8:30am ET, live in the US on FSC
Last four head-to-head:
1-2 United (a) 02.11.12
2-1 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 01.28.12
1-1 (h) 10.15.11
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.06.11
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-3 Young Boys (a); 1-1 Sunderland (a); 0-2 Arsenal (h)
United: 1-0 Galatasaray (h); 4-0 Wigan (h); 3-2 Southampton (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 2; Skrtel 1
United: van Persie 4; Buttner, Chicharito, Kagawa, Powell, Rafael, Scholes 1
Referee: Mark Halsey
Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Skrtel Agger Johnson
Sterling Suarez Borini
Liverpool versus Manchester United matches are the worst. If Liverpool win, it's often more relief than celebration after the 90-minute mind fuck (unless it's one of those rare 3-1 or 4-1 victories, which doesn't look likely tomorrow). If Liverpool draw or, god forbid, lose, that's the weekend ruined, even more than usual. And then there's the surrounding off-pitch issues in this rivalry, none of which I'd touch with a twenty-foot pole. Not fun times. Rarely fun times.
Anyway. On to the selection issues.
Enrique's dismal performance against BSC Young Boys probably ensures at least one more week of Kelly on the right, Johnson on the left at full-back. Sure, Enrique has the excuse of a lack of match practice, and should be better in his next appearance, no matter who it's against. And Liverpool are far, far more cohesive when Johnson plays on the right, even if he's a decent stand-in on the opposite flank. But I simply wouldn't trust Enrique tomorrow, up against either Valencia or Nani. Do you?
Conversely, Shelvey's cameo on Thursday should ensure that the 20-year-old again starts in Liverpool's preferred XI. Şahin seemingly still needs more time to adapt, and played the full 90 minutes on Thursday, as did Jordan Henderson. With Lucas probably out for at least another month, it's those three competing for one spot. Allen will assuredly start. And, despite his form, despite complaints (rightfully) careening around the internet, so will Gerrard. As against Sunderland, Shelvey will probably be the most-advanced midfielder with Allen and Gerrard sitting deeper. There's a slight chance Rodgers will again use Shelvey as a impact substitute off the bench, done to excellent effect in Bern, allowing Gerrard to play further forward (where he's caused more damage for Liverpool than the opposition so far this season), with Şahin or maybe Henderson partnering Allen, but that's a much less likely possibility.
It goes without saying, but no matter the personnel chosen in midfield or defense, they'll have to be diligent and disciplined. They have to have to have to cut out the mistakes and limit the counter attacks which have doomed Liverpool in every match so far this season. I'm looking at you Gerrard, you Skrtel, you Johnson, and you Reina. Because United at Anfield will play for the counter attack, always play for the counter attack. And can be utterly ruthless on the counter attack.
After last week's 'Suarez on the flanks' experiment, Liverpool should revert to the more common front three. Sterling's outstanding performance on the right against Sunderland should settle that debate, allowing Borini to line up on the left, where he's more comfortable, using inverted forwards against United's sometimes sketchy back line, with Borini and Sterling getting at the full-backs as Suarez's movement drags center-backs out of position. Rafael can be a liability, Ferdinand has similar – if less dramatic – issues with the ravages of time as Carragher, and Vidic's been sent off in his last two Anfield appearances. If the gods are good, United might avoid the whole Evra situation by