Man United Vs. Liverpool: What Magic Is In Store As These Old Foes Meet Again?

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst ISeptember 15, 2010

Battle royale awaits.
Battle royale awaits.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Millions of fans across the globe will still themselves for just under an hour and a half this weekend, as they witness the efforts of their team in its enduring quest to win the EPL trophy, the quest that goes on for an extremely long time and never really ends at all. 

No sooner had Chelsea picked up their winners medals, than they were ushered out the door as next seasons sponsorship meeting was starting. 

Chelsea however, have nothing what so ever to do with this article and the mere mention of them will have some readers becoming illiterate with rage and closing the page. 

The game these millions will still themselves for, is none other than that legendary fixture, that mountain among the molehills of other fixtures, the visit of the reds to the red devils. 

A grimly fought battle that stretches back over one hundred years, this fixture has been known to provoke all sorts of madness in those who would let it do so. In fact the football on show in this fixture is often a maddeningly brilliant thing to witness, with often flawless control and technique, and the polished precision of team play is something that still manages to engage people in this age of distraction. 

Ferguson vs. Hodgson is always an interesting tussle, and there is added pressure on both, more than ever before on Hodgson in his meetings with Ferguson and he will look to this fixture to provide some evidence of his suitability for the Anfield posting.

Roy Hodgsons Liverpool this season have been below the Liverpool standard still, after the tenure of Rafa Benitez (which started so well, which some say perhaps Houllier was largely responsible for), ended so miserably as he jetted off to Milan.

Now of course it is Hodgsons problem, Benitez has his own to consider.

Roy Hodgson has seen his side win once, at home over West Brom, draw once at home vs. Arsenal in a strange tie which saw Liverpool lose Joe Cole only to take the lead through Ngog, before finally cracking to the man advantage in the dying minutes, even as they still threatened the Arsenal goal. They were also pummeled away at Manchester City thanks to an inspired James Milner performance along with a strong cameo by Joe Hart in the City goal.

The weekends relatively toothless away draw with Birmingham follows a rather toothless performance at home in which they beat a brave ten man West Brom with a Fernando Torres cracker.

At Birmingham they struggled to find cohesion as a determined Alex Mcleish had primed his Birmingham side well. St Andrews has become one of the toughest fixtures the top sides face in the league and Liverpool fared no better than the other glamour sides as they struggled to get a point in front of a vociferous home crowd.

On the evidence of this it would be expected for a reasonably strong United side, at home, should win the match comfortably. That of course would be an extremely dangerous notion to embrace because certain Liverpool team members have enjoyed themselves immensely on the turf at Old Trafford in recent times and that one in particular is looking like he could be coming into form just in time for the Merseyside giants.  

Fernando Torres reminded everyone in the game at Anfield against West Brom that he is still a force in today's game. A disappointing world cup with an injury in the final to boot, it was a frustrating trip to the cradle of civilization for the Spaniard. For a moment when he smashed the volley in that won the West Brom match, you could see that was all forgotten. What better way to erase disappointment.

Steven Gerrard is often described as Liverpool's talisman, captain fantastic has however struggled to maintain the calm presence he projected when he was partnered by the departed Xabi Alonso. He will need to regain this authority through working with his new team mates, and Raul Meireles would be the one considered to be the best hope for filling the void left by the Spaniard in the Liverpool squad.

Meireles has enjoyed good form in the international game recently and it will be on an occasion such as this one that he will seek to really make an impression.

David Ngog looks to have improved again, the young Frenchman displaying a calm assurance in front of goal that has had some Liverpool fans wondering if they were watching the same player that has been so flighty in the past.

The defensive line up will again be under severe scrutiny in this match and though they kept a clean sheet at St Andrews, openings were had by Birmingham and Hodgson will seek to again find the right combination at the back, one that he can rely on for big games, one that should become his first choice for big matches.

So important to any team as well is the form of their goalkeeper. Pepe Reina illustrated his class for all to see at St Andrews, and the United players will be well aware of the test they face in piercing the Spaniards defenses. Reina is the type of goal keeper any team craves, one that can decide a game with the saves he makes, he is certainly capable of frustrating the United attack.

Roy Hodgson could well be the man that turns Liverpool around again, as Houllier and later Benitez did. Though the Spaniard's finish was disappointing he will be remembered by many for his sterling tactical nous in getting them to the 2005 Uefa Champions final. The final was madness, but after it, once again, Liverpool were kings of Europe, this time without having won the English title.

