We are the start of the week and the countdown towards the big game against Liverpool on Saturday at Anfield begins. The countdown began for some after the game against Norwich, ignoring the international fixtures of Friday and Tuesday which for some or most is viewed as a deterrence or hindrance and would be more interested in the affairs of their favourite clubs.
As players leave for international duty from the red sides of Manchester and Liverpool, fans from both sides would be praying, wishing and hoping that when the players return from all corners of the world, they would be hale and hearty with only fatigue for the respective managers to deal with. Without doubt, this is the BIGGEST fixture for Liverpool fans as they look to put one over their hated rivals who have been more successful in recent times but that is not to say that Manchester United fans view it with any less significance. We’ve not had great memories of our recent trips to Liverpool. We have been beaten quite comfortably in our last 3 matches there and played poorly. Although we hold the upper hand in recent times of our encounters at Old Trafford, any United fan would want United to beat Liverpool anywhere and everywhere and any time of the year or season.
This season, Liverpool has reinforced their squad significantly and has started this season pretty well. Personally, I view Liverpool as more of a threat this season than any other boosted by the presence of a manager who knows what it means to play, manage and win with and for Liverpool. Kenny Dalgish will know the significance of this fixture more than any other Liverpool manager in recent times and although I expect him to play down its significance in the bigger picture, he will be desperate to put one over United this Saturday. The match would also be extra spicy due to the fact that United have now overtaken Liverpool’s long standing record of the number of domestic titles won.
From the United perspective, we have made a great start to the season in terms of results. We are still unbeaten in the season in all competitions and are sitting pretty on top of the table after a breathtaking start to the season; winning 6 and drawing 1. We have scored 24 goals and conceded only 5. Despite the impressive reading of the statistics, I am concerned that our performances in the last month or so have not been able to match up with those that we started the season with. I am able to understand that it would be tough for United to maintain a high level of performance all throughout a grueling season in England and Europe and in some games we would need to be gritty and grind out a result. What I am concerned about is that even after a performance where the manager had said United were guilty of being complacent against FC Basle in the Champions League; United followed it up with a performance that gave Norwich a lot of chances to score much like the way Basle had their opportunities, the only difference is that Norwich failed to capitalise.
United scraped out a win to set a new record for the consecutive number of home wins but if they played like that against Liverpool, we would have another dismal day, performance and result to take from Anfield this Saturday. At this juncture, I would like to give credit to Norwich City who played very well at Old Trafford and I am not at all being disrespectful to them by suggesting that they had many attempts on goal only because United played poorly. I don’t expect United to win by 5 or 6 in every game we play; I would settle for a 1-0 win but only if we played at our usual level and standard without being complacent.
Complacency, the lack of a stable line-up and form could be factors to United’s downturn in form however I doubt many would notice it because United have been getting the results expected of them. Defensively, we are struggling to cope with the injuries we’ve had which have also resulted in us fielding a much-changed backline. Rafael has not played all season, Smalling, outstanding at right back in his absence, has been missing with injury since the last big game against Chelsea. Vidic has been out injured from the first game of the season against West Bromwich Albion and Sir Alex has said that he is making slow progress. Ferdinand and Evans have been playing but I doubt either is fully fit. Finally, Fabio looks short on form which has resulted in a right winger in Antonio Valencia filling in at right back.
Smalling, Ferdinand and Evans are expected to be fit for the match on Saturday having not been called up by their respective national teams for the recent international fixtures. I am not sure if we would have Rafael and Vidic back in time, we would have to wait for Sir Alex’s press conference on Friday to know more. Evra has been consistent but at times he has looked sluggish too. Moreover, he would have a crucial game to play for France on Tuesday against Bosnia Herzegovina in Paris before he returns to Manchester for our crunch fixture. How would his morale be after the French game? We would only know on Wednesday.
