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Last four head-to-head:
1-2 United (a) 03.21.10
2-0 Liverpool (h) 10.25.09
4-1 Liverpool (a) 03.14.09
2-1 Liverpool (h) 09.13.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 Steaua (h); 0-0 Birmingham (a); 1-0 West Brom (h)
United: 0-0 Rangers (h); 3-3 Everton (a); 3-0 West Ham (h)
Referee: Howard Webb
Webb played a blinder as United's 12th man in last March's meeting.
Guess at a lineup:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Maxi Lucas Poulsen Cole
No matter yesterday's result, I can't help but think the majority of players rested – the ones who featured in the 0-0 draw at Birmingham – will be back in the side.
In fact, the above lineup isn't even my best guess at the starting XI. If forced to wager money, I'd guess Jovanovic in for Lucas, shifting Gerrard back into midfield with Cole in the hole. The lineup I'd prefer is also different than the above, as I'd have Meireles in place of Poulsen and Agger over Skrtel, but I thought this might be a "happy" – and more likely – compromise.
Meireles did well yesterday, especially in the second half, where there was more movement in front of him, but I still question whether Hodgson will give him his league debut at Old Trafford. Despite the complaints (many valid) about the Lucas/Poulsen pairing against Birmingham, West Brom, and Trabzonspor, the duo represents 'safety first' and keeping a disciplined shape, and I have to believe those will be the qualities Hodgson values most on Sunday.
Moving Gerrard to central midfield with Cole back from suspension would mean one of two would be dropped. But even if it means a Lucas/Poulsen midfield, I'd rather we see Cole out left, in place of Jovanovic, instead of the hole. Cole could also feature on the right if Hodgson's concerned about Maxi playing three consecutive games.
Liverpool have struggled for goals in the league, scoring only twice in four games. I naturally worry about Gerrard and Torres isolated and frustrated if the team lines up as I'm guessing, but a clean sheet will undoubtedly be the priority. Plus, regardless of current form, we're well aware either of those players can create something from nothing, especially Liverpool's #9 when he's up against Nemanja Vidic, who's been sent off three times in the last four meetings. Rio Ferdinand most likely making his first league start of the season after this summer's knee injury could also lead to fun times.
As always with matches against United, despite Liverpool's record in the last four meetings, I'm pessimistic and terrified. I cannot stand these derbies. United's a wounded animal after its last two games: unable to penetrate Rangers' 10-man rearguard on Tuesday and dropping two points after conceding two injury time goals at Everton six days ago. I expect to see both Rooney and Berbatov up front, while Nani – with a far bigger role to play following Valencia's horrific injury – terrorized Konchesky in a substitute appearance when United faced Fulham earlier this season (before missing a crucial penalty). The Mancs will be licking their lips in anticipation of this one after Ferguson's inevitable patented hair-dryer treatment, and it'll be up to Liverpool to match them step for step.