Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 10.15.11
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.06.11
0-1 United (a; FA Cup) 01.09.11
2-3 United (a) 09.19.10
Liverpool: 5-1 Oldham (h)
United: 3-2 City (a)
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 City (h); 1-3 Bolton (a); 0-0 Stoke (h)
United: 2-1 Arsenal (a); 3-0 Bolton (h); 3-2 City (a)
Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Bellamy, Suarez 8; Gerrard 5; Carroll, Maxi 4; Adam, Skrtel 2; Downing, Henderson, Johnson, Kelly, Kuyt, Shelvey 1
United: Rooney 18; Welbeck 9; Berbatov, Nani 8; Chicharito 6; Valencia 4; Giggs, Owen, Young 3; Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Jones, Park, Smalling 2; Macheda, Scholes 1
Atkinson was supposed to be in charge, but pulled out Thursday with a virus. Halsey, who hasn't refereed Liverpool in more than a year, is his replacement.
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Henderson Downing
A normal, subdued cup tie, then. Back to routine business after Wednesday's big match. What? Oh, right. Crap. So, do we just talk about the football, humming with fingers in ears pretending nothing but the match exists, hoping that the on-field play is all that'll be worth discussing? Yes. Yes we do.
Who starts for Liverpool is obviously, as always, contingent on who's fit after Wednesday's exertion.
It goes without saying that Bellamy has been Liverpool's best player recently, the main and sometimes only goal threat during Suarez's suspension. But he played 87 grueling minutes on Wednesday, which came after 90 minutes at Bolton. His knees have held up far better than expected (*knocks feverishly on wood*) but three games in a week, especially this week, seems a very long bridge too far.
Admittedly, there are worries about almost every player involved after City, after 90 minutes of high-pressure, heavy pressing, at times end-to-end football. And it's not as if Liverpool are spoilt for options. But that XI was basically Liverpool's best possible XI, and Dalglish will change it as little as possible.
The continuing absence of Spearing and Lucas pretty much demands three in central midfield based on recent evidence, and those three almost certainly have to be Gerrard, Adam, and Henderson. Dalglish spoke about possibly having Spearing back, which would be a massive boon, but I'm doubtful given that he couldn't make the bench two days ago.
Neither Kuyt nor Downing has set the world afire from the flanks, although both did well on Wednesday, but Maxi's been little better lately, we've already discussed Bellamy, and Shelvey's seen few chances. While it's grounded in less concrete concerns, I also fear for Agger, who's only recently gotten over a knock picked up in the first leg against City, caught flat-footed for City's near-winner second goal. And Carroll remains that disappointing expensive elephant in the blah blah blah you get the picture we've been here before.
United have multiple fitness problems of their own. Jones and Nani were injured against Arsenal, joining Young, Cleverly, Owen, Fletcher, and Vidic on the casualty list. Rooney, Ferdinand, and Anderson are also doubtful, but will play – especially the first two – if at all possible. Pity that United are one of the teams most capable of overcoming so many injuries.
The Mancs continue to be a creaky but deflatingly-effective crushing machine, three points behind City and on a three-game win streak having beaten both City and Arsenal following a two game slide against Newcastle and Blackburn bracketing the New Year. Even with the aforementioned players absent, Welbeck, Chicharito, and Berbatov can score goals from nothing, while Valencia's in resurgent form on the flanks. United's potential weakness come in the team's spine. Evans and Smalling have been unimpressive as a back-up pairing, the usual midfield of Carrick and Giggs can be out-numbered and overrun, and neither De Gea nor Lindegaard have been able to make the first-choice goalkeeper position their own.
United were surprisingly defensive in the previous meeting, lucky to come away with a draw when Chicharito got free on a set play, scoring with what was United's second (and only threatening) shot on target. It's doubtful that Ferguson will make the same mistakes, which will require Liverpool's midfield – which contained both Gerrard and Adam – to be as good, if not better, than in October's draw. Also, Liverpool need to take their chances blah blah blah you get the picture we've been here before.
Liverpool are missing key players, United are missing key players. It's a one-off cup tie, on Liverpool's ground. It'll be a typical English masterpiece: blood, thunder, sweat, tears, and kicking anything that moves. Anything can happen. Which, I assume, is something we're all afraid of. The other fear relates to that off-field nonsense we're not acknowledging in the hopes it won't rear its ugly head. La la la I can't hear you.