Manchester United. Liverpool. Old Trafford. Patrice Evra. Luis Suarez. This is going to be huge. In fact, this has the potential to cement the league and this specific fixture as the greatest in their fields in the world. Unfortunately, due to to some of the vitriolic ‘banter’ that’s flying between both clubs’ fans at the moment, it also has the potential to be embarrassing to both clubs and the league. Any preview of tomorrow’s fixture has to discuss the Suarez-Evra affair and I intend to throw in my tuppence worth too but then, as this is why I watch the game, I’d rather discuss the football on offer.
Here are the facts: Suarez was found guilty of racist comments. Suarez was banned. Suarez is now eligible to play. Whilst fans of United are going to be, naturally, angered by Suarez and Liverpool’s conduct I honestly believe that this is a chance for them to take the moral high ground. I know plenty of Liverpool fans who feel their player was unfairly charged and will defend him to hell and back. That’s their right and, like it or not, they’re expressing that right. There’s been so much conjecture in media that it’s hard to know what is fact or what is Twitter rumour fuelled by fan blogs from both clubs’ fans.
Expect the few thousand or so Liverpool fans to cheers and sing and chant every time that Suarez gets the ball. My advice? Let them. As an avid rugby fan also I’ve always found the eerie silence that greets goalkickers at Irish rugby grounds unsettling. Can you imagine Suarez recieving the ball tomorrow to be greeted by a wall of silence broken ony by a small corner of the ground trying to cheer him on? How unnerved would he feel? Save the booing, please, it’d only serve as a motivator for him. I’m not asking for fans to forgive and forget, on either side of the divide, but Old Trafford can take a high ground tomorrow and I’d plead with fans lucky enough to get tickets to take this opportunity and advertise what a great club we are.
Right, that’s done! Back to the football. This time of year is where the cliches start flowing like cheap beer at a student’s 21st. This is a must win game and every game from here on in is a cup final. This can’t be ignored and I would fear for the worst if we failed to pick up three points this weekend – especially if City pick up three points at Villa on Sunday. This is why Hernandez has recently admitted that ‘We work just the same as we do for every game. But in the back of your mind, you know it is Liverpool.’ If United manage to pick up the three points then the pressure on City would be huge in their tough away fixture.
David de Gea will likely start in goal and it’s imperative that he does well and uses the wonder save from last week as a spur to go on and keep the number one jersey. We all recognise that he wasn’t at his best against Liverpool at Anfield and this is a perfect opportunity, given such a short turnaround, to make amends for that.
In order to help him he’ll need a strong back four in front of him. I’m looking forward to the selection at right back. It’s between the da Silva twins and Smalling. Personally, I’d put Smalling in the middle with Ferdinand and have Rafael at right back. Although, with Phil Dowd reffing, and his penchant for dishing out red cards coupled with Rafael’s hot head, I fancy Fergie to go with a back four of Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra. Evra mustn’t let anything distract him tomorrow and must ensure he’s at his best because the crosses are going to be coming in from both flanks in an attempt to unsettle de Gea.
The midfield could see the return of Cleverley (most likely from the bench) and will surely be flanked by the ever impressive Nani and Valencia. In the middle Carrick will sit deep and play the simple ball and offer himself for a return pass better than the vast majority in the league at the moment. He’ll also be needed to keep an eye on a certain Gerrard who’ll revel in tomorrow’s hostilities. Carrick’s partner could be Old Trafford’s own Peter Pan, Ryan Giggs, who recently signed up for another year to performing at the Theatre of Dreams. What odds on him playing until he’s 40?
Rooney is due a goal against Liverpool and is a certain starter although there will be plenty of pressure on him to keep a cool head too. His partner is becoming difficult to predict at the moment but I feel that after his equaliser against Chelsea, Hernandez will offer the perfect compliment to Rooney’s ‘in the hole’ style of play. He can play on the last foot of the Liverpool defence and keep them in check.
For Liverpool, Enrique is expected back but all eyes will be on one man in particular.