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Manchester United Fixtures

Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

In what is widely known as one of the preeminent rivalries in world football – and all of sport – Manchester United and Liverpool have faced off 180 times in almost 120 years, with United holding a 70 to 60 edge in the wins department.

15 of those 180 meetings have come in the FA Cup, with Liverpool’s three wins paling to United’s eight, which include wins in the final in 1977 – which denied Liverpool the League/FA Cup/European Cup treble United would win 22 years later -and 1996.

Today, United will look to increase those advantages and heap more misery upon their fierce North West rivals, who visit Old Trafford in the most eye-catching tie, at least nominally, of the FA Cup’s third round.

Last season, United were stunningly dumped out at this juncture by then-League One Leeds United, who won 1-0 at Old Trafford against an under-strength United side. Judging from all that, Sir Alex Ferguson has said leading up to today’s match, he won’t be taking the occasion lightly, both due to the bitter taste of last year’s defeat and today’s opponent, despite their current state of disarray.

Some rough spots were expected after Roy Hodgson replaced Rafael Benitez in the summer, but it’s been a forgettable campaign on the whole for Liverpool, bar an unbeaten first-place finish in their Europa League group.

Liverpool won only one of their first eight Premier League matches, including a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford on September 19 and a shock 2-1 home defeat to Blackpool in early October, and they exited the Carling Cup in the third round after losing to League Two side Northampton Town on penalties. A three-match win streak spanning late October and early November proved to be a false awakening, as Liverpool come into today with only three wins in their last ten league encounters and defeats in three of their last four.

Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat at Blackburn was Hodgson’s last match in charge, as he lost the players, the fans’ support, and from the looks of it, his mind. Yesterday, Liverpool announced his sacking departure by mutual consent, and with it, the return of Liverpool legend/former manager/fans’ favorite Kenny Dalglish. The change will no doubt galvanize the support, but Liverpool come to Old Trafford closer to the bottom than the top and with one win, two draws, and seven defeats in 10 away league matches, so he has more things to worry about than rallying the fans.

However, there’s no doubt that Liverpool have talent, even if it is underperforming, and we should see the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard on the pitch today.

All the same, we should see a strong United side as well. Rio Ferdinand will be available after being rested against Stoke City, and Edwin Van der Sar could also return after missing the last two matches with the flu.

The biggest selection question involves the availability of Wayne Rooney, who picked up an ankle knock at West Brom and was held out in the win over Stoke. However, even if he sits, United will be set in the striking department. Dimitar Berbatov was the hat trick hero against Liverpool in September, and Javier Hernandez has opened 2011 with a winner at West Brom and a goal and an assist against Stoke. And there’s also a certain former Liverpool legend in United’s ranks who could be called upon if needed.

There’s no telling what to expect from Liverpool today, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and say that the occasion will see an inspired side take the pitch. But will motivation, inspiration, and Dalglishation be enough to push Liverpool to the upset? Not only do the odds not favor it, recent history doesn’t either. United have won six of the last seven meetings at Old Trafford and are 12-1-4 in the last 17 overall meetings.

On top of that, United are in much better form and much better spirits, and they won’t be starved for motivation or inspiration either.

Prediction: 3-1 United

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