The two biggest teams in English football renew acquaintances on Sunday as Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford, looking for a three points that will consolidate their lead at the top of the table.
United currently sit seven points clear of neighbours Manchester City, and with the Blues away at Arsenal after the Liverpool game, the Red Devils could extend their lead if results go their way. First and foremost however, United have to concentrate on their own performance in a game that will be full of passion and animosity.
Although Liverpool aren’t challenging United for honours at the top of the table, this game is as big as any for the Reds and Sir Alex Ferguson would love nothing more than to take three points off Liverpool for the second time this season.
The first three points came back in September when United won at Anfield for the first time since the 2007/2008 season. Rafael cancelled out Steven Gerrard’s opener with a beautiful curling effort, before a Robin van Persie penalty nine minutes from time earned the Reds a crucial victory.
Three points has been something of a regular occurrence for the Reds in recent weeks with Sir Alex’s men winning eight out of their last nine games and if they avoid defeat on Sunday, it will mean ten games unbeaten in the league.
One of the main reasons behind United’s excellent run of form is their firepower up front. During those eight wins the Reds scored an incredible 24 goals, averaging three per game, and if they maintain that prolific streak on Sunday then three points are well within their grasp.
However Liverpool have started playing with a bit more freedom, winning their last two games 3-0, and in Luis Suarez they have one of the best strikers in the world. Only van Persie has scored more than the Uruguayan, and you feel that whichever striker performs better on the day, their team will come out on top.
Team Selection Thoughts
So far this season Sir Alex has rotated the goalkeepers without ever really giving David de Gea or Anders Lindegaard a long run in the team. However since Manchester City away de Gea has found himself as the number one, and slowly but surely the Reds have looked tighter and more assured at the back. It is not a coincidence that United, also with Nemanja Vidic back amongst the ranks, have kept two clean sheets in consecutive matches; the first time they have managed back to back shutouts all season. It can be argued that the defence has tightened up but credit has to go to the young Spaniard in goal, whose stature and authority has grown in recent weeks.
Ahead of de Gea the Red Devils have the commanding presence of Nemanja Vidic to call upon once again, and after being rested at Wigan the Serbian should return for the visit of Liverpool. His leadership is something United were lacking for large parts during the first half of the season, and the battling qualities that Vidic possesses spreads throughout the team. He will be vying with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans for a staring berth, who have both been in good form recently. Suarez poses a real threat with his movement and close control, so Evans and Ferdinand could get the nod due to their extra yard of pace and their flexibility to adjust their body to counter the Uruguayan’s trickery. Rafael and Evra should continue at right and left back respectively.
United have received the welcome news that both Nani and Anderson are back and ready for first team action, although the duo might well be saved for the West Ham game in midweek. The pairing of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley has been a successful one and they should continue there on Sunday. Shinji Kagawa is in contention to start just behind van Persie, and the Japanese international could thrive if he finds space between Liverpool’s midfield and defence. Width could also be key for United, and with Nani back, the manager has decisions to make. Antonio Valencia is struggling for form at the moment but his work rate, tactical awareness and directness could hurt the opposition, while Ashley Young’s early delivery, trickery and partnership with Evra could open Liverpool up. The selection of Nani wouldn’t surprise anyone though, with the winger looking to force his way back into the team.
Wayne Rooney is supposedly not fit enough to be involved on Sunday, meaning that Robin van Persie will drop into a deeper starting position. With 16 goals and nine assists he is priceless and you expect him to score every game, simply because he is that deadly in front of goal. The Dutchman should be paired with Javier Hernandez if Sir Alex goes with two up top. The partnership has potential illustrated in the 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic, where both players grabbed a brace.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of This Is Anfield and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
We expect to see most of our regular starters, but the big question mark is Sturridge – is he fit to start? If not, then Downing will probably take his place. We will look to retain possession in midfield and hope Suarez’s trickery and Sturridge’s pace (if he plays) will bamboozle United’s defence. We will see Rodgers go 4-3-3 with the intention of him trying to take charge of midfield and attack strongly to try and take advantage of your surprisingly shaky defence.
Likely team: Reina; Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez.
Liverpool’s 2012-13 Season
The season started poorly, but most fans expected slow opening given the fixtures. We’ve played well for the most part (with some notable exceptions), and results have gradually improved to match that. Not having enough goal scorers in the side really hurt us. We’re hopeful Sturridge and Borini returning can resolve the issue. Another problem has been consistency (the defeat at home to Villa was a tough one to take). Some of us believe we’ll continue to improve, although we now face all the major teams away from home in our remaining fixtures.
Some of us wanted Rafa back, but we’re happy to give Rodgers time, particularly as the football we play under him is enjoyable to watch, when we’re on form. He has purist thoughts on how the game should be played and under him we are exciting, but lack consistency. Kenny Dalglish had different ideas on how the game should be played, which are anchored in the past.
Is Rodgers the right man to take Liverpool forward? Only time will tell.
Many weren’t 100% sold on Sturridge when the rumours began last summer, but we’re warming to the idea. He has genuine pace, which we were sorely lacking up front, and that alone could have a big impact on our attacking play. Hopefully he can strike up a productive partnership with Suarez. He is the type of player we’ll be signing in Januarys – a talent that hasn’t fulfilled their potential elsewhere.
Suarez or Liverpool’s Torres?
Suarez, by a long way.
Torres could finish, bump off defenders and run fast. He was an explosive player whose ability to place the football in the net was enough. What made him great was the way the team was set up behind him, it was a team designed to give him exactly the sort of ball he could run onto, it was not a team which needed a striker with the ability to be involved in the approach play. He could not do approach play. His passing has always been really poor. I remember over and over at his regular loss of the ball in good positions.
Suarez is by far the more creative of the two players. He doesn’t need a team built to his style in order to play, though a team which suits his style will bring out the best in him. He is able to carve out his own chances and is much more likely to get an assist. He could play anywhere across the front three, while Torres only ever flourished ahead of Gerrard. He loses the ball sometimes, but his running at defenders and his flicks to bring other players into the game can be mesmerising at times.
Three Key Battles
Robin Van Persie vs. Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger
United’s top scorer will undoubtedly be the main focus of Liverpool’s attention on Sunday, with Skrtel and Agger charged with the task of keeping him quiet. Liverpool’s centre halves are very accomplished both in the air and on the ground but van Persie is so good that it only takes one lapse of concentration for him to punish you. He is equally adept at running in behind and receiving the ball to feet, making him difficult to mark, and if Skrtel and Agger struggle to keep tabs on him he could add to his 16 goals already in the league this season.
Luis Suarez vs. United’s back four
Suarez is playing superbly at the moment and if it wasn’t for van Persie he would be top scorer in the league this season. United will know however that if they can subdue him then ultimately they can subdue Liverpool, but that’s easier said than done. The Uruguayan never stops running and if he gets the chance to run at the back four he will create chances. He can seemingly escape from the tightest of corners and his unpredictability means he is a nightmare to mark. The centre halves on the day will have to be on form to prevent Suarez influencing the game.
Michael Carrick vs. Steven Gerrard
Carrick has been one of the main reasons behind United’s good form recently, with his composure and pinpoint passing allowing the Reds to dominate matches. On Sunday he will come up against another central midfielder in form in the shape of Steven Gerrard. Many have questioned whether Gerrard is on the wane but three goals and five assists in his last five matches suggest otherwise. The winner of this midfield battle will play a big part in their side’s success on the day because both can dictate games and ultimately control proceedings.
Form goes out of the window whenever United take on Liverpool, with the side that copes with the occasion better normally coming out on top. The Red Devils have established a seven point lead at the top of the table and will be looking to maintain that advantage while Liverpool will be hoping to make it three wins on the spin. There will be key personal battles all over the pitch with Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez aiming to show the world that they are the best striker in the Premier League. Manchester United know however that if they play to their potential in front of a packed Old Trafford, they can definitely emerge with all three points.
Manchester United vs. Liverpool match day thread HERE.
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