Match Preview: Liverpool vs. Manchester United


By Richard Evans


Manchester United travel to Anfield on Sunday, in what promises to be a very emotionally charged game, looking to record a victory that has eluded them there in the league since 2007.

The game marks the first home fixture for Liverpool since the publication of documents revealing what really happened at Hillsborough, and reignites the animosity between Evra and Suarez after last season’s widely documented race row.

It would be easy to let matters off the pitch dominate proceedings, however this game is so intense and enthralling that when the first whistle goes, everyone’s attentions will be focussed solely on the famous Anfield turf.

The Red Devils make the trip to Merseyside in good form after winning three games on the bounce in the league, and starting their Champions League campaign off with a victory, defeating Galatasaray 1-0 at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

However United have already played and tasted defeat in Liverpool this season, slipping to an opening weekend loss to Everton with an inept display, that despite dominance in possession, ultimately led to a lack of cutting edge and frustration all round.

Trips to Liverpool in recent seasons have followed a similar script, with 3-1 and 2-0 defeats standing out, although last time a Javier Hernandez header rescued United a point, sending the travelling Reds into raptures; a scene that was a regular occurrence a few seasons ago.

No one will forget Diego Forlan bagging a brace, or a Wayne Rooney shot skidding under Jerzy Dudek right in front of the Kop. Although the most memorable moment has to be John O’Shea’s last gasp winner that moved United a step closer to wrestling the league title off Chelsea. Sir Alex will be hoping for similar scenes in the away end on Sunday afternoon.

Liverpool go into the game after a very unconvincing start to the season, with defeats to West Brom and Arsenal, although the side performed well against both Manchester City and Sunderland, and were unlucky on both occasions to only end up with a point. However this is Liverpool vs. Manchester United and form doesn’t matter, so expect a tense, tight and ultimately pulsating encounter, where the result could go either way.

Team Selection Thoughts

David de Gea has been highly maligned in the media over the last season, but again on Wednesday night, as he has on numerous occasions, he made a series of vital saves that preserved United’s 1-0 lead. However, he was meant to be recalled against Wigan last weekend and wasn’t, leaving a question mark over Sir Alex’s trust in him. If de Gea is once again named amongst the substitutes, then Anders Lindegaard is more than an adequate replacement, although no continuity is gained from chopping and changing players, especially the goalkeeper. With Ferdinand and Vidic finally reunited at the back, having a settled number one would definitely benefit United, with only one clean sheet in the league so far this season.

Three of the back four name themselves, with Rafael, Ferdinand and Vidic surely starting. However, left back is more contentious. Alex Buttner made a very impressive home debut last Saturday, helping United shut out Wigan as well as proving a potent attacking force, even getting on the score sheet with a fantastic solo effort. Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez’s history from last season alone could have seen the Frenchman drop to the bench, but with Buttner impressing so much, Sir Alex’s mind could be made up. Experience is key in such a heated fixture, but Buttner definitely merits a start.

Midfield will be vital on Sunday, and in previous seasons this is where United have lost the game, often lacking dynamism, and being out run and out manoeuvred by Liverpool. A central three of Kagawa, Cleverley and Carrick, on paper, is a very fluid and composed triumvirate, and would give United a good basis to try and control proceedings. Anderson could sneak into the team, but Darren Fletcher is unlikely to start and Paul Scholes starting a third game in a week is improbable, unless the manager produces a surprise selection.

On the wings, Ashley Young remains sidelined, so Antonio Valencia and Nani should start on either flank. Liverpool have conceded a number of goals from wide positions so far this season and with Valencia’s directness and Nani’s trickery, it will be an area United will try to exploit. Nick Powell could again be named on the bench after a brilliant goal last weekend, and may provide a different option for the Reds if they need a spark.

Up front, Sir Alex confirmed that Rooney is still out; therefore Robin van Persie will lead the line at Anfield. He was a sub against Wigan, coming on for the last 20 minutes and he should be fresh. Last season’s top scorer hit a brace on Merseyside for Arsenal in March, and a repeat of that wouldn’t go amiss. Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck will be used as impact subs should the Red Devils need an injection of impetus.

Opposition View

Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of This Is Anfield and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:

Sunday’s Match

Sunday’s encounter is a big match with a lot of implications. Liverpool have had a poor start to the season, and another loss – particularly to one of our biggest rivals – could really start to turn fans against the manager. Add to THAT the aftermath of the Hillsborough documents being released, and the potential for a few idiots chanting something they shouldn’t (on both sides), as well as the whole Evra/Suarez thing, then there’s a lot of potential flashpoints.

Rodgers is likely to remain faithful to his favoured 4-3-3 formation, and the team selected against Young Boys should mean a surprise is unlikely on Sunday. Reina in goal, Johnson and Kelly at fullback, Skrtel and Agger in the middle, Allen holding, Gerrard and Shelvey ahead and a front three of Sterling, Borini and Suarez.

Weaknesses to exploit..? Christ knows. We couldn’t exploit Sunderland, but we genuinely see Evra as a weak link in your team, and if we flip Sterling to that flank, young Raheem could trouble him. We fancy getting a bit of joy from your fullbacks, and I think Borini, rather than Suarez, will play through the middle for this reason. Vidic can be clumsy, especially when playing against someone who likes to stay on his shoulder. Borini may trouble him, as he looks less comfortable against intelligent mobile forwards.

