It is the most cliche opening to any preview you have ever read about a fixture between the two most storied clubs in England, but this is really a game that needs no introduction.
The race to be crowned champions of England might not necessarily be the first thing you think about when this fixture comes around, particularly with Liverpool languishing just above the relegation zone after four games, but the importance of this fixture has not subsided one iota. Liverpool want to beat Manchester United. Manchester United want to beat Liverpool. This is a game about pride, passion, hunger, boasting rights and really just getting one over your biggest rivals. Throw in a case of racial abuse, the usual debate in relation to chanting from the two sets of supporters about tragedies the other has endured, magnified by the revelation of a number of horrific truths surrounding Hillsborough in the last two weeks, and it does not really get any more heated and intense than this.
Calls for respect have come from both clubs, with Manchester United set to actively participate in Liverpool’s tribute to the tragedy which saw 96 fans die, many in preventable circumstances, in what is the club’s first home game since the vile truth was exposed by the families of those whose loved ones died on that tragic day.
Sir Alex Ferguson stated in an open letter to fans:
“The great support you gave the team here [at Anfield] last season has seen our allocation back up to near-full levels. I want you to continue that progress today.
“But today [Sunday] is about much more than not blocking gangways. Today is about thinking hard about what makes United the best club in the world.
“Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top – a wish to see us crowned the best against a team that held that honour for so long.
“It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred. Just ten days ago, we heard the terrible, damning truth about the deaths of 96 fans who went to watch their team try and reach the FA Cup final and never came back. What happened to them should wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game.
“Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game.
“Yours sincerely, Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Sir Alex is keen to ensure that the emotion of the occasion does not curtail his player’s chances of taking all three points from Anfield for the first time since 2007, when Carlos Tevez scored the only goal in 1-0 win, but does acknowledge that it can play a part, citing United’s 2-1 derby loss to Manchester City in 2008 on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air disaster:
“It’s a possibility, I don’t deny that. Human nature can be that way.
“For instance, when we played Manchester City for the 50th anniversary of Munich, the place was so flat in the dressing room before the game. I even felt it myself.
“We just couldn’t perform and we were just glad to get it out the way because it was such an emotional day for us. It could be that way on Sunday.
“But I don’t think we should get into that now. I think we should let the players get on with it. There is enough pressure on them at the moment anyway. Liverpool have done their bit and we’ve done our bit, so let the game go on.
“It’s an important game for both clubs, so hopefully we can just concentrate now on it being a good football match and hopefully we can put on our best performance.”
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers shared a similar sentiment:
“There are obviously a number of things attributed to the game on Sunday.
“First and foremost, it’s our opportunity to commemorate the findings and pay respects for the families and the people who have worked tirelessly for 23 years.
“Football in general has played a great support in that – a lot of clubs have shown their support, which has been fantastic. This is our opportunity, first and foremost, to do that at Anfield.
“So obviously it’s an important day because they deserve that respect from both teams and both supporters. Then we’ll move onto the game, which will be equally important.”
There is mixed injury news for both sides, with Sir Alex ruling a number of players out of contention, including Wayne Rooney:
“Everyone who was involved on Wednesday is available. I know there were reports in the paper about Rooney being possible, but that is not the case. He’s not far away, I think he may be fine for next week.
“He’s doing a lot of great training and has been working hard. It’s just a matter of getting him into the full football training side of things, which he has done part of.
“Ashley Young has got a bruised cartilage – I think it’s going to take two or three weeks more for him. We’re just taking our time with that one. You can easily play with it and train but we’re not going down that road, we want to make sure he’s okay.
“We get a lot of experiences these days of injuries reoccurring when they come back too quickly and we don’t want that with the players – we want to give them a full recovery. He should be okay with two or three weeks’ time.”
Brendan Rodgers has a couple of issues of his own to contend with Joe Cole and more importantly Lucas, set to miss out on the game:
“Joe is back in training with the group. He’s still going to need a wee bit of time before he’s anywhere near a game.
