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Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.06.11
0-1 United (a; FA Cup) 01.09.11
2-3 United (a) 09.19.10
1-2 United (a) 03.21.10
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Everton (a); 2-1 Wolves (h); 2-1 Brighton (a)
United: 2-0 Norwich (h); 3-3 Basle (h); 1-1 Stoke (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 4; Adam, Carroll, Henderson, Skrtel 1
United: Rooney 9; Nani, Welbeck 3; Anderson, Chicharito, Young 2; Park, Smalling 1
Referee: Andre Marriner
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Kuyt Gerrard Downing
Suarez and Carroll in the 4-2-2-2, or more like a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 with Gerrard supposedly, finally fit to start?
The above is the same front six I guessed last week, expecting/hoping Liverpool would keep it tight in midfield at Goodison. With Gerrard even more likely to figure, it's less of a pipe dream. But that Dalglish has almost always gone with a 4-2-2-2, Gerrard or no Gerrard, remains an important hint. Gerrard could replace Adam, keeping the same formation, or Carroll, changing to the above 4-5-1 derivative. While it's been pleasing to see Carroll start to shift people's preconceived perceptions and find a decent vein of form, I think he's probably odd man out. Regardless, I'm still incredibly interested as to how Captain Fantastic fits into this side. It's somewhat unfortunate that the first opportunity comes against the Mancs.
If Dalglish says everyone's fit, I'm more than tempted to take him at his word (which may not be the brightest idea in the run-up to United). And I'd be quite happy to see Agger and Johnson reclaim starting spots: Agger because of the solidity and composure he offers Liverpool's defense, Johnson because of his greater ability on the overlap whether paired with Kuyt or Henderson. However, returning two players from injury seems a bold move before facing the Mancs. Kelly, even considering the knock suffered while with the u21s and Skrtel could well keep their places. If only one makes it, I'd guess that Johnson is further along the road to recovery than Agger simply due to their respective injury time-frames.
And as an annoying aside, two of Liverpool's most important players are on short rest after flying back from the Americas on Wednesday. Not that it should preclude either's participation. Just an irritating, hopefully unimportant fact of life. At least similar is the case for United's Chicharito, Fabio, and Valencia.
United have dropped points in just one of their seven league matches so far: a draw at Stoke three weeks ago. England's hero, villain, and comic relief Wayne Rooney is in blistering form, having tallied nine goals already this season. But the Mancs are also fallable: conceding the equalizer at Stoke, letting a two-goal Old Trafford lead slip to Basle in the Champions League, and struggling before ultimately finishing off Norwich in the last league fixture. In Rooney, Nani, Young, and Chicharito (or Welbeck), United have a superlative attacking quartet. But with Anderson and Carrick in midfield, and a clutch of promising but problematic defenders, United are also vulnerable. Right-back continues to be an issue, with round pegs Valencia, Smalling, or Jones to be crammed into that square hole, giving greater importance to Downing and Enrique (as well as Suarez, who loves working the left channel). As for injuries, Cleverly and Rafael are out, while Smalling and Vidic will be game-time decisions. I would imagine that everyone's favorite Serbian will be incredibly excited to revisit the scene of so many torments.
The home team has won the last five meetings between the sides – going back to that splendiferous 4-1 at Old Trafford – and Liverpool have beaten United in the last three meetings at Anfield. Which is a stat that frightens more than it reassures. United will already be up for this match – with Ferguson again stating it's the biggest match of the league campaign – and I'm sure Slur Alex has bemoaned United's recent Anfield record more than once in training this week. This three-match win streak is Liverpool's best run over United at Anfield since winning nine straight between 1972 and 1979.
These games are nerve-wracking in the extreme, just like Liverpool's last league contest. There has been no easing-in process this season, no time to wade around the shallow end before trying to swim in deep waters; Liverpool have had tough match after tough match from the start of the campaign. This will be more of the same and, considering the opposition, much much more at the same time.