When Serge from Kasabian and the part-time City fan stood next to him drew Manchester United versus Liverpool in the FA Cup there can’t have been many Reds that weren’t over the moon with the draw.
It’s not just that Liverpool is still historically the main rival to United, or that for many United fans- particularly those who supported the club through the 70’s and 80’s seeing the demise of the once mighty Anfield outfit is almost like winning a trophy in itself.
It also the fact that for all City’s money, Arsenal or Chelsea’s brief periods of glory and the efforts of several rival clubs desperate to be considered important enough to attract our ire, it’s still our giro hunting counterparts from up the M62 who we love to hate the most.
United v Liverpool is still the big one whether it’s in the league, FA cup or anything else. One of my fondest memories as a youngster was watching United beat Liverpool 3-1 in the Rumbelows cup back in 1991. Try telling the Old Trafford faithful that the League Cup didn’t matter then.
On paper this looks like one of the easiest Liverpool teams United have faced since, well arguably, since the sixties.
Liverpool have won only three of their last eleven games in all competitions, a run that has included five defeats. When you also consider that this season, teams such as Blackpool and Wolves not to mention the mighty Northampton Town –albeit on penalties-have all beaten Liverpool –at Anfield, then it gives you even more insight into just how far the club have fallen.
Liverpool haven’t fared well on their travels drawing two and losing four of their last six away games.
In the league Liverpool are a staggering 19 points behind United. 19 points! And it’s only January! Their season is now a battle for Europa League football with a Champion’s League place about as likely as Roy Hodgson being Liverpool manager next season.
Talking of Hodgson there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s a dead man walking. Since the midweek loss away to Blackburn, the pictures of him loading his car up outside the club’s training ground- along with the ‘Hodgson Out’ graffiti- not to mention the toned gent they got to clean it, have been ever-present on Sky Sports News.
The match on Sunday could well be his swansong and to be fair he’s probably well rid of the job at Anfield. He inherited a below-par squad, with the likes of Kyrgiakos, Leiva, Johnson and Ngog, lost one of his best midfielders early on and two of his only three world class players have been either injured or out of form for much of the season.
Add to that the fact his other world class player threw the ball into his own net in the opening game against Arsenal denying Hodgson a dream start and you can’t help but feel sorry for the former Fulham boss. Almost.
Everything points towards a comfortable United victory, after all in the league game at Old Trafford earlier on in the season, it looked as though Sir Alex’s men were going to walk it. Were it not for two defensive lapses the scoreline would have looked far less flattering towards Liverpool than the eventual 3-2.
United absolutely dominated that game and Liverpool never looked like scoring other than their two set-pieces.
This time round, United have an even bigger advantage than they did in the game in September in that Rio Ferdinand and Rafael Da Silva should be in the back four. No disrespect to John O’Shea or Jonny Evans but United look far stronger at the back when Rio and Rafael are there, and to be fair I don’t think either Jonny has had a particularly good season so far.
The words ‘chickens’ ‘hatch’ and ‘count’ spring to mind though and if United are to create a much needed job opportunity for someone in Liverpool then they’re going to have to keep an eye on certain danger men.
Ones to watch head-to-head.
Fernando Torres- ‘El Nino’ has had a torrid season so far. Despite a change in hair-do that one would have expected to increase his goal scoring prowess ten-fold ‘El Nino’ has been a bit of ‘El Zero’ this term. To be fair it’s not been a total disaster and six league goals for a team lying in 12th is hardly disastrous. The problem is that unlike our very own Wayne Rooney, who’s scored less than his Spanish counterpart Torres doesn’t have many players around him who can carry the goal burden.
While Rooney has the likes of Berbatov, Nani and Chicharito to turn to, Torres has such footballing colossus’s as Milan Jovanovic, Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt. It’s no wonder El Nino looked El Glummo at the end of yet another dismal display by both him and his team mates on Wednesday night.
It’s worth remembering however, that this is still Fernando Torres and it’s still Manchester United he’ll be facing. His record against us is impressive and as someone who attended the 4-1, I’m not one to count him out just yet.
Ferdinand and Vidic are both going to have to be on full alert, as like that Liverpool striker from the 1990’s –Robbie Fowler, he only needs a sniff.
Steven Gerrard- If there’s one player I’d like to retire from the game more than any other its’ the Liverpool captain. It’s not that I see him as a threat to United’s quest for glory this season, it’s just that I find the mere sight of the camera kissing cretin, rage inducing.
Gerrard cemented my dislike of him last season by ‘accidentally’ gifting Didier Drogba the opening goal at Anfield and then producing the most anonymous display I’ve ever seen in my life.
Like Torres though, Gerrard will be giving his all against United and don’t let the missed penalty against Blackburn fool you, if he gets one at Old Trafford- which will be his third in four games- don’t be surprised if he buries it.
I expect Anderson to be given the job of marking Gerrard and if the Brazilian can do the type of job he did against him in 2007/08 then goodbye to any hope of a Liverpool victory will be the only thing ‘Stevie G’ will be kissing.
I could try and muster a few more ‘ones to watch’ possibly Reina or maybe even Maxi Rodriguez but if we’re totally honest there’s only one way Liverpool have any hope of avoiding defeat and that’s with the two players I’ve highlighted. If United can cope with those two- which you’d fully expect us to be able to, then it should lead to a convincing victory.
I don’t want to jinx us and I’d settle for a one-nil but this United team facing this Liverpool one has mismatch written all over it. It’s time United put the 1990 Division 1 winners back in their place.
Although the FA Cup can conjure up giant killing upsets, the time is right for Sir Alex’s men to show the rest of football who the dominant force in England now is.
Follow Justin on twitter @jaymotty