There aren’t many games in the world that give you a build-up like this one. From shipping docks in the 19th century to counting trophies in the 21st, this rivalry has been written, told and repeated like an epic in English football. And tied at eighteen English titles each, the explosive rivalry is bound to go on for centuries to come.
When Manchester United come visiting Liverpool this Sunday, the Merseyside club has a huge opportunity to majorly dent their rival’s title hopes; and hand pole position to Arsenal in the title race. Add to that the spicy Dalglish-Fergie rivalry, and this has the making of another classic.
At TheHardTackle, we indulge ourselves in a friendly banter with our resident Man United author, Nipun Malhotra, and our resident Liverpool author, Anurag Upadhyay. Here are some sizzling questions and some no holds barred replies. Nipun fired the first shots..
NM: Liverpool splashed a lot of cash in this January transfer window although they recouped a fair amount with the sale of crowd-favorite, Kop-hero Fernando Torres. Are you Happy with your January dealings? Remember, David Villa cost Barca 32 million while Andy Carroll cost you lot 35. Were these panic buys? Also, what are your feelings towards ‘El Nino’ in a nutshell.
AU : Well, we did splash the cash but if you do the math, our net spending during the January window was down to a couple of millions. Am I happy? Absolutely yes; the way the club and the owners reacted to Torres’s sale, it delivered a massive statement of intent. Although I would have loved to have Adam and Young on Liverpool’s roster as well, it’s slightly difficult to do business in January.
Having said that, Carroll’s price tag does look a bit inflated but he does have the ability to Justify the quids, I personally think that we would be able to make a fare assessment by next December!
As for Fernando Torres, I was not surprised. Few people really know this but if we go by UEFA’s Fair play rules, Chelsea would not be in a position to splash the cash in the coming seasons. There is this cap of 45 million Euros that a club would be able to inject between the next 3 years. So I guess, Torres might have lost his last chance to leave, had he declined to move.
NM: Sticking to the transfer dealings, what happened to “Liverpool’s Messi”- Joe Cole. He has been a bit rubbish since his move from the Bridge. What’s wrong and do you see him adding value to the Liverpool squad in the future?
AU: I think he has lost a bit of rhythm and it could take some time before we see the Joe Cole of old. What I liked about the lad was that he could have chosen Spurs and stayed in London! However, he moved out of a London club and it’s a completely different challenge when you leave your home, in trying to adapt to a different club and culture. But what that tells us about the lad is his willingness to change things and challenge himself. He is a class act. I have faith in him.
NM: Liverpool fans have been known to support their manager. However, that wasn’t the case with the last man in-charge. Roy Hodgson wasn’t ever made to feel at home. So, what happened to the famous Anfield support and so much negativity surrounding his each and every move? Why do you think this was the case?
AU: It’s a ruthless game and it becomes uglier when you have to tell a 63 year-old man that he isn’t good enough! That’s not the Liverpool way of doing business. But it was a one-off situation. In all fairness it was not his fault, rather it was his appointment that was faulty. His away record cries his weaknesses. His inflexible biblical approach on the field along with his ability to play down fan expectations over every press conferences only added insult to injury.
Liverpool FC deserved better than Roy Hodgson and I am glad the owners accepted their mistake sooner, rather than later.
NM: On a more positive note, Raul Meireles has lately hit a rich vein of form. Considering that he was Hodgson’s signing, he has blossomed under King Kenny. What’s the reason for the turn around? Will he feature this weekend and if he doesn’t, how does that impact your chances?
AU: I think Konchesky and Poulsen were more of Hodgson’s signings than Meireles! You know that when a manger buys a player and does not play him on his strength, he can suffer. Hodgson put Raul on the wide right.
However, Raul is a technically sound player and most of his goals have come from arriving late into the box or around 25-30 yards distance from the goal. Under Kenny, he has had a chance to bring himself into the game rather than listening to instructions. If he plays on Sunday, he would make a major impact. That’s because if United choose to play with a deep backline, Raul will be threat with the loose balls, in and around the box. His presence provides more fluidity to our midfield and thus a better control of things on the pitch. He should, ideally, start for us.
NM: Keeping the fierce rivalry and the excruciating hatred towards United aside, what do you make of our season, and where do you think the title’s headed? Head over heart please.
AU: I think United have been a revelation this season. Looking at that squad, nobody would have bet their money on you guys winning the title! I watched United against Chelsea the other day, and I believe the secret lies in positioning and movement. You have a bunch of players that know each other really well and that is helping the team. You have adequate pace on the flanks with Nani and Evra, coupled with good forwards and technically superior players like Giggs and Scholes. Its difficult to beat such a team because the key lies in the balance! There is no one area in the game that can be technically compromised, one will have to be in control of the whole pitch to beat a balanced opposition.
