Red Devils out for Revenge
Old Trafford is the venue for this Saturday’s early kickoff as we prepare for the third showdown of the season between English football’s two biggest clubs. Following Liverpool’s last-gasp 2 -- 1 FA Cup victory over the Red Devils just two weeks ago, Sir Alex Ferguson’s title chasing Man United will be going all out for revenge against their arch rivals as they look to build on last Monday’s sensational come back against Chelsea and keep pace with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. Even so, they cannot expect an easy ride against Liverpool, despite only losing once in their last seven home matches against the Anfield club. Liverpool’s own title aspirations may have already been extinguished, but the Reds remain firmly in the race for the Champions League positions and will be desperate not to slip up.
Both sides come into Saturday’s match on the back of draws against tough opposition, achieved in totally contrasting fashion. While United stunned everyone by coming back from 3 – 0 down to snatch a dramatic 3 – 3 draw away to Chelsea, Liverpool put in a far more subdued performance as they were held to a scoreless draw at home to Tottenham Hostpur. With both teams seeing the draws as missed opportunities in their respective missions, there will be everything to play for this Saturday.
Saturday’s encounter will also be notable for the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra sideshow. Liverpool’s Uruguayan attacker was controversially found guilty of racially abusing Frenchman Evra in that match and forced to serve an eight-match ban, and Saturday will be the first time the two face each other on the same pitch since last October’s notorious incident.
Monday night’s sensational come back epitomizes the never-say-die spirit of Man United under Sir Alex Ferguson, and sends out a stark warning to league leaders Manchester City that they will have to fight all the way to the finish line if they want to claim this season’s EPL title. The instant Wayne Rooney coolly slotted home his penalty kick to make the score 3 – 1, United fans could sense what would happen next. While the draw leaves United two points off the pace, the manner in which it was gained will surely bolster the Red Devil’s confidence that they can claim back pole position in the coming weeks.
United’s attacking threat was all too evident on Monday night, yet the match once again highlighted their defensive frailties this season. Evra was clearly at fault for the first goal, while veteran defender Rio Ferdinand’s loss of sharpness was yet again exposed for the third. The way in which Ferguson’s men allowed Chelsea to grab two goals within the space of five minutes after halftime was the antithesis to United teams of recent years. For a team with title-chasing aspirations, the constant chopping and changing of the back four is quite unbecoming—a defect that has been highlighted time and again in United’s big games this season.
Undoubtedly, Wayne Rooney’s return to action was a massive boost for United, with the striker’s presence clearly being the decisive factor in Monday’s draw. The team’s lack of cutting edge was clearly evidenced in his absence during the defeat at Liverpool two weeks ago, a game which United dominated for long periods but were unable kill off.
Today’s match is arguably even more important for Liverpool’s season than it is Man United’s, as the Anfield club remain four points off of the top four and that all-important Champions League qualifying place, a competition which today’s rivals are sure to be in next season. Even so, it might just be that Dirk Kuyt’s dramatic late winner in the FA Cup tie two weeks ago will prove to be the catalyst for Kenny Dalglish’s men to finally kick start their stuttering campaign. Currently lying seventh in the table, Liverpool have now gone four games unbeaten and will be quietly confident of getting something from Saturday’s match, spurred on by the knowledge that defeat could leave them with a mountain to climb.
Just as Wayne Rooney’s return was a huge boon for Man United, the return of striker Luis Suarez will do much to bolster Liverpool. The gifted but controversial Uruguayan seems to be the only player in Liverpool’s squad capable of sparking their attack into life, thanks chiefly to his lightning-quick speed and his ability to snatch something out of nothing. Liverpool’s forward line has struggled desperately without Suarez’s pace over the last month, with the pedestrian Kuyt and Andy Carroll clearly lacking the creative spark that is so important against EPL defenses. Carroll’s big problem is that Kenny Dalglish simply doesn’t have any idea how to use the big target man, as the Anfield club seems incapable of delivering the kind of deep crosses into the box which he thrived on while at Newcastle. Big-money-signing Stewart Downing has been a big disappointment this year, while Liverpool’s full backs seem to have a preference from putting in low crosses.
Liverpool’s fate will largely depend on how well skipper Steven Gerrard and Suarez can link up. With Gerrard missing out on the first half of the season due to injury, followed by Suarez’s enforced absence, the pair have not yet had the playing time to gel together, yet it seems that this partnership offers the best hope Dalglish has for rectifying Liverpool’s attacking flaws.
While Liverpool will be spurred on by the return of Suarez and the knowledge that defeat could be disastrous for their lingering Champions League hopes, it’s difficult to see how they can score goals in what is always a tight affair. Man United for their part look to be moving into gear for their traditional end-of-season title charge, and with home advantage on Saturday it’s hard to see any other outcome than a win for the Old Trafford club.
Prediction: Manchester United 2, Liverpool 0
Mike Wheatley is an experienced freelance blogger and copywriter from the UK. His life is one never-ending adventure, living it up while funding his hectic lifestyle through his work as an author and heading up Content Solutions Online.