Hodgson's long term job description must be to bring the title back to Anfield.

Games like this one will be the ones that he is judged on. The big games are what the managers of big clubs are invariably judged by, and they do not come much bigger than a trip to Manchester United's Old Trafford fortress.

He has enjoyed success against Ferguson in the past though and Hodgson will count on what he does know, to try and steer through the often dangerous waters that Ferguson's team lie in wait in, like stealthy alligators waiting for the chance to strike, they weigh up a preys weakness before striking with a viciousness that has to be seen to be believed. Luckily the cobra like precision that saw Liverpool embarrass United 4-1 in the run in to the 2009 trophy should be available to Hodgson in the form of Spaniard Torres. 

Ferguson has his own worries with his team twice surrendering good leads away from home to resilience from the opposition coupled with malaise from his players. Add to this the loss of Antonio Valencia, a stand out in last seasons campaign, and the disruptions involving star man Rooney, and you have a nice wee brew boiling for the canny old Scot. 

He is canny though, and this is what normally gets him through these periods. The draw this week with Rangers will annoy him because he would have favored the team he put out to beat the Glasgow outfit. It will not however have him shuddering in his boots over the impending visit of United's traditional foe. When compared to United, Liverpool look the less organised side at the moment, with several of United's key players showing good form in the lead up to this clash.

Scholes has been excellent, showing that experience coupled with natural ability is priceless at the top level. Dimitar Berbatov has been playing outstanding football as well, though some still question his ability in the big games, he will certainly have the opportunity to silence the doubters during this performance. The subtle skill of the eastern European maestro seems at times astonishingly effortless, and Ferguson will definitely be looking to his much maligned signing to deliver against his old enemy.

Ryan Giggs has been at his post pace best, first touch and footballing nous for the right pass or run, still showing that he is a cut above the rest. Darren Fletcher as well has again shown that he is not still playing most weeks for no reason, an excellent game away at Everton marred by the conceding of the lead in the final seconds.

Patrice Evra will have good reason to play, his uncharacteristic slip against Everton will have dogged him all week, so expect a solid performance from United's new Mr Consistent.

Nemanja Vidic has looked impressive and was excellent against Everton. He does however have a record of flailing hopelessly against Torres and will hope that this match does not end with him seeing himself embarrassed again and seeing red as he has before against these adversaries.

Rio Ferdinand should return for Jonny Evans, who was out-jumped twice in the conceding of the two late goals at Goodison and was guilty of some rather loose marking on occasion during the match. 

Sir Alex Ferguson will by all means prepare himself for this match as well as he can, like Napoleon weighing up his tactics before Austerlitz, he will prepare his troops meticulously, in full knowledge that one mistake could be potentially devastating to the eventual outcome. For Napoleon, Austerlitz is remembered as his greatest triumph, the crowning achievement of an illustrious military career. For Ferguson, the visit of Liverpool is in some ways just another in a long line of worrying match ups this season, though there is always something special about the visit of the Anfield reds and Ferguson always views this fixture as one of the most important tests he faces.

After all overhauling Liverpool was the benchmark he set himself many years ago, and though United now have more titles than their bitter foe, head to head over the history of the tie, the overall statistics are that United have 69 wins to Liverpool's 60, statistics that have favored United considerably in the brave new world of the premiership. Ferguson will be adamant that his side will add to the number in their column of victories, and will not accept anything else.

Torres and co. could certainly provoke Ferguson into throwing tea sets or boots, hopefully his players are able to stay clear of this and avoid any potentially injurious incidents involving flying projectiles.

Football is a phenomenon and games like this have much to with its success. The mastery of technical skill and the magic of moments that are often never repeated are ingredients that people come to expect from such match ups. It is a gigantic fixture in terms of the game, which though on some levels is completely meaningless, on other levels means more than life itself. 

A grand old battle between two grand clubs, it is two of European football's historical powerhouses that match up in this fixture, clubs that have reached the slippery precipice of European glory more than once, and clubs that will look to do this again in the coming years.

Prepare for a game that will be as unpredictable as ever, as both sides have the class that can turn matches into advertisements for footballing wizardry, exposing the brutality, brilliance and finesse that are equally important parts of the game that the world loves. There is always a magic about this match, and it will be in the air in the lead up to kick off, it remains to be seen who will channel this magic and who will be blown away by it.  


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