie’s prepared to admit exist since Galatasaray visited. With that in mind, here’s the team I think Alex will pick:
There are key decisions in virtually every area for him but there’s much to be read into Wednesday’s team selection and the fact that in games like this he’ll often plump for experience – Evra over Buttner for example. David de Gea did no wrong midweek and it makes sense to keep him in goal – rotation is something we should unfortunately come to expect in that area but Anfield was the setting of the game that probably turned his season last year.
Rafael is a certain starter but all three fit centre backs appear rusty or lack match practice for one reason or another. Ferdinand was rested midweek though which is a rather large hint at the fact he’ll partner Vidic. Similarly, if the Champions League selection was anything to go by then Welbeck and Cleverley can both expect to return with Danny probably disappointingly shifted out in a wide berth again at the expense of Nani. Much of the rest picks itself and that does of course allow for Nani (one appearance shy of 200), Scholes, Hernandez and others to come off the bench to have a positive impact.
United’s midfield will as ever be crucial – Carrick and Cleverley will have to retain possession well and attempt to get the ball to Kagawa more often. There is a sense that United don’t yet quite know how to use Shinji despite the rather lengthy glimpses of the talent he possesses. Maybe down the right hand side though is where they can have most joy. Should Sterling start he’ll need to get back to help Enrique – matching Sterling up to Valencia almost seems unfair in terms of physique and maybe that’s something United can look to exploit.
Merseyside has of course already proven to be a tough place to go for United this season but since the defeat to Everton things have gone well results-wise even if the performances haven’t. This fixture starts a run of tough games – the kids will be wheeled out to face Newcastle midweek in the Capital One Cup before Spurs arrive and then United go to Romania and Newcastle. It’s hard to predict what will happen as United are due a win at Anfield but Liverpool are due a win in the league and always seem to perform well against United. On paper, you’d fancy United to build up some real momentum heading into their run of tricky games but the day’s emotions could easily spur Liverpool on (or see them whimper).
This isn’t the place to go into details about the day and what’s right and wrong from both sets of fans. We already put some thoughts up about the way United were treated by the press last week and they were well received by fans of both kinds of red. However, like the Munich 50th anniversary game was poignant for us, tomorrow’s game will mean a lot to Liverpool too.
There is of course the sub-plot involving racial abuse of one player by another but with a bit of luck that’ll be no more than a sub-plot. This isn’t a game about United and Liverpool showing love for each other – that’ll never be the case – but one can hope that at the moments that require it, the fans inside the stadium will respect the goings on that hold a deep meaning to Liverpool fans. I hope come Sunday late afternoon anyway, that it’ll be football and not chants that the media are choosing to focus on.