United. Liverpool. Anfield. Quite honestly, it doesn’t get any bigger than this in terms of fixtures so far this season. Arsenal was a big deal, as was Chelsea, however neither of these fixtures offer anything like the history, passion and bragging rights that a United Liverpool fixture at Anfield.
It feels a little odd this fixture coming straight after an international break but it is great to put behind us all Rooney’s red card and fixtures which, lets be honest, are becoming more and more of a blot on the football calender.
Anyway, back to this weekend. This fixture is hugely important for both clubs’ players and fans. It’s going to give us a hint, not a definitive pointer, as to how each club is going to continue to progress this season. United started the season right out of the blocks taking on all comers, swatting them away like flies. Liverpool, to a lesser degree, did the same. However, both teams then encountered a difficulty or two and many observers felt that they had, instead, flattered to deceive.
United have been playing well for the best part of the season and largely this is due to the form of Young and Nani and the wings. The fact that we’ve now got two interchangable wingers that markers can’t seem to mark is having a huge impact on our game. Couple this with the form of the ever improving Anderson (yes, I’m still a huge fan) and the midfield, going forward at least, is looking great.
It’s protecting the back four that the midfield looks a little shaky and that’s where I see Fletcher coming in on Saturday. With Gerrard possibly coming back and Henderson or Adam partnering him in midfield we will need someone to hold back and protect the back four. For, let’s be realistic and pragmatic about this, whilst we all want to win at Anfield, a draw would be a great result.
A draw against a resurrgent Liverpool would do very nicely seeing the renaissance that ‘King’ Kenny seems to be overseeing. I don’t think, for one second, that they’re anywhere near challenging for the title but they’ve come on so far since the very recent days of ‘Woy’. Last year Liverpool were all over the place playing for a manager, it seemed, that they had no respect or passion for. The King, however, demands respect from anyone in a Liverpool shirt much like Fergie does at Old Trafford. I don’t want to spend this preview gushing over Liverpool too much but credit has to be given for the improvement they’ve made this year and I’m sure Ferguson’s team selection will respect that.
At the back it’s tough to say who’ll play. Evra, you’d assume is a certain starter and with Vidic now seemingly fit he could come back in. For Vidic’s partner it’s hard to say. Jones, Smalling or Ferdinand? I think Ferguson still, correctly, highly rates Ferdinand and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him partner Vidic in the middle. At right back I really hope that Jones is given the chance to play. He’s playing without fear at the moment and this sort of stage is what he appears born to play on.
Up front Ferguson has an embarrassment of riches. Wild Rooney, recently banned for three international matches, looks certain to start and with it being such a big game I fancy Hernandez to work alongside him. His pace and eye for goal with prove a constant threat to a sometimes shaky looking Liverpool defence.
It’s the game that many reds still look out for when the fixtures come out at the start of the season, but is it the same for the Scousers’? We spoke to match going Liverpool supporter Steve Roberts for his thoughts about this, and on Saturday’s game:
“Even with the emergence of the new breed of super-rich clubs like Chelsea and Man City up there challenging for major trophies, when the fixture list comes out most Kopites would still regard this as the biggest fixture in the calendar.”
We had a chat about the game itself, and we wondered who were the stand out starters for the Scousers.
“I don’t think you have to be a Liverpool fan to notice who has started well for us, and who still have a big question mark over them. Luis Suarez has been a real find for Liverpool, and Chelsea may just be a little disappointed they didn’t follow up their interest in him and went for that Torres fella instead! A cracking bit of business on Liverpool’s part. I think in such a short time Suarez has proved to be a massive asset to the club. I think the two English lads were decent signings, Downing is never going to set the world alight but at least he is a consistent, proven Premiership player.
“Henderson is one for the future, he’s not up to Cleverley’s standard at the moment, but he is showing signs. Luis Enrique looks solid, and for £6m he seems to be a bargain. I was disappointed to see Raul Meireles leave in the summer and I thought he was proven and fitted in really well. Then we look at the £35m we paid for Andy Carroll. Mind-boggling, massively unproven, seems to have come from the Joey Barton school of attitude and arrogance, (at least Joey has proven he can play football). He’s just not a pass-and-move Liverpool-groove kind of guy! Although Liverpool have spent a lot, it has to be said they have recouped a substantial amount through the transfers of Torres and Meireles, and also cut the wage bill by a reported £30m. All in all I’d say the business so far has been good, but we’re still short of some real midfield class.”
“As for the game, Liverpool have won the last three at Anfield, but since the start of the Premier League ‘home’ hasn’t particularly been an advantage in this fixture. We’ve had seven wins, three draws, and nine defeats to your lot. Draws are few and far between so I expect there to be a result either way. If we stand a chance in this fixture, they need to contain United’s pace, which to me has been the centre of their play this season.
“The addition of Ashley Young has certainly added to that facet. I think our defence will have to improve to keep you lot out, Carragher has been looking a bit short of pace for a few seasons now, and we don’t seem to have a cohesive centre-back pairing. The possible weakness in the United armoury is the centre of midfield, Carrick, Anderson, and Cleverley certainly aren’t world beaters, and I would be surprised if there is no movement from Fergie to improve in that department in the January transfer window. At the back, United don’t seem to be as solid as it once was since the sporadic, but regular injury woes of Ferdinand, and to a lesser extent Vidic. I think the battle could be won and lost in midfield, if Liverpool let the likes of Young, Nani, and Rooney use their quick feet and pace, then it will be a no contest. But I think that across the midfield four, Liverpool have the ball winners, and enough about them to subdue any potential onslaught. Both sides have players that can put the ball away, so I think that a betting man should wager that both teams will score, though in terms of a result I wouldn’t lay any money down on which way the tie will go.”
Continued on page two.