Liverpool vs. Manchester United: 5 Key Issues for the FA Cup Match at Anfield

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2012

Liverpool vs. Manchester United: 5 Key Issues for the FA Cup Match at Anfield

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    One of the biggest matches of the season rolls around this weekend with a couple of added twists as Liverpool host Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round at Anfield.

    At any time, this game is super-hyped-up, filled with tension and rivalry and plenty of in-game controversial incidents, but this time around there is even a little bit extra. Here, we take a look at the five biggest issues of the upcoming game.

    Liverpool beat Oldham Athletic quite comfortably in the end in their third-round fixture, triumphing 5-1 after a tough first hour or so, while Manchester United came out on top against their local rivals, Manchester City, in an enthralling 3-2 victory that saw a missed penalty, a highly-contentious red card and an almost-complete fightback from Manchester City in the second half from a 3-0 halftime deficit.

Patrice Evra to Play at Anfield for the First Time Since "That" Issue

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    We all know what the deal is here.

    Luis Suarez is currently serving a long suspension because he was found guilty of racially/offensively abusing Patrice Evra the last time the two sides clashed in the Premier League, back in October.

    Evra is likely to be the target of some abuse from Liverpool fans—not the same kind of abuse he alleged Suarez had given him—but this mustn't become a sideshow for the Reds fans, who backed their team to victory in such style in mid-week against Manchester City.

    Liverpool will need their own fans supporting their own team to do a Manc double this week.

    Evra himself has been in purely dreadful form recently, until a much-improved showing against Arsenal last week when he was one of the top performers after a shaky start.

    He is mentally strong enough that the occasion won't get to him, so Kopites shouldn't waste their energy on him. Instead, they should give their full concentration to the matter at hand—knocking out Manchester United.

Manchester United's Chosen Goalkeeper vs. Liverpool's Forward

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    David de Gea arrived at Manchester United for around £18 million in the summer, but has spectacularly failed to make the No. 1 shirt his own after a serious of gaffes and unconvincing displays in goal.

    After a spell of rotating his two stoppers, Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson has settled recently on Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who has played the last four fixtures, conceding six goals and keeping one clean sheet in the process.

    Were this a Premier League fixture, there would be little doubt that Lindegaard would continue in goal, but will Ferguson keep an unchanged defence for a cup tie, albeit against Liverpool?

    De Gea needs games and confidence to get his place back in the team or risk being a big, expensive mistake to replace Edwin van der Sar, one of the game's finest goalkeepers, but Lindegaard has just started to look more settled himself between the sticks.

    Dare Ferguson risk upsetting that continuity again, against Liverpool of all sides?

    Then, there is the equally thorny question of who the chosen goalkeeper will face up to.

    Craig Bellamy has been in majestic form for Liverpool, but is not generally capable of playing two games in a week—should he start against United that would be his third match in seven days.

    However, his form is such that he is the biggest goal threat for the Reds at the moment and he provides the spark and aggression which Liverpool miss in the final third without him.

    Misfiring pair Dirk Kuyt and Andy Carroll are the other options, but Kuyt may keep his place out wide on the right and Carroll has scored just once since October, against Oldham Athletic.

    Kenny Dalglish faces arguably just as big a selection as Alex Ferguson in that regard.

Liverpool's Recent Poor FA Cup Form

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    Rewind to the end of the season in 2006. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard lifted the FA Cup for his team, having scored twice during the game to help force a penalty shootout against West Ham United, which the Reds duly won.

    That was the last time Liverpool won a major trophy.

    Since then, from five attempts, the Reds have failed to even reach the quarterfinal stage of the competition and have gone out on their own ground three times.

    Three defeats were against big rivals, granted, but twice also Liverpool were beaten by lower-league opposition.

    Liverpool have, in fact, only won three FA Cup ties, since they won the competition itself almost six years ago.

    The semifinal defeat over two legs of Manchester City in the League Cup showed that the Reds are ready to head back to the big time in terms of competing for domestic trophies. A win over Manchester United, the team that knocked Liverpool out last season, would further signal the Reds' intent to add to their already impressive collection of silverware.

    Recent Liverpool FA Cup record:

    2011: Lost to Manchester United, third round, 1-0 at Old Trafford

    2010: Lost to Reading, third round replay, 2-1 at Anfield

    2009: Lost to Everton, fourth round replay, 1-0 at Goodison Park

    2008: Lost to Barnsley, fifth round, 2-1 at Anfield

    2007: Lost to Arsenal, third round, 3-1 at Anfield

Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson: Renewing the Rivalry

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    Two masters of domestic football, two proud Scottish managers and two legends at their respective clubs.

    Kenny Dalglish of Liverpool, and Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.

    In Dalglish's first spell as manager Liverpool were the dominant force while Manchester United were attempting to topple them.

    Fair to say, mission accomplished.

    Now, it is very much the other way round as Dalglish completes a year in charge of the Reds in his second spell at the club, against the side he began it against—Manchester United.

    Just a single day back in the job, Kenny Dalglish took his men to Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round. A defeat on the day meant it wasn't all rosy, but Kopites barely registered the result as the implications were far greater than a single hour-and-a-half of football for them.

    Since then, Liverpool and United have met twice more, both times in the Premier League and both times at Anfield.

    A spectacular 3-1 win for the Reds at the back end of last season and a 1-1 result earlier this term means a victory apiece and a draw are the outcomes from the first three ties since his return.

    Now, a second FA Cup tie in two seasons—and a third in six years, after only three in fourteen years prior to that—gives either manager a new chance to put one over the other in the head-to-head stakes.

    The Reds won the FA Cup in 2006 after beating Manchester United in the fifth round en-route to the final. Meanwhile, Manchester United reached the semifinal stage last term after they knocked out Liverpool.

    The winners of this game will have high hopes of reaching another final this season with at least two of the biggest challengers knocked out well before the quarterfinal stage.

How Much Emphasis and Importance Will Either Side Place on the FA Cup?

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    There can be no doubting the importance of the occasion whenever Liverpool and Manchester United clash. Similarly, there can be little doubt that this competition is not a priority at this moment in time for either side.

    For Liverpool, they have just qualified for the League Cup final, their first major final since 2007 and a first visit to the rebuilt Wembley Stadium.

    In addition, the Reds lie three places and six points adrift of their primary aim for the season—a fourth place Premier League finish, and the Champions League qualifying spot that goes with it.

    With a run of league fixtures directly after this FA Cup match of Wolves, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal—plus the League Cup final showdown between those last two games—Liverpool face a tough month ahead with vital points at stake.

    Dare they risk injury or fatigue to go all out against Manchester United when they have already reached one cup final this season?

    Can Kenny Dalglish's men afford not to? The momentum gained from knocking out the league's top two sides would be awesome indeed, if they can push on and maintain form in the forthcoming league games.

    For Manchester United's part, they are desperately trying not to lose further ground on rivals Manchester City in the Premier League, who they trail by three points.

    Manchester United face Chelsea and Liverpool in the league over the coming weeks, as well as picking up their Europa League campaign next month against Ajax.

    Neither side will want to lose to the other in the FA Cup clash at Anfield, but it is quite possible that they will not be overly disheartened if they do exit the competition.

    Both sides still have plenty to play for this term.

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