What to Expect from Manchester United vs. Liverpool

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJanuary 11, 2013

What to Expect from Manchester United vs. Liverpool

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    Here we go again: the biannual front-up between Manchester United and Liverpool.

    Forget City. This is the big one. All the bitter rivalry and old wounds open up.

    Sir Alex Ferguson has rightly tried to defuse the post Suarez-Evra situation but both will be playing on Sunday. Will we get the great handshake debate yet again?

    These are England's two greatest clubs of all time, winning a total of 119 honours, which United just edge. They have met 186 times but United are ahead 73-62 on wins.

    All of these stats make no difference on the day. Liverpool could be at the bottom of the Premier League and United at the top, but they would start equal in desire, passion and commitment.

    Whether at home or away, however, the crowd is a major factor.

    Whatever you do, don't miss the match. Watch all 90 minutes. It can be heart-stopping, anger-inducing and delight-inspiring, depending on the outcome.

    Its tempo is more like a Cup match. Definitely one for the neutrals. Not for the fainthearted of either side.

Blood and Thunder

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    There was plenty for both sets of fans to go at with this tackle on Nani. It was clearly a straight red, but despite the severity of the wound, Nani didn't help his case by getting up and running to Phil Dowd before falling down again.

    So the Liverpool fans had a field day all over Twitter and bulletin boards.

    The question is: How much should the referee take into account the passion of the day?

    Like Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher has got away with a tackle or two in his career. Fortunately or sadly (depending on which way you bend), probably neither will play on Sunday.

    There are plenty of players who have previous experience of this matchup, however, and they will go onto the pitch expecting it to be fierce. 

    The fans will try to goad the players for starters, and it is a good thing that Howard Webb is in charge with his elite team of officials.

    Interestingly, while Howard is a world-class referee, he is universally unpopular among Liverpool fans for the only previous time he took this match. Apart from giving Dimitar Berbatov a first-minute penalty, he sent Steven Gerrard off for a two-footed tackle on Michael Carrick.

    After the match, Ryan Babel and Kenny Dalglish's son weren't alone in branding Webb a Manchester United fan. 

    This won't have troubled South Yorkshire policeman Webb. After all, he has refereed a World Cup Final, where far worse was being dished out by the Dutch on the Spanish. 

    Before that match his wife wasn't optimistic, saying "he can't take charge of his own children".

    So we are likely to see a degree of "blood and thunder," because both teams will be committed and Webb will give them a certain amount of leeway as a result.

    As the match in 2011 showed, however, this won't stop him from stamping his authority on the match as soon as he needs to.

Lots of Passing and Pressing

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    Brendan Rodgers may well be a devotee of tiki-taka football, judging by the style he has implemented at Swansea and Liverpool.

    The truth of the matter is that the great Reds team of the 1970s and 1980s were based on great passing. Bill Shankly's mantra was "Get, Give, Move," and that has largely characterised their style of play under Rodgers.

    On the other hand, United's style is to attack or counterattack at speed, primarily through the use of width and skill through the middle. They also have an average possession rate of 60 percent this season in the Premier League.

    In addition, following the early-season defensive problems, Ferguson has got his team pressing the ball much higher up the pitch, as Liverpool do.

    How the two teams set up may dictate the style of play of each and the character of the match. You can expect that first and foremost Rodgers will want to go away with a result, so security at the back will be paramount.

    Sir Alex, on the other hand, will set up for a win from the off, so it could be quite an open match. 

    Rodgers normally sets Liverpool up with a 4-3-3, in which case Sir Alex could go 4-4-2. But against Stoke the Reds used 4-2-3-1, and Sir Alex might well match that up given the importance of the match for both.

The Teams

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    Both keepers are Spanish, both under pressure and, for the time being, both first-choice for their respective teams.

    Expect no different on Sunday. The rumours from the Daily Mirror of De Gea going are probably rubbish, but Reina hasn't had his greatest season. This is the ideal opportunity to prove their worth, and you can expect them to be on top form.

    Both of the squads are among those with the least injured players. Both could be missing only two players if Nani is fit. 

    Assuming both managers go for 4-2-3-1 these are the possible line-ups:

    Manchester United

    De Gea

    Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra

    Carrick, Cleverley

    Valencia, Van Persie, Young




    Wisdom, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson

    Leiva, Allen

    Sterling, Gerrard, Downing


    The keys to United's prospects could be how the central defence marks Suarez. For Liverpool, it will be how and where Gerrard plays. If Rodgers wants a more combative approach, Shelvey could start and Carragher would be on the bench.

Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick at Their Best

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    Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick are both in the twilight of their careers, with maybe two or three years left at the top.

    There are those who think Carrick would have more caps for England if it hadn't been for Gerrard and Frank Lampard standing in his way, but they are very different players.

    Gerrard is more in the Roy Keane mould. He can defend with no quarter given, as well as start and finish attacks. Sir Alex once coveted him.

    Carrick, on the other hand, is the cultured, studied Andrea Pirlo of English football.

    With a bit of luck, if the teams set up as proposed on the previous slide, we can see the very best of both of them on Sunday.

    Carrick often seems to have time on the ball, picking a simple pass or drilling an exquisite through-ball. With Cleverley alongside him as the glue and Robin van Persie ahead, they can run this match if they want to.

    Gerrard, on the other hand, can add an extra man to midfield, be up in support of Suarez in attack and even back in defence if needed—provided his legs are up to it for 90 minutes.

    He also has the ability and firepower to score a goal out of the blue, as he did in the Anfield fixture. Keep Gerrard quiet and United can win. But they haven't managed to in the past.

Will Suarez Try to Con the Referee?

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    It seems to be in his footballing DNA to cheat. Liverpool supporters won't like that.

    Actually nobody likes it, because he is a much better player than that.

    Everybody is talking about Van Persie's goals, but they're also talking about Suarez's handball. That's a tragedy for him, because he is a world-class striker.

    They say that foreign coaches train players to dive. Maybe it's easier to con referees in Uruguay? But in England now, it is clear that referees are clamping down on diving. Gareth Bale has been warned; maybe Suarez has as well?

    There is some evidence recently of him trying to stay on his feet. Like Bale, he may have been wrongly treated at times once he garnered the reputation for diving.

    No reasonable person would want Sunday's match to be decided by a dodgy dive or a handball goal, so let's hope Howard Webb is at his sharpest best.

United to Win, Just

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    This match could well be a nail-biter. You can't legislate against Liverpool scoring, but United have the firepower to bag at least a brace of goals. 

    In the absence of Rooney, Van Persie and Chicharito have forged an understanding that should survive even after the Evertonian's return from injury.

    That is bad news for Kagawa, who still hasn't rediscovered the form he showed against Everton. Nevertheless, he'll get his chances as the season unfolds.

    United's defence may have been shaky in the first half of the season, but everyone is fit now. Sir Alex now has the luxury to choose from his three best central defenders. We've gone for Ferdinand and Evans because Vidic is being nursed back to match fitness.

    Rio Ferdinand, on the other hand, seems to have sorted his back problems. His nous and speed of mind may be needed to keep Suarez in check. And if Rodgers decides the Uruguayan will target Evans, he'll find a young man who grows better and more confident, season by season and match by match.

    If the line-ups we have selected turn out to be true, then United's midfield will not be overrun, releasing Valencia and Young to test out young Wisdom's and Johnson's occasional defensive frailty. Part of the strategy will be to limit Johnson's forward runs. 

    Attack is the best form of defence.

    We've selected Jones at right back because he is a better tackler than Rafael.

    So, 2-1 the score, with Van Persie, Hernandez and Gerrard scoring.

Delight for Ferguson, Blarney for Rodgers

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    Sir Alex belies his 71 years. He remains in no doubt that this is the biggest match of the season, whatever the noisy neighbours do.

    And there is a great deal at stake. If United beat Liverpool and then Spurs, they will surely be set fair for the rest of the season.

    Brendan Rodgers still has some people to convince. He may yet regret the opening of Anfield's gates to media intrusion before the season had barely got underway.

    He talks the talk and wants his players to walk the walk. He was a success at Swansea, but did he inherit Roberto Martinez's successful blueprint? After all, he hardly covered himself in glory at Reading.

    He preaches pass-and-press, and to be fair has nothing like the depth of resource that Sir Alex has at his disposal.

    When United score the winning goal, you'll see the great Scot leap like the young lad he is at heart. He kicks every shot and heads every aerial attempt. 

    In the post-match interviews he will be fair to Liverpool as well as praising his lads. Rodgers will of course have been "unlucky to lose" and his "players couldn't have done more."