Liverpool away in the FA Cup. The script writers couldn’t have stirred it up any better especially post-Suarez ban. This match preview is going to stay as far away from the Suarez/Evra debate as is humanly possible.
There’s been much written on this site and across the world’s press as to whether Evra should start or not at Anfield. This writer feels that Evra should most definitely start and, indeed, should wear the captain’s armband. He’s the innocent victim and shouldn’t be made to feel anything but. My concern would be that recent history proves that Ferguson looks after his players, away from home, to the extent of dropping them. Just look at Rooney at Everton.
Anyway, back to normality. This is a huge game under normal circumstances. However, throw in FA Cup progression and it gets even bigger. A loss won’t destroy either club’s season as they’ve both got other fish to fry – Liverpool are riding high on a crest of a Carling Cup final wave and are still in the hunt for Champions’ League football; United have the Europa Cup to pursue along with being hotly in pursuit of City at the top of the table. Yet, whilst it wouldn’t end either club’s season, it would seriously damage the ego of the clubs’ fans considering the current racism row.
One last thing on the racism row. Both managers have pleaded for calm and sensibility from fans at the fixture. Anyone reading this, from either side, should respect their manager’s request and focus on cheering their team on in the right manner. Correct, fans of both clubs hate each other, but focus that energy through the right channels.
Back to the game! Liverpool are looking healthy with regards squad fitness and rumours from Anfield are suggesting that Jay Spearing may be in line for a recall. In whose place is an interesting debate. Gerrard and Adam, one would assume, will both start and if Spearing does as well then it would appear Liverpool will be going with three in the middle of midfield. Bellamy’s performance against Man City almost guarantees him a spot on one flank. The other flank will, most likely, be taken up by Kuyt or Henderson with a possible place for Andy Carroll through the middle. Whilst he’s had bit of a torrid time of late I will be a little nervous of good Carroll performance against a back four devoid of Rio and Vidic.
As for United it’s too big a game for de Gea to make a comeback. Lindegaard has his big Scandanavian hands all over the number one jersey and looks more and more unlikely to let go of it any time soon. In front of him there are a few concerns over Rio and Phil Jones. If both are out then the back four really picks itself and should resemble something like: Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra. If Rio is fit I’d expect to see Smalling shift to right back and Rio to start in the middle.
Midfield is becoming an area of evolving strength for United. Scholes has made a return, Carrick and Giggs can’t put a foot or a ball wrong at the moment, Valencia is in fine fettle and Nani is looking good too. Throw into the mix a returning Cleverley and the midfield looks good. I think this game, however, will be a little soon for Cleverley and there are big question marks over Nani’s fitness. I’d like to see United go with their favoured midfield four formation and all being well Nani and Valencia playing wide. If Nani is out Park could step in or Giggs could fill in out wide with Scholes and Carrick marshalling the middle. Valencia is a sure starter and the battle between him and Enrique should be a fantastic one.
Welbeck is playing well and will probably retain his starting place with Rooney who’ll be desperate to score, kiss his badge and make the scousers cry! Let’s just hope he gets the chance to do so. This fixture is made for big time winners – Cantona and Solskjaer are testament to that and Rooney should be looking to etch his name into the Old Trafford’s FA Cup folklore and what better place to do it than a very hostile Anfield?