Sunday, September 23, 12:30 GMT
Liverpool prepare to host Manchester United in what will be one of the most emotional days at Anfield as the Red half of Merseyside prepares to pay tribute to the 96 that infamously lost their lives in the Hillsborough tragedy. The Anfield faithful hopes to have full support from their fiercest rivals and the travelling fans will be expected to offer their gratitude to the victims and prove that some things go way beyond the boundaries of football and the rivalries. Sir Alex Ferguson has even written an open letter to the fans of the club to put forward their best behaviour and also called for an end to all disrespectful chants coming from both sets of supporters. Lets hope that this day will be marked as the one which changed the shape of rivalry between the two clubs and limit it to the banter surrounding the beautiful game only.
However, with all the talk surrounding the Hillsborough tribute, there is a football game to be played between Liverpool and Manchester United. The biggest game in English football will be in full flow once the whistle blows and neither team will be ready to give an inch to their rivals and in the end, nothing less than a victory will suffice for either sets of supporters. United, who have lost three of their last four league games at Anfield, will be eager to buck that trend while the home side will definitely want to mark their special day in the best manner possible. Another sub-plot in the game will be the dual between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez, who will face each other for the first time at Anfield since last season’s incidents.
Coming to the game, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers are under tremendous pressure as the club has had its worst start in the league in over a 100 years and nothing short of a win would get the supporters of the back of the manager. Although, the team showed huge signs of improvement at the Stadium of Light last weekend, yet they were unable to make their good performance count as they could only manage to come away with a point. The problem for the club, once again, was the failure to take their chances in front of goal with both Borini and Suarez being guilty of missing several opportunities. Suarez did manage to get the equalizer for his team but that was just one chance taken from many that came his way. Nevertheless, the manager will be hoping for his team to come good on the day that counts most for the club and its fans.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have managed to put points on the board despite not being at the peak of their powers in the opening stages of the season. The Red Devils have managed to win three on the bounce since the defeat at the hands of Everton in their first match of the season. However, Fergie will be the first person to admit that it would take a far better performance from his players if they want to take anything away from Anfield which is always at its loudest when the Reds from Manchester are paying a visit.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Brendan Rodgers does not have too many injury worries going into this game with Lucas Leiva being the only notable absentee from his squad. However, his absence will be pleasing for Manchester United as the Brazilian always reserves his best performances for the Red Devils. Joe Cole, who has been out with a hamstring injury, is deemed to be fit and find himself a place on the bench for the game on Sunday.
The manager is likely to go in with the same formation that performed exceedingly well against the Black Cats last weekend. Borini will be leading the line for the home side and will be provided support from Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling who has been exceptional since his first start against Manchester City. Borini will start in the centre, but is unlikely to maintain his position as him and Suarez will be swapping places often in the game. Sterling has been the most potent attacking threat for the Reds so far this season including in the game against Sunderland where he put in a wonderful shift on the right troubling their defence endlessly. He will once again be patrolling the right flank and is expected to give Patrice Evra a hard time on Sunday afternoon.
The formation of the midfield three against Martin O’ Neill’s men was interesting to see where Allen, Gerrard and Shelvey lined up but in a rather unexpected manner. While Shelvey was passed on the duties of the attacking midfielder, Gerrard was asked to take a much deeper role alongside Joe Allen. After seeing Scholes and Lampard shifting to much deeper roles for their respective club, it’s probably time for Stevie G to sacrifice his attacking instincts to protect his legs and use his quality from a deep lying position. On the other hand, Shelvey looked impressive in his new role and even scored a brace in midweek playing from that position. Bringing Gerrard closer to Allen will also help Liverpool maintain better possession of the ball which will always be more suited to Rodgers’ style of play.
The back four is also likely to be the same as last week with Johnson playing as left-back ahead of Luis Enrique and Martin Kelly taking the right-back role. Agger and Skrtel will be the two central defenders and both of them will also provide an attacking threat for their team on set pieces. Pepe Reina, as always, will be in goal.
Probable Starting Line up ( 4-2-1-3): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Allen, Gerrard; Shelvey; Sterling, Borini, Suarez
As Sir Alex has already stated in his press conference, all the players available for the Galatasaray game in midweek are available for selection. Rooney, contrary to the reports, is still out with the gashed leg but is expected to be fit for the next game. Ashely Young is also missing with a bruised cartilage that will keep him out for another 2-3 weeks. Also missing for the visitors are Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who are not expected to be fit until late next month. However, the good news for the manager is the recovery of Darren Fletcher who returned to action midweek after 10 months, albeit for only 10 minutes. The Scotland international has showed no signs of any problems since that game and will be an important figure for the manager in the grueling season ahead.
Rio Ferdinand is expected to return for the Anfield clash after being an unused substitute in the Champions League game. Although Jonny Evans did well in that game, Ferdinand is expected to take his place alongside Nemanja Vidic in the center of defence. Rafael will continue to be the right back with no other option at the disposal of the manager currently but it will be interesting to see who takes the place on the other flank. Although, Alexander Buttner put in a fine debut performance against Wigan last week, he is unlikely to be risked in such a big game. Patrice Evra, despite being out of form and expected to come under a lot of abuse from the home fans, is likely to get the nod ahead of the youngster.
In midfield, Paul Scholes who has played in the last two games is unlikely to be handed his third start in the space of eight days and hence he might find himself a place on the bench. Tom Cleverley, on the other hand, has not played since returning from England duty and is likely to take up the role alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield. Nani, who was United’s most creative player on Wednesday, will probably be used as the left winger while Antonio Valencia will take up the right-flank. The Ecuadorian was rather wasteful against the Turkish side in midweek and will be expected to put in a better performance on Sunday. His defensive abilities will also be fully utilized as he will be up against Glen Johnson who is never shy of joining the attack.
Up front, it will be Robin van Persie leading the line, while Shinji Kagawa will be playing in the hole just behind him. However, the Japanese might be seen playing a little deeper than usual if the manager decides to strengthen the central midfield.
Probable Starting Line up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Van Persie
- Liverpool have won four and drawn one of the last five games in all competitions against Manchester United at Anfield.
- The Reds have won just two of their eleven league games at Anfield in 2012.
- Manchester United have been awarded the most number of penalties (13) in the league since the start of last season.
- The Red Devils have had seven different scorers in the league this season.
Player To Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
The Uruguayan will surely be the one to watch out for when it comes to the game between these two teams. Suarez has dominated the talk of the last two league fixtures against United at Anfield, albeit for different reasons. His mesmerizing performance helped Liverpool outclass Fergie’s men in March ’11 while the incidents involving him and Patrice Evra made the headlines after the last league game. With the ability to produce the extraordinary, Suarez will be hoping to do his utmost to help his team win against United while his battle with Patrice Evra will also not go unnoticed. Also, the pre-match handshake will be done under close scrutiny.
Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United
While the Hillsborough tribute will make it an emotional evening, there will not be any love lost between the two sides once the whistle blows. It will be a fiery game as usual with both teams eager to impose their authority over the other. While Liverpool will dominate proceedings, United will come away with a hard earned draw.