The big one is here, and it is here for good. After a hectic week of European action, it is time to settle the scores on the domestic front.
The Red Devils host the Reds from the Merseyside, hoping to end their flickering and fading title dreams. On the other hand, for Liverpool this tie will serve as a life-saver, should they manage to get the double over Manchester United.
This season has been a roller-coaster for Liverpool, though they have seen more ups than lows. For starters, they managed to beat United at Anfield, something which they could not do for the last couple of seasons.
They also managed to beat Chelsea both at home and away, the latter being more significant, keeping in mind Chelsea's form at the Bridge for the past few years.
Whilst Liverpool started brightly and were seen as one of the main title contenders, their form managed to die out gradually much like the soda fizz. Let's see what the main reasons were for Liverpool's downfall and if there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
Who's the Boss?
The power struggle at Anfield, the one between the owners and the one between Parry and Benitez have not helped the club in any way either. There is enough evidence to prove that teams perform better when they have a stable administration and management. Even if it doesn't help, at least it wont do much to hurt the performance of the team.
Rafa's tactics have also been blowing hot and cold. Though they invariably seem to work well in Europe, they have been inconsistent, to say the least, back at home. Though he has given up his 'Shuffle 'em up for fun' act of tweaking the line-up, his idea of resting key players for the 'less' important ties has been questionable.
Yes. Actually they are two of them. Undoubtedly, Liverpool's title challenge has revolved around their hitman, Fernando Torres, and the midfield talisman, Steven Gerrard.
The two have out-performed their team mates to such an extent that many a time the others fail to show up even when either or both of them are not playing. This has resulted in so many drawn games and dropped points.
Until and unless they give up this love affair with drawing games, their title dreams will never materialize. The alternatives would be to either buy/groom match-winners like Gerrard and Torres or change the style of play to suit the results. The former seems more probable with Rafa around.
An awesome performance? What next...A Cropper
Each time Liverpool have managed to get a big result, they follow it with a mediocre performance and almost always, they are made to pay. Just for the record, here are a few of Liverpool's BIG results and the games that followed.
Win against Man Utd—followed by draws against Stoke and Everton
Win against Man City—followed by a draw against Wigan
Win against Chelsea—followed by a loss at White Hart Lane
Win at the Reebok—followed by draws at home against Fulham, West Ham and Hull City
A draw at the Emirates—followed by draws against Stoke, Everton and Wigan
Wins against Chelsea and Pompey—followed by a draw against Man City
The recent win at the Bernabeu—followed by the loss at Riverside
Well you don't need to know rocket science to conclude the consequences of these follow-ups.
I would rather prefer my team to lose or draw against the big four and win their rest rather than the other way round. At least that way they'd drop fewer points.
What Liverpool can expect from Manchester United
Liverpool were undoubtedly a class apart against a hapless Real Madrid. Though one would probably say that a below par Madrid made Liverpool look great, I, for one, would confess that Liverpool were truly outstanding on the night.
The Reds tore apart Real in a show of supremacy and clearly stamped their authority at Anfield. Having sung praises about Liverpool, I would just like to ask one question. What next?
If past experiences are anything to go by, one can expect another average performance from Liverpool. But can they afford one now ? A realist would say—negative. However, Liverpool have been known for shooting themselves in the foot more often than not.
A defeat at Old Trafford will all but end Liverpool's hopes of landing silverware in the League, yet again.
Manchester United will pounce on the game and try to grab it by the scruff of its neck. They will know too well that a result on Saturday will help them move a step closer towards a hattrick of league titles.
Lets see what the probable line-ups will be on Saturday:
Van der Sar
O'Shea Vidic Ferdinand Evra
Aurelio Skrtel Carragher Arbeloa
Knowing too well that this one is a must-win, the Reds under Rafa will still approach this one cautiously. They will be happy to see off the early onslaught and hit on the counter attack. This will only work against Liverpool because United will be rampant at home. There have not been many occasions where the Red Devils have failed to score at Old Trafford this season.
Liverpool's hesitancy to throw caution to the wind will cost them, and boy, will it cost them dearly. Rafa will stick by his stance and prefer that his team stand up and absorb United's attack rather than attack United themselves.
Liverpool will sit back and hope to get a draw out of this one. Rafa's thinking would be wishful to say the least. Yes, Rafa wouldn't mind to go home with a draw, feeling content.
Come Saturday, Manchester will be red. Whether it will be the color of joy and celebration or the color of blood, only time will tell.