Manchester United vs. Liverpool FC: 10 Ways for Reds To Secure Victory
Sir Alex Ferguson may have already succeeded at knocking Liverpool off their perch but there are few other games in the Premier League that equal the fire and brimstone of Manchester United taking on the Merseyside club. This season's first installment takes place October 15th at Anfield with United sitting pretty at the top of the league and Dalglish already dropping points at the Britannia and White Hart Lane.
United were fortunate that Norwich couldn't take advantage of their chances in their previous match while Liverpool enjoyed match official Martin Atkinson's favor during their 2-0 victory at Goodison Park. Three points are at stake but players and fans from both sides will treat this match as the Cup final that it always seems to be.
The last time these two teams met Dirk Kuyt scored a memorable hat trick at Anfield and Ferguson will be keen to consign that result to history.
Here are 10 steps Liverpool can take to secure three points on Saturday.
1. Smack Charlie Adam out of the Funk That He's In
At halftime against Everton, Chalie Adam should have been looking back on a sumptuous 20-plus-yard goal but he was denied by the woodwork. The Scottish passer has been unlucky this season not to add to his goal tally but it is his bread and butter that should concern Dalglish, not his shooting.
For the past few games the midfielder has been noticeably sub-par in Liverpool's engine room, looking for the Hollywood ball and missing passes in abundance. Furthermore, nobody would ever call Adam "quick" but his lack of any sort of pace is a serious concern against the fast, fluid nature of United's offence.
Adam was never going to be the player he was with Blackpool; he plays much deeper and more defensively than he ever did last season where Ian Holloway's team was moulded around him. The Scotsman clearly has the ability but contesting a midfield battle against a rejuvenated Anderson, as well as whoever Fergie decides to dress for battle, will be his biggest test yet.
Dalglish needs to galvanize his summer recruit and get him playing the kind of football we know he's capable of.
2. Shackle the Influence of Ashley Young
Looking back at the summer transfer market, you had to feel sorry for Aston Villa, who were stripped of arguably their two most valuable assets in Stewart Downing (£20 million to Liverpool) and Ashley Young (£15 million to United). Taking the start of this season into account you'd think Liverpool massively overpaid but Young was in the last year of his contract and therefore was available for a relative bargain.
Downing has amassed a disappointing zero goals/assists on Merseyside in 585 minutes of football while Young has two goals and six assists in only 479 minutes. Furthermore, the current incumbent on England's left wing has slotted seamlessly into Sir Alex Ferguson's side and his interplay with Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and the rest of the United team has been outstanding.
In order to put a halt on the Red Devils' firepower, Dalglish will need to find a way to contain Young. Taking into account Martin Skrtel's torrid experience against Gareth Bale at White Hart Lane, surely Martin Kelly (if fit) will play right-back and be up against the United winger. Young's ability to drift anywhere along the forward line will require constant communication between Kelly and Lucas Leiva, who will already have his hands full.
If Liverpool can stop Young or limit his crossing it will serve to starve Rooney and his strike partner of possession and limit the considerable damage they would otherwise inflict.
3. Don't Attempt To Unsettle de Gea with Useless Long Balls
It hasn't worked and it simply isn't a viable strategy. David de Gea has saved more shots than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League and attempting to expose this perceived "weakness" in his game is ridiculous. Let me make this a little more clear: Jamie mate, keep it on the deck!
You have to feel for Andy Carroll who simply by being on the pitch encourages route-one football; this isn't a strategy that is going to work against Manchester United. Looking at this ploy in a different light, however, there is an argument for early balls into the box, with a view to try and catch out Phil Jones or pit Rio Ferdinand's dodgy back against Andy Carroll.
If Carroll does start on Saturday, he needs to get nasty and he needs to throw his considerable bulk around a little more. Vidic would relish the physical battle against the Englishman but Ferdinand and Jones may be more susceptible to a little bullying, provided the service from the flanks is of sufficient quality. Luis Suarez will certainly be there or thereabouts to pick up the scraps.
4. Retain Dirk Kuyt Ahead of Jordan Henderson on the Right Flank
We'll forgo the further inquisition into Jordan Henderson's career and focus on why Dirk Kuyt should retain his place in the first team. The Dutchman's awareness was in the spotlight against Everton when he ducked under Luis Enrique's cutback to allow Andy Carroll to lash in his first goal of the 2011/2012 season. He has been disappointed at a lack of starts this season but should start at Anfield on Saturday.
Aside from his inexhaustible supply of energy, Kuyt will be integral in helping out his defenders deal with Ashley Young. Liverpool's No. 18 was probably Rafa Benitez's first name on the team sheet because of what he offered defensively on the team's right flank. Limiting Young's influence and checking the forward forays of Patrice Evra will be the priority for Kuyt.
On the other hand, last season's mauling of United saw Kuyt notch his first Premier League hat trick. His dogged persistence capped a world-class display from Luis Suarez, and showed Dalglish that his striker's instincts haven been dulled despite life at Anfield on the right wing.
5. Restrict Nani's Shooting Opportunities to the Bare Minimum
After a hugely impressive 2010/2011 season it seems Nani has picked up where he left off and refused to let Ashley Young hog the limelight. The pre-op Michael Jackson look-alike has been irresistible this season, keeping Antonio Valencia out of the first team and scoring some outrageous goals.
Nani has been most effective when running at defenders with the ball at his feet, twisting and turning until he is presented with a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The threat posed by the Portuguese winger is of a different nature from Young and will likewise require an alternative means of defensive organization. Getting bodies between Nani and Pepe Reina is paramount to ensuring he can't rifle in another long-range goal.