“He’s been out for a few weeks now, so he needs a few weeks’ training and a game or two below his belt before we can even consider him for the first team because he’s broken down twice now and we need to manage that along.
“Lucas is doing very well. He’s working every day, working hard with the medical team.
“They’re both doing well.”
It’s been a long time since United had much to celebrate at Anfield, and not since 2007 when Carlos Tevez scored in a tight affair have United taken maximum points from a league fixture at Liverpool’s hallowed turf. This year, like the last few, United are undoubtedly the form side, and boast a stronger and deeper squad, but it’s not very often that such indicators prove of much value heading into such a massive grudge match.
Liverpool will be spurred on by the emotion that will come with the fixture, which is Liverpool’s first home game since some horrifying truths about the circumstances of the death of 96 Liverpool fans in Hillsborough in 1989. It almost seems written in the stars that Liverpool will win this game, after all, what better, more dramatic way, to take your first win of the season than on an occasion like this against none other than Manchester United?
You might have said the same in 2008 when United played City in a poignant derby at which the 1958 Munich air disaster’s 50th anniversary was remembered. City would go onto defeat United 2-1, in a game that United simply could not get on top of, weighed down by the emotion of the occasion.
When it’s all said and done however, there is still a game of football to be played, and United are in a very good position to take all three points.
I don’t think Sir Alex will change too much from the side that scraped a 1-0 win against Galatasaray. Although there were some negatives from the display, notably a pedestrian midfield that struggled to win the ball back, there were also plenty of positives, and on another day, that was a result that could have been 3 or 4-0, had United been a tad more clinical with their chances. Ryan Giggs once said in a post match interview that you only start to worry, offensively at least, when, “the team stops creating chances”, and that certainly wasn’t the case midweek.
With Ashley Young still out, I cannot see anyone else starting on the left other than Nani. It would come as a massive surprise to me at least if Ryan Giggs was to start on the left. The only other real option for me would seem to be Danny Welbeck, but I don’t think he would create as much as Nani. It would be odd if Nani were to be granted the same free role he was given in the first half, given how exposed it left Patrice Evra, but as he showed in the second half, he is more than capable of chipping in defensively when sticking to a wide position on the left.
Tom Cleverley or Anderson should come in for Paul Scholes, who looked a tad tired and out of sorts in midweek, whilst Michael Carrick should retain his position in the middle of the park after another fine game in the Champions League.
At the back, I don’t see too much changing. David De Gea looked fine against Galatasaray, handling everything very well, and with Sir Alex insisting that the number one spot will be shared, it would seem that it is De Gea’s turn to keep goal. Liverpool’s forward line is lacking the physical element that Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt brought to the side last year, so that should also prove less of a concern.
Rio Ferdinand should return in place of Jonny Evans, who looked a tad rusty in midweek, whilst Sir Alex will most likely opt for the experience of Patrice Evra, whose supposed lack of form has been greatly exaggerated in my honest opinion, over Alexander Buttner, despite his great debut last week. It would be hard to imagine Evra not wanting to play against Luis Suarez either, after last season’s race row, and he will certainly looking for some more joy at the expense of the man who racially abused him last year.
Though Robin Van Persie did not have his best game against Galatasaray, overall he has enjoyed a marvelous start to his United career, as has Shinji Kagawa who should be playing in the hole behind him. The two new signings will be looking to earn a spot in the hearts of United fans everywhere with a big performance against the club’s biggest rivals.
As usual, this one should be tight, scrappy and a battle of wills. Liverpool have shown the greater heart at Anfield in recent years, though United did well to snatch a point at the death last season courtesy of Javier Hernandez, who should reprise the super sub role once more today if needed, but this is a Liverpool side completely bereft of confidence and playing in front of a crowd who will be more expectant than ever given the occasion. For all his flaws, Kenny Dalglish was at least capable of lifting his side for big occasions like this one, and we have yet to see if Rodgers is capable of doing the same.
The logical favourites are United, but that doesn’t count for much in the heat of battle at Anfield.