Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

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By Daniel Feliciano.

Introduction

Manchester United host arch-rivals Liverpool on Saturday in the lunchtime kick-off in one of the most anticipated games of the season so far.

After the thrilling encounter at Stamford Bridge last week, United fans will be hoping they can have a double celebration come Saturday’s 3pm fixtures, re-taking top spot in the Premier League and a victory over their most bitterest of rivals.

Liverpool enter the fixture coming off yet another home draw (their 8th draw in 12 home games this season); a dull 0-0 against high-flying Tottenham. Liverpool’s away form is better, with a win-draw-loss record of 6-1-5 away from Anfield. Goalscoring, or lack of has been Liverpool’s main problem, having scored just 28 goals in the league. The visitors have the lowest chance conversion rate in the league at just 8.92%. On the contrary, United have scored an impressive 59 goals this season, with 35 of those coming at Old Trafford.

Earlier this season United rescued a draw at Anfield thanks to a late Javier Hernandez header (sound familiar?) after a returning Steven Gerrard had given Liverpool the lead with a free-kick.

Team Selection Thoughts

Man United started last week’s encounter as many expected, although the return of Ashley Young was a surprise and Chris Smalling missed out due to an injury sustained in training. Buoyed by his stunning save to deny Juan Mata in the last minute David De Gea will continue in goal, while Rafael, who has impressed in his last two outings should start at right back. If passed fit Smalling is a genuine contender to replace Rio Ferdinand at the heart of United’s defence, though the latter’s experience may earn him the nod. After an indifferent display at Stamford Bridge, Patrice Evra will look to recapture the form that saw him nominated man of the match for his performance against Arsenal.

Nani is expected to be fit for the tie at Old Trafford which will be a big boost to United. Antonio Valencia’s fine form has seen him re-affirm his place in the starting eleven ahead of Ashley Young, who will likely drop to the bench. The ever consistent Michael Carrick will be partnered by one of Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes. Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed in his Friday morning press conference that Tom Cleverley would play some part in the match, but tomorrow’s fixture has come too soon for Phil Jones.

Wayne Rooney is certain to start, with local lad Danny Welbeck and goal machine Javier Hernandez vying for the final starting spot.

Liverpool have a number of decisions to make regarding their team selection this weekend. After beating United at Anfield in the FA Cup, Kenny Dalglish will surely be tempted to select the same team and use similar tactics. However, the return of Luis Suarez after he completed his eight-match ban means he has a selection headache. Craig Bellamy’s form has put him in contention and Andy Carroll’s last few displays have showed signs of promise.

Steven Gerrard is almost a guaranteed starter in midfield and it looks like he’ll be partnered by Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have been keeping Jamie Carragher out of the side for the majority of the season and I expect that to continue, with Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson at full-back. Pepe Reina will as ever be in goal.

Opposition Views

I spoke to a few Liverpool fans I know and got their opinions on the game this weekend and Liverpool in general this season.

Season so-far

Liverpool’s season so far has gone as I expected – beating some of the top quality teams and losing against the more average teams. The number of draws have been disappointing, but that is all part of the progression we are currently going through. I see Liverpool finishing outside the top 4, but fancy us to secure a place in Europe. Many people/fans are expecting too much too soon just because of Liverpool’s history.

Andy Carroll

I don’t even know where to begin with Andy Carroll. Firstly, he is and he never will be worth £35m. Secondly, I don’t think he’ll ever be good enough for Liverpool. The only thing that we can do to maybe improve his performances is give him better support. But when he is selected we have to play route one football, but this style of football frustrates the fans and I’d even bet it frustrates some of the players too. He’s just a waste of money, if I’m honest.

Craig Bellamy since returning

Since Bellamy’s return he’s probably been better than ever. He provides an extra buzz when he plays and has won two Player of the Month Awards this season. Alongside Enrique he’s probably been our best player.

Prediction for Saturday

I think it’ll be a very close game, and I think it’ll be Manchester United 1 – 2 Liverpool at full-time, and I’ll go with Suarez, Bellamy & Hernandez for the goals.

Three Key Battles

Wayne Rooney vs Jay Spearing
A bit of an odd battle, but with Wayne Rooney’s tendency to drop into the ‘hole’ and drive from deeper positions, holding midfielder Spearing will be left the task to stop him working his magic. It’ll be a tough ask for the young midfielder, but if he’s successful United will struggle to create chances.

Rio Ferdinand vs Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez ran the show at Anfield last season in Liverpool’s 3-1 win. He hasn’t played at Old Trafford for Liverpool yet, but if he keeps up his energetic performances he will be a massive handful for the experienced defender. Ferdinand will likely play as the deeper defender on Saturday, meaning Suarez will be his priority.

Paul Scholes vs Steven Gerrard
Both club legends, Paul Scholes’ return to the Man United squad has been a blessing this season. His passing has been the difference many times, including last week at Chelsea. In his playground, Steven Gerrard will have to work hard to keep him quiet, but Scholes will have just as big an ask to keep the explosive Liverpool leader out of the sort of game he relishes.

Conclusion

United’s home advantage will be the difference and their desire to go top (all be it for a few hours) should be enough to see them through to a 2-0 victory.

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