In midfield, our wingers; Nani and Young are doing very well and they both scored for their countries on Friday. While Ashley Young would already be back in Manchester, having secured qualification for the English national team, Nani has a crucial fixture against Denmark to contend with and like Evra, his morale coming back to Manchester will be dependent on his country’s crucial Euro 2012 qualifier. Valencia having played in his country’s World Cup qualifier against Venezuela would have a meaningless, lower pressure, friendly match against the United States to contend with before heading back on a trans-Atlantic flight back to Manchester from the United States. Anderson who started the season well playing alongside Cleverly, is showing a slight dip in form as he doesn’t have a stable partner next to him. He should be well-rested for the trip to Liverpool as he wasn’t called up by the Brazilian squad for their recent friendly matches. Carrick, Giggs and Park who are all in contention to partner the Brazilian against Liverpool or even take his place would be well-rested having not been picked by the national team for the former and having retired from international football for the latter pair. Darren Fletcher, Scotland’s skipper who has partnered Anderson in the last 2 matches would also have a crucial qualifier against reigning World and European champions, Spain to deal with before he returns to Manchester and pre-match for Scotland he would be in the same boat psychologically as his United team-mates, Nani and Evra.
In attack, we have been clinical and ruthless which is why we have been getting the results even if we haven’t played at our best recently. However, Rooney would have a lot of bad publicity coming into this match, having been sent off while on international duty and he has had to deal with negative reports on his personal life involving his father, uncle and cousin. What frame of mind will Rooney be on Saturday? It remains to be seen. He will surely be entering the cauldron of fire at Anfield where Liverpool fans would take any and every opportunity to get on his back. The big question in days and hours to kickoff would be will Sir Alex risk playing Rooney or will he be dropped to protect him from the vicious taunting that is expected to greet Rooney as he steps out on the field and plays.
The list of candidates that could replace or partner him is as follows; Berbatov, last season’s top scorer, who scored the sweet and memorable hat-trick at Old Trafford last season, having retired from international football would be well rested as would another veteran, ex-Liverpool favourite, Michael Owen who wasn’t picked by England. Berbatov hasn’t started the season well and hasn’t scored yet this season. Owen has got two already albeit in the Carling Cup but I expect his chances of starting to be slim. Last season’s revelation, Javier Hernandez has had a stop-start season so far, with injuries keeping him out. He would have to travel back from Mexico after a friendly against Brazil and is probably someone Sir Alex would be glad to know that has an international fixture to play as he tries to regain his form of last season and fitness. This season’s revelation, Danny Welbeck would be back in Manchester already after his exploits with England on Friday. At long short to start would be Federico Macheda who wasn’t called up by Italy U-21 and Mame Biram Diouf who was in the Senegal side which sealed its qualification for the African Cup of Nations in style with a 2-0 win over Mauritius.
In light of recent performances against Liverpool at Anfield, it would be great if we could inflict on Liverpool the kind of trashing and embarrassment they inflicted on us at Old Trafford in 2009. Eventhough we have beaten Liverpool comfortably at Old Trafford in subsequent seasons after the black day in March 2009, it would be sweeter to inflict on Liverpool the kind of defeat they inflicted on us on our own turf. Sir Alex would have to get the selection of the side right and it would make sense to play those that are fresher so that there would be greater energy and vigour in the side which will be needed in a blood and thunder tie. Above all, the players got to have the right motivation and show greater hunger when they step onto the field on Saturday. Let’s show them why we have won more league titles than any other side in England! In light of recent performances against Liverpool at Anfield, it would be great if we could inflict on Liverpool the kind of trashing and embarrassment they inflicted on us at Old Trafford in 2009. Eventhough we have beaten Liverpool comfortably at Old Trafford in subsequent seasons after the black day in March 2009, it would be sweeter to inflict on Liverpool the kind of defeat they inflicted on us on our own turf. Sir Alex would have to get the selection of the side right and it would make sense to play those that are fresher so that there would be greater energy and vigour in the side which will be needed in a blood and thunder tie. Above all, the players got to have the right motivation and show greater hunger when they step onto the field on Saturday. Let’s show them why we have won more league titles than any other side in England! United We Stand! Glory, Glory Man. United!
Will United beat Liverpool at Anfield?