I think the title is headed to London! This game will go a major distance in deciding the title.
NM: Focusing on the game this weekend, Dalglish has been known to experiment with different formations based on opposition’s strength. How do you envisage Liverpool lining up against United, 3-5-2, 4-4-2, or are we in for a surprise? Glen Johnson has been deployed as Left back recently. Do you see the trend continuing against United’s main threat, i.e. Nani?
AU: I think this is a wrong perception; Dalglish plays on his own strength than the opposition’s. The 4-5-1 or 3-5-1i s not really a defensive line-up and neither is it an attacking system. The problem is that we lack genuine wingers, so we rely on our full backs to move the ball through the flanks. We have a good midfield in Lucas, Gerrard and Raul and that explains 3 in the middle, while Suarez and Kuyt work on the forward line.
Going into the game on Sunday, we might Play a 4-3-3. Andy Carroll might make his debut and that would add the bite to our attack. The 3 in the middle are a must to control the park and I guess Keeny might deploy Agger at the LB position because that would allow Johnson in the absence of Kelly, to exploit the space left by Evra on the right. It should be an exciting contest.
More than the system, I believe the team that maintains possession and makes less mistakes would get the result.
AU: Enough of answering! Let me pose some questions to you. You have been fairly silent in the transfer windows of late; with Uefa’s fair play rules coming into effect from the summer, you would be in a crunch situation and may not even have money to buy new players. What is it like living with a debt of about a billion dollars especially when you look at Liverpool, who were also once under blood-sucking Yanks?
NM: The Uefa financial fair play that you mentioned wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the United hierarchy. Also, despite the burden of debt, Man Utd is still reaping profits as shown in the recently released financial results. Fergie has maintained that we have the transfer kitty in place but we won’t be bullied into over-spending as the value of the player suddenly shoots up when we are speculated to be after him. Regarding the second question I think your guess is as good as mine. Although, I certainly believe that United is too big a brand to go down the Leeds United lane.
AU: We all know how popular Gibson is, over United fan forums! And I remember the happiness of your rivals’ faces when Carrick signed a new 3-year contract! Would you agree that Man United is losing depth in the middle of the park?
NM: It doesn’t bother us what rival fans think about Michael Carrick. For me, he is an integral part of our squad which has been shown by the faith our manager has put on him by selecting him regularly in big games and more often than not he has justified that faith. After all, one could argue that he has won more championships than your team put together?
As far as losing depth goes, I believe any team who had the quality of our midfield four of Roy Keane, David Beckham and Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in their prime would certainly find it difficult to make the transformation. However, despite our perceived downfall, we have managed to stay among the elite and are continuing to do so. Moreover, I think a United team is always compared to its own predecessors, some of which would go down as the game’s greatest, while the right way to look at thing would be to compare with the current rivals.
AU: How do you contemplate life beyond Giggs, Scholes, Van Der Sar, and even Gary Neville?
NM: Words are not enough to describe the contribution of these Legends to this football club and English football ,in general. They will always be here in spirit and be part of the United folklore but there comes a time when age catches even the best of the best, and the club has to move on. However, I am extremely confident that the great Scot at the helm would again make the transition as he has always done by rebuilding the team and keeping us top at the same time.
AU: At Anfield, United have been beaten in the previous two Premier League encounters. Do you think your players have failed to rise up to the occasion compared to those at Liverpool? Considering the bitter rivalry, irrespective of the league standings and form, Liverpool always manages to bring their A-game against Man United. What happens to United? Do the players don’t understand the importance of the fixture to the fans or is Anfield too intimidating an environment for your team to play freely?
NM: I think you need to get your stats correct. We have won seven out of the last ten league games and also five of the last eight at Anfield. The quality of our set of players carries its own intimidation to neutralize the Anfield effect.
AU: With your Captain and ex- captain out of the match, do you think you are in for a bother at Anfield on Sunday?
NM: Yes, the absence of Ferdinand coupled with Vidic’s suspension is certainly a cause of concern. Last season, though, we were in a similar position for large stretches of the campaign but we still managed. Smalling has impressed in his debut season and would be partnered by my personal favorite Wes Brown, who I feel can do more than a job in keeping your team at bay. Fergie has faith and so do I. However, the more pressing concern would be the fatigue factor as the trip to Anfield would be our fourth away game in a matter of ten days.
Hoping for a good away performance and more importantly a positive result to keep us on course for the historic #19th. Are you watching Merseyside will be our chant, what will be yours?
If you felt the spite in the words here, one can only imagine the battlefield that Anfield is going to become on Sunday. Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride.