It has been almost a year since Manchester United drew 1-1 with Liverpool at Anfield.
Following that fixture on 15th October 2011, the sides have met on two occasions – Liverpool knocking United out of the FA Cup in an exciting end-to-end tie, and United beating the Merseyside outfit in a highly charged league fixture at Old Trafford, with Rooney bagging up twice before Suarez got a late reply.
Since that last encounter at Old Trafford, Liverpool have changed their manager and had a mass overhaul of their squad.
In more recent weeks, Liverpool football club have found some comfort in their quest for justice regarding the 96 fans who died in the Hillsborough tragedy; may they rest in peace.
So, with all of the above in mind, why are the headlines in the tabloids leading up to this game about a distasteful incident which happened in that October fixture?
I appreciate the magnitude of racism. Suarez was found guilty of using racist language towards Patrice Evra in which he served an eight-match ban. Liverpool (strangely) supported him throughout, which could be argued led to the sacking of Kenny Dalglish. We can all agree, it damaged the club’s reputation.
Then there was the handshake fiasco before the game at Old Trafford. How could it be that the player found guilty of racism was the one to reject the handshake?
For me, this is a new season, a new beginning, and a line should be drawn under all of the above.
I feel the English media constantly focussing on these non-football related aspects of this fixture, takes much emphasis away from what is likely to be an eventful encounter.
Liverpool – although the fallen giants of European football – always step up when United are in town. This fixture alone is their cup final. A game they cannot afford to lose.
Recent history supports the argument that Liverpool will be “up for it”. United have not won at Anfield since 2007, taking only one point from a possible 12 in four seasons – not forgetting a cup defeat last year.
Beating Manchester United at Anfield is more than bragging rights. It is more than feeling like a super power once again (if only for a few days). It is a way to keep the wolves from the door and not accept modern day reality that they are just another mid table club.
Understandably, victory for Liverpool on Sunday would breed a renewed confidence among the fans and players. It would give the indication that they can compete with the best. It will give a false sense of hope.
For Manchester United, although this rivalry dates back to the beginning of time, this is just another three points to fight for. Liverpool are no longer a threat for the title – they are a side United should be beating easily.
Sir Alex Ferguson understands that every side in the Premier League and across Europe, raise their game when United are in town – nobody more so than Liverpool. This is why United can no longer take this fixture lightly.
If United can match Liverpool in fight, determination, passion and work rate – then quality should prevail.
What worries many United fans is how seriously Liverpool take this game. They prepare as though it is a Champions League final, and celebrate like they won a title. United simply do not. Liverpool away could be Wigan away for many of the current United side.
It is the duty of Sir Alex Ferguson to ensure nobody rests on their laurels, nobody takes this fixture lightly, and the players treat it as though they are playing against a real title contender.
Sunday is the perfect opportunity for the players to prove this game means as much to them as it does to us fans!