EPL Preview: Liverpool vs Manchester United
A clash that always promises extraordinary action, plenty of controversy and unrestrained entertainment, Liverpool vs Manchester United is associated with a historic rivalry that gives rise to raging emotions. Of the plethora of emotions that will be running high on Sunday, two will be most prominent: revenge and siege mentality.
Liverpool have a lot riding on this clash: their reputation in history as Englands’ top team and thus the bid to stop their great rivals from winning the 19th title and more currently, revenge for the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford earlier this season. Under Kenny Dalglish, the man who was pivotal to Liverpool’s domination in England and Europe, the rivalry gets a new dimension added on as the Scotsman re-ignites his rivalry with his old enemy from the Old Firm days, Sir Alex Ferguson and attempts to stop Fergie from knocking Liverpool off their perch.
Manchester United will be filled with a siege mentality after being unfairly robbed off points by dodgy refreeing at Stamford Bridge. The defeat, thanks to a softly awarded penalty, has left beleaguered Arsenal with an advantage to exploit and United will make sure they are quick to make amends and arrest a possible slump. With Sir Alex Ferguson possibly facing a touchline ban, he will have his lads fired up to come up with a passionate performance and shut their critics up about any possible crumble.
Liverpool’s honeymoon under Kenny Dalglish took a major hammering at Upton Park as relegation threatened West Ham United put a hapless Reds side to the sword, thanks to the heroics of Scott Parker and the absence of key men Raul Meireles, Daniel Agger, Martin Kelly and Fabio Aurelio. Fabio Aurelio and Raul Meireles, who has been in fine goal scoring form under Dalglish could return for the United game to hand Liverpool a huge boost. The energetic Martin Kelly’s absence for a month could mean a return to the right-back position for Glen Johnson, who will be charged with the responsibility of pinning United’s veteran creative outlet Ryan Giggs back as the Welshman is expected to play on the left flank.
Liverpool come into this game with poor form, but for such high voltage clashes the form book goes out the window. The very thought of facing Manchester United will fire Anfield up, and what could be sweeter than beating them and denting their aspirations for the 19th top flight crown? With Manchester United missing their first choice centre-backs, Luis Suarez will look to test the shaky Wes brown before big money signing Andy Carroll makes an impact from the bench to win a physical battle.
Possible starting line-up: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Lucas, Gerrard, Meireles, Maxi, Suarez
Potential match winner: Steven Gerrard, whose passion for the club and inexplicable talent could come into play, just like at the match at OT.
Feeling wronged by the refreeing controversy that cost them points against Chelsea for the third time running, Manchester United head to Anfield with something close to a crisis brewing in terms of available personnel but what could work in their favour is their boss’ ability to turn the siege mentality into motivation to perform on the big day. Sir Alex Ferguson took a brave tactical decision at Chelsea by choosing to go for a 4-4-2 instead of packing the midfield as he usually does in crunch games. The formation worked wonders in the first half as Paul Scholes dictated the game and Wayne Rooney looked brilliant.
The big question is whether Sir Alex will go on to make another statement of intent with two strikers or go back to his traditional way of 5 man midfield. It’s highly possible that United will line up with Wayne Rooney as the lone striker up front and pack it in the middle of the pitch to match Liverpool’s strong midfield as Steven Gerrard and Lucas will be quick to close Scholes down. This could mean that the league’s top scorer Dimitar Berbatov will remain on the bench despite his hat-trick mauling that won the match at Old Trafford against Liverpool. A return to his favourite position of right wing for Nani is on the cards and the Portuguese trickster will have a tough battle on his hands in dealing with the defensively astute Fabio Aurelio.
Manchester United’s biggest worry is the central defensive partnership of Wes Brown and Chris Smalling who will face a tough fight with Suarez and the towering figure of Carroll, when the Englishman emerges from the bench. While Smalling has looked very assured in his performances of late, all eyes will be on Wes Brown, who still stand in for suspended captain Nemanja Vidic, as this will be the first appearance for the youth academy graduate since the Carling Cup humiliation at West Ham and he is looked at as the major weak link in the team for Sunday. Patrice Evra was taken off in the last match due to illness but could recover in time for the big clash to cause problems for Glen Johnson when he bombs forward.
Possible starting line up: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Brown, Smalling, Evra, Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs, Rooney
Potential match winner: Always a big game player, Wayne Rooney, who with 5 goals in his last 5 games has got back into form.
Opta says that just one of the last 21 Premier League meetings between these two sides has ended in a draw. While a stalemate may be statistically impossible on Sunday, considering the importance of points from this match for both teams, especially Manchester United, I’ll sit on the fence and call it a 1-1 draw.
The match will kick off at Anfield on Sunday the 6th at 13:30 GMT.