March 21, 2010
With 36 league trophies and 8 European cups between them, it doesn’t get any bigger than this in English football. The intensity of hatred, sense of anticipation and the vibrations of success can be felt all through England whenever Manchester United and Liverpool rekindle their age-old rivalry.
While United are going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title, Liverpool are meandering in fifth and in danger of losing their champions league spot.
The team from Old Trafford has been in good form of late – winning their previous five games including a League Cup triumph against Aston Villa at Wembley and a thrashing of Milan at Old Trafford. Although there is not much requirement of incentives when United face their fierce north-west rivals, revenge for their humiliation last season and a place at the top of the table are extra sources of motivation.
Ryan Giggs is available for selection for the first time since fracturing his arm at Villa Park last month. Rafael Da Silva and Johnny Evans are also available for selection.
Wes Brown and Anderson are out due to injuries, while Michael Owen and John O’Shea will not feature again this season. Owen Hargreaves returned for United Reserves on Thursday but will need more time to be ready for the first team.
Sir Alex has preferred to play the 4-5-1 formation in the big games this season with Wayne Rooney playing a lone role upfront. Despite the good form shown by Dimitar Berbatov in recent weeks, the Bulgarian is expected to be a healthy option on the bench.
Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher will be make up the central midfield for United; with the ever-improving Antonio Valencia on the right wing. Ji-Sung Park is expected to get the nod ahead of Nani on the left wing considering Sir Alex’s preference to play the hard-working Korean in big matches in the past.
Experienced club captain Gary Neville is likely to start at right-back as Rafael is returning from injury.
Van Der Sar
Neville Ferdinand Vidic Evra
Valencia Fletcher Scholes Park
From Man Utd’s Corner
As he has been all season, Wayne Rooney is the key player for United. The ex-Evertonian is at the top of his game and equaled Van Nistelrooy’s record tally with his 25th league goal of the season against Fulham. He has tortured defences all over Europe and Liverpool’s back four will be in for a torrid time.
Ferguson will look upon Ji-Sung Park to keep a check on the threatening runs of visiting right back Glenn Johnson. While he does that, Fletcher and Scholes will push up in hope to take advantage of the hole Johnson leaves when he goes wandering forward.
Antonio Valencia will be the key outlet and will receive a lot of the ball, especially considering he will be up against relatively inexperienced Emiliano Insua at left back.
Nemanja Vidic has been sent off in the last three encounters against Liverpool, resulting into three defeats. The last time Vidic overpowered Torres, United won 3-0 at Old Trafford; emphasising the importance of this battle.
The merseysiders have had a woeful 2009/10 campaign but during the last two matches, one could spot glimpses of their last season’s title-threatening form. Unfortunately for the club, this has coincided with Albert Riera’s reported outburst against the manager.
Liverpool will be looking for their fourth consecutive league win against their old rivals. However, they possess a dismal away record this season and haven’t scored in their last five away games. They have lost nine matches this season – as many as Stoke.
Rafael Benitez’s injury list has shortened in the latter part of the season. However, they are still missing Martin Skrtel due to an ankle injury and Fabio Aurelio due to a thigh strain – both vital players in their famous win last season.
Alberto Aquilani is down with a sickness bug and Albert Riera has been suspended by the club for his unadvised words.
It is never easy to predict Rafael Benitez’s starting line-up, but he will set up his side in the typical 4-2-3-1 formation which has been a real success when played at virtually full strength.
Despite Ryan Babel’s inclusion in the recent games, Yossi Benayoun is likely to replace him in the line-up because of his work ethic. Maxi Rodriguez could also start instead of Benayoun, but his inclusion in such a huge game will be a real surprise.
With Aquilani down with sickness, Mascherano and Lucas will form the central midfield pairing – a successful one during the last two times they have faced Fergie’s men.
Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
From Liverpool’s Corner
Liverpool will simply attempt to replicate their act of conquering Old Trafford. With Torres and Gerrard semi-firing on all cylinders, they are more than capable of unsettling a United defense which hasn’t conceded in their last seven home games.
Yossi Benayoun, or Maxi Rodriguez, will have a key role to play in protecting young left-back Insua from the threat of Valencia. Glenn Johnson will be a bigger threat down the right than Dirk Kuyt and the dutchman will have to provide adequate cover during Johnson’s bombarding runs.
Insua is unlikely to push upfield which means Torres will be seen down the left flank for much of the game, hoping to link up with Israeli midfielder Benayoun.
The key to winning this match for Liverpool is the first goal. In typical Rafa fashion, if the reds take the lead, they can set-up with eight players behind the ball leaving Torres and Gerrard to counter on their own – usually with stunning effect.