In around 24 hours from now, Liverpool FC arrive at Old Trafford with the intention of tightening their grip on fourth place and at the same time, inflicting more misery on David Moyes Manchester United side in a season that has seen the balance of power between the two clubs swing firmly toward the Reds of Merseyside. Brendan Rodgers’ men will have to be at their very best in a game that ranks alongside Barcelona – Real Madrid; Borussia Dortmund – Bayern Munich, and AC and Inter Milan teams in being some of the most hotly contested rivalries in world football.
Liverpool have good news going into the match with Lucas Leiva and Mamadou Sakho returning from injury and available for selection, leaving Jose Enrique as the only player retaining the proverbial Sicknote. The choice of midfielders at Rodgers’ disposal; Leiva, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Joe Allen translates to a fully fit first choice midfield plus Victor Moses and Luis Alberto. In terms of formation, I’d like to see both Gerrard and Lucas playing in front of the back four – which should perhaps include Sakho in place of Daniel Agger – with Henderson or Allen in front of them and behind an attacking trio of Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. The benefit of Lucas’ return is that it will give Gerrard some more freedom to advance in midfield and put through balls in to the runs of breaking attackers. In any case the choice of personnel leaves the Gaffer with the nightmare many of his peers could only dream of having!
United will no doubt have Marouane Fellaini continue in midfield following his performances in the last two games for them. The absence of his physical presence, eye for a pass and undoubted skill has left the Red Devils wanting in the middle of the park for much of the season. Other than Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and of course Robin Van Persie, don’t give United have enough for Liverpool to fear. Having said that, this is still for the most part, the team that won the league last season. As such, Liverpool have a very tough afternoon’s work ahead of them if they wish to come away from Old Trafford with anything, let alone three points.
Tactically, I believe Liverpool will continue with their high pressing, counter-attacking approach and deny the home side any time on the ball. Interestingly, Liverpool have made the fewest crosses (410) in the Premiership of all the top ten teams with the exception of Everton (392). Manchester United on the other hand have made the most (692) and this is a very telling stat. It follows that David Moyes’ tactics are perhaps outmoded given the season they’ve had. I for one, don’t believe this is a coincidence. It’s clear to me that playing a high pressure, counter-attacking game with through balls to fast attackers – allied to possession football, is an infinitely more effective approach than simply getting crosses in from the flanks. Liverpool have shown this to devastating effect against their neighbours Everton and Arsenal among others this season, so go figure.
One cannot ignore the fact however, that this fixture is as good as a derby due to the relative close proximity of the sides and the unrivalled history between them. Arsenal – Tottenham Hotspurs; Newcastle United – Sunderland; Swansea and Cardiff Cities; Chelsea – Fulham. All great rivalries, great clubs in their own rights but no disrespect to them, meetings between these teams don’t capture the imagination quite like Manchester United versus Liverpool. The two from North London perhaps, but there’s still something missing. Some history, some achievement some thing that goes just a little further than bragging rights and this is what makes this match such a tough one to call. On paper and current form, you’d expect the Merseysiders to come out on top and quite rightly so but the games are always such tight, emotional affairs that anything can happen on the day.
Liverpool haven’t won at Old Trafford for about five years now. However like many a Liverpool fan, I have faith in Brendan Rodgers. He’s the man to take the team forward and I’ve believed as much since he took over. I don’t make predictions but I’m suggesting a win for Liverpool. The manager has taken the team to a new level. A higher, more modern and effective level. Above that being occupied by Moyes’ men. It’s my belief that Moyes needs to overhaul his thinking, his approach, his game plan if he wishes to follow in the massive footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson. For me, I can wait for that. Take your time David. No rush!
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