We would have been a lot more optimistic about our prospects in forthcoming match had Lucas been fit and on form. This way, I’m already resigned to seeing Kagawa having much more space than we could afford to grant him and there will also be inevitable defensive mistakes that we have witnessed in virtually every match we’ve played this season. We hope that United’s players will be tired from their Champions League exploits but this squad – probably the strongest and most balanced since 2007/08 – has more than enough quality to compete with fatigue and injuries. Contrarily, Rodgers has to carefully manage what he has at his disposal and barring any injuries, the squad facing United will be the same as the one that faced Sunderland. We hope that we can snatch a draw because our leaky defence will be facing probably the most potent attack of Premier League.

Season Expectations

Unfortunately, it looks like being another transitional year… with 6th place a maximum realistic target. Hopeful of a pleasant surprise, but just vaguely hopeful… as we have missed out on a positive start of the season. We expect this season to be where we learn Rodgers’ system and incorporate our highly rated youth into the first team. Our stance remains the same: if we finish sixth and have a good cup run, while thoroughly grasping Rodgers’ concept of football, this season will be a “successful” one given the state squad is in.

Summer Transfer Window

We are generally pleased with our summer business, although the deadline day fiasco left a sour taste. The most positive thing was that for the first time in ages there appeared to be a bit of thought put into the recruitment. The big earning, bit part players are mostly gone, and they have been replaced by excellent youngsters with bags of potential. Decent business, given the budget constraints.

Liverpool has made some quality additions in Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin (albeit on loan), while Borini, Assaidi and Yesil have great potential. We do have double cover in most positions, except (crucially) striker. That might come back to haunt us… but it gives the youth a chance to step up.

The Manager

Anyone who says they wanted Rodgers is almost certainly lying. The fans either wanted Dalglish sacked, so Benitez could return or didn’t want Dalglish sacked in the first place

Now Rodgers is manager, we are delighted to have him. It unquantifiable, but he seems to have something about him. The challenge for Liverpool Football Club now is to hold their nerve, as it’s going to be a long road back to the top, but if we can do that, then we could have our man for years to come.

To be fair to Dalglish, the football we played last year was frequently brilliant, but without product. Under Rodgers there is greater emphasis on possession, starving the opposition of the ball, and letting them chase. More crucially however, Rodgers remit is to develop a playing philosophy across all levels of the club. A new Liverpool way, if you like, and this is really exciting.

Time to stop the inappropriate chanting by both sets of fans?

Absolutely!! Healthy rivalry, yes. Brainless Munich and/or Hillsborough crap, no way!

These “chants” should have never taken place. The only way to deal with that is to ban the perpetrators from both sides from taking part in football matches. Hopefully both clubs will take strong measures against these embarrassing outbreaks.

More importantly it’s also time to stop reacting with so much vitriol to what is a tiny bunch of idiots on both sides. Really, there is not so much difference between LFC fans and MUFC fans, and we’d both do well to remember that sometimes.

Liverpool’s Youth

The crop of youngsters we have coming through is probably the biggest reason for excitement at the minute. We could have a bunch able to do a similar job for us that Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, and the Neville’s did for United.

Sterling and Shelvey are the obvious ones to watch, as they’re already part of the first team set up, but look out for Wisdom, Suso, Yesil, Ngoo and Adorjan. The jury is still out on Morgan. Good finisher, but his movement and positioning is often criticised.

The next breakout, for many of us is Jack Robinson. An attacking left full-back who has already been around the first team, and was our youngest ever player in Rafa’s last game. We’ve got a feeling this kid is going to be brilliant, and given Enrique’s wretched form, and that he didn’t play midweek, he might be a cheeky bet to start against you on Sunday.

Three Key Battles

Antonio Valencia vs. Glen Johnson

Valencia was impressive (though his final ball occasionally let him down) against Galatasaray and he will cause Johnson problems, but only if United distribute the ball wide and early. If the likes of Carrick and Cleverley can win the midfield battle and recycle possession, Valencia can attack a defensively frail Johnson and put Liverpool on the back foot. The pacy Ecuadorian is unstoppable at times, and if he gets the chance to run with the ball, United will create chances.

Robin van Persie vs. Martin Skrtel

United’s prolific number 20 has settled into life at Old Trafford and already has four goals in four games for the Red Devils. He didn’t have the best of games in midweek but will be fired up for Sunday’s encounter; an unrivalled chance to endear himself to the fans even more. Skrtel is a very accomplished defender and van Persie will find it difficult to elude him. However with goals at Anfield already, Sunday’s trip will not be one of trepidation for van Persie, and he would love nothing more than to earn his new team a win at their arch rivals.

Nemanja Vidic vs. Luis Suarez

Despite Vidic’s return to the starting line up, United have looked unstable in defence at times this season, and there is a chance that the lively Suarez, coupled with Gerrard’s dynamism, could hurt the Reds. Suarez has come under criticism for his finishing at times but has netted against Sunderland and City, and he will be very fired up for this, meaning Vidic, and the rest of the back four, will have to be on their game to subdue the skilful Uruguayan.


This will be a very emotional game with tensions running high, and there is a chance that the occasion could stifle the entertainment on the pitch. However, this is the most famous game in English football and whatever happens, it will be an enthralling encounter. United go into the fixture in better form than Liverpool , but this will have no bearing on the game, as the side that rises to the occasion will most likely emerge with three points. The Red Devils undoubtedly have more match winners, with van Persie, Kagawa, Nani and Valencia, although this is a game that can throw up unexpected heroes. Just ask John O’Shea.

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