Manchester United welcome great rivals Liverpool to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon just over a year from the 4-1 result last season.
At that time Liverpool were real title challengers to United but in the end finished only four points behind the eventual champions. However, this time round Rafa Benitez’s side are way of the table–toppers’ pace, which could see them fail to finish fourth, thus missing out on the Champions League.
Sir Alex Ferguson, in his pre-match press conference was less than complimentary about the Reds’ and feels they are a team past their best:
“Did they over-perform? Yes. I think they did very well. When they got that run going they showed form and consistency,” said Ferguson
“I don’t know what they are mired in.
“I think that their challenge last year was championship form, but sometimes a team peaks with that particular team and sometimes it’s difficult to do again.”
Manchester United will enter the fray with a somewhat settled side. Edwin van der Sar will no doubt be in goal as per usual with a strong United defence in front of him. It has been 699 minutes of league football since we last conceded at home, when Gabriel Agbonlahor scored for Aston Villa in a 1-0 win on 12 December.
Starting at the back for the Red Devils will be first choice pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic; lets hope the Serbian can stay on the field for the full ninety minutes this time as he has been sent off in the last three matches between United and Liverpool. The left-back slot will be Patrice Evra’s as normal, though Ferguson will have a choice to make at right-back, the youthful exuberance of Rafael or the experience of club captain Gary Neville?
Wes Brown and John O’Shea are still sidelined. Though Jonny Evans has recovered from injury and will be on the bench for Sunday’s game.
A five-man midfield will probably be deployed as Ferguson looks to win the midfield battle. Antonio Valencia will resume right midfield duties, and Nani on the left with both expected to support lone striker Wayne Rooney. The midfield will probably line up with Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park all in the middle. The Korean will probably be given the role of keeping Steven Gerrard quiet, similar to the job he did against Andrea Pirlo in the Champions League.
Ryan Giggs has recovered from his broken wrist and is available for selection, though he will probably start on the bench, alongside fellow veteran Paul Scholes. Owen Hargreaves made his long awaited comeback for the reserves on Thursday but he is well short of match fitness still, so he wont play a part.
Wayne Rooney will look to continue his fine form against Liverpool, his 25th league goal against Fulham saw him equal Ruud van Nistelrooy’s best ever league tally for United.
Liverpool make the trip to Old Trafford without Martin Skrtel, out with a metatarsal injury and Albert Riera, suspended by the club for comments made against Rafa Benitez. Alberto Aquilani is also doubtful following a stomach bug, which kept him out of the Europa League clash with Lille. Fabio Aurelio will also face a late fitness test to determine if he has recovered sufficiently from a thigh injury.
Liverpool are desperate for points to help them in their quest for fourth place, but Dirk Kuyt still wants to dent United’s title charge:
“No one here at Liverpool wants to see them winning another league title but the main thing for us is to win our own games,” Kuyt told the Reds’ official website.
The left side of Liverpool’s midfield could see one of either Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun or Maxi Rodriguez start the game, though Maxi played a blinder against Portsmouth last weekend, so he looks to be in pole position.
Fernando Torres has scored four goals in the last week and will line-up against old foe Vidic still short of match fitness, even Benitez thinks he will find it tough,
“Vidic is a good player with experience so it will be tough for Torres to beat him but hopefully he can do it,” the Reds manager commented.
In these clashes form goes out the window, but with Liverpool looking a shadow of the side that pushed United so close last year, we must be favorites. Liverpool are without an away league win in their last five games and have lost the last two of three, as well as failing to score in their last four away matches.
United on the other hand are somewhat impenetrable at Old Trafford, whilst scoring 26 goals in the last seven league matches at Old Trafford.
Prediction: 2-0 United
Probable Line Up: van der Sar, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Neville; Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Park, Nani; Rooney
Betfair, Manchester United’s official betting partner, are offering you a totally free £5 bet to place on the United-Liverpool game.
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