Over the course of the season, there will be a lot of important matches, and in looking at the big picture, there are quite a few that might mean more in terms of Manchester United’s ambitions for the season. But in terms of anticipation, excitement, emotion, and the desire to stick to one of your fiercest rivals, it’s hard to top matches against Liverpool.
The anticipation is only heightened by the fact that it’s United’s first match after the two-week interruption known as an international break, but no matter where the match is on the fixture list or where the two sides are in the table, Manchester United v. Liverpool is and always will be a massive fixture.
But in meaning beyond emotions and bragging rights, United head to Anfield not only looking to maintain their place atop the Premier League but also to win there for the first time since 2007.
When these two sides last met, it was, on the whole, a forgettable afternoon for United. As if March’s 3-1 defeat at Anfield wasn’t bad enough purely from a scoreline standpoint, it was made even worse by the fact that all three goals were scored by Dirk Kuyt, who benefited from some woeful United defending to notch his first hat trick for Liverpool.
There hasn’t been too much enjoyable about visits to Anfield as of late, as United have lost in their last three visits there. The last time United won at Anfield was in December 2007, when Carlos Tevez’s goal late in the first half was the decider in a 1-0 win. Whatever happened to that guy?
It’s been a busy year in terms of ins and outs at Liverpool, with mixed results. Sacking Roy Hodgson in January and re-installing Kenny Dalglish as manager nearly 20 years after he left the post looks to have been the right move, purely based on results.
After Dalglish’s return, Liverpool made a run at a top-five finish, ultimately finishing sixth, four points behind Tottenham. This season, they’ve had their ups (a win at Arsenal) and downs (a 4-0 defeat at Tottenham), but they do appear to be capable of making a run at a fourth spot that appears to be anyone’s for the taking this season.
They’ve seen a couple of key players leave for London this year, with Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles departing for Chelsea, but the owners haven’t been shy about spending money as well. In January, they shelled out almost 60m to beef up their attack with the signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, and they focused their big spending this past summer on midfield additions, landing Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, and Jordan Henderson, the last two for fees well into the eight figures.
The jury’s still out on a few of their additions, but Suarez has certainly proven to be an excellent investment, and he’ll pose a real threat for United’s defense today. But despite all of the additions, many still consider ’the’ man for Liverpool to be Steven Gerrard, and after being sidelined by a groin injury since the two sides last faced off, he made his return to action last month and is set to make his first Premier League start of the season today.
While Liverpool welcome back their talisman, one of United’s key figures returns today as well, as Nemanja Vidic appears set to rejoin Rio Ferdinand in the center of United’s defense after missing the last two months with a calf injury.
He’s had some forgettable moments against Liverpool, but his return will be a significant boost for United, who have coped fairly well in his absence but have had some clear lapses as well, most notably in the 3-3 draw against Basel last month.
While Ferdinand and Vidic have had their struggles with injury this season, that’s served to create an opportunity for Phil Jones, and the youngster has certainly made the most of it. With the two stalwarts manning the middle today, he’ll slot in at right back, with Patrice Evra at his customary position at left back. That looks a bit more like it, no?
Elsewhere, it remains to be seen what formation Fergie will trot out, but one would think that it must include both Ashley Young and Nani, whose pace and trickery could cause some real issues for a defense that still looks to be the weak link in Liverpool’s side. Unfortunately, it appears to be a week too early to recall Tom Cleverley, but he should be fit and ready to go next weekend against City.
But the focus, quite naturally, is all on Wayne Rooney. However, it’s not for the excellent start he’s had to the season, or even for his return to his hometown, but for the red card he received against Montenegro in England’s last Euro 2012 qualifier and the three-match ban he’s received as a result, which, unless it’s shortened via appeal, will see him miss the group stage in next summer’s tournament. Let’s hope that he has the kind of excellent performance that returns the focus to his abilities. If he does, it will likely be a good day for United.
It’s worth noting that there hasn’t been a draw between United and Liverpool since a 0-0 draw in September 2005, and that’s the only stalemate between the two in the last 22 Premier League meetings.
So then, it would appear that a win one way or the other is the likeliest result. United haven’t had much luck at Anfield as of late, but that bad streak has to end sometime, and today is a fine, fine day to do it.
Score Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United