Jose Enrique will likely be able to match him for pace, but it will be up to Stewart Downing to assert himself and force Nani to track back and help out his defenders. When the winger doesn't have the ball he is pretty useless and Dalglish won't be able to stress this enough to his players.
6. Aggravate and Antagonize Wayne Rooney
With each successive season it seems that we're seeing a more mature and developed Wayne Rooney but as England vs. Montenegro showed us on Friday, the same animal exists just under the surface. Regardless of whether his stamp deserved a red card or how long his suspension is, the simple fact is he was frustrated and he lashed out, to the detriment of his team.
Playing the game on a psychological level is often frowned upon, as there is really nothing as low as actively attempting to get another player sent off through play-acting or diving. But the Reds are playing United and therefore the rulebook goes out the window (get those hands limbered up Suarez!). While we don't have the likes of Javier Mascherano to instigate opponents anymore, anything Liverpool can do to unsettle Rooney will help the cause.
It's been a rough October, and the prospect of missing matches at the European Championships next summer as well as his father's recent trouble with the law may have "the boy" on edge already. A few kicks here, some pokes there and we may provoke the red mist and remove him from the contest entirely.
The problem with Rooney is he may simply ignore it all and go on to score a hat trick...
7. Expose Phil Jones When He Attempts to Make Runs Forward
It remains to be seen what sort of back four Ferguson fields on Saturday but it's highly likely that Phil Jones will feature in some capacity. The young Englishman has been the talk of the town for his rampaging enthusiasm and will to transition play from defense to attack like Gerard Pique does for Barcelona. Fergie has used him at right-back so far, but due to a hefty injury list he'll likely start alongside Rio Ferdinand in the center.
Jones has been commended in the media for his technical ability and pace going forward, however this double-edged sword should be front and center in Luis Suarez's mind come the weekend. Against Basel in the Champions League Jones was culpable for overplaying when defending his own 18-yard box which led to the concession of a penalty.
When Jones looks to gallop up the pitch on a United attack, it may just serve to provide enough of an opening to hit them on the break.
8. Don't Bloody Conceed a Stupid Early Goal!
In March 2009, Liverpool went down 1-0 to United when Jose Reina brought down Park Ji Sung and Cristiano Ronaldo converted the subsequent penalty at Old Trafford. It looked like it was going to be one of those days until Fernando Torres subjected Nemanja Vidic to a hurricane of humiliation that continues to wake the Serbian in the middle of the night. At 4-1 on 90 minutes, the stadium was nearly empty but this is an extremely rare example of United getting a foothold in a match then losing it.
On Saturday at Anfield, Liverpool's top priority should be finishing the first half without conceding. No team has been able to keep out this United side for the full match but as Norwich showed us they can be stifled. Keeping Wayne Rooney off the score sheet will require a monumental level of concentration from Jamie Carragher and Company but it is the only way to give the team a chance at victory.
With the defensive problems United currently have, it would be tempting to pile on as much pressure as possible from kickoff but caution should rule the opening exchanges. Chelsea shipped a few goals against United early on and even though they bossed the remainder of the game, it was too little too late. Liverpool need to realise this and keep it tight at the back.
9. Don't Rush Steven Gerrard Back into the First Team
The large red elephant in the room is how exactly Dalglish is going to go about reintroducing Steven Gerrard into this team. Liverpool's talisman has been restricted to two substitute appearances since his six-month layoff and has likely been in his manager's office all week badgering him for a starting spot against the Reds' bitter rivals.
The like-for-like change would be the Scouser coming in for Adam beside Lucas in midfield, but he could also be deployed further forward to play behind Suarez. The second option would likely raise concerns about damaging Andy Carroll's fragile confidence by dropping him after his goal against Everton, but the team comes first and there's no room for egos and hurt feelings.
So should Gerrard start? The gut feeling is no, simply because he hasn't played enough minutes to be sharp enough. On the other hand this is Liverpool vs. United at Anfield and nobody is going to be more fired up Saturday than Gerrard. Which may in theory be the problem as an overly enthusiastic No. 8 could lead to an early booking or gaps in our defensive line.
You'd be hard-pressed to imagine a time when Liverpool had someone of Gerrard's calibre to summon as a late-game substitute, and in the interest of starting the match well, Dalglish will surely keep him on the bench.
10. Kenny Dalglish Needs To Give the Mother of All Pep Talks
It's early in the season, yes, but the Manchester clubs have set the bar and so far nobody has come close to matching it. Win on Saturday and Liverpool move back into the top four and pierce the invincible aura that United have erected this season. Beat them and the resulting euphoria and momentum may well carry us into December.
Lose against United and well, it honestly won't make much difference in the long run save for the immediate bragging rights and arrogance we'll have to deal with from United supporters. They've manhandled almost everyone and will continue to dish out humblings as the season progresses.
Liverpool really have nothing to lose at this point, although being beaten at Anfield by Fergie will rankle supporters and pile on the pressure for the Old Trafford return leg. The Merseyside derby was decided thanks to a dodgy refereeing decision, and we missed out on the typical blood and thunder these games have produced in the past.
There's certainly no love lost between Manchester United and Liverpool, and all eyes will be on one of football's fiercest rivalries come Sunday. The players shouldn't need it but a rousing Fergie-esque hair-dryer treatment from Dalglish will go some way towards getting his soldiers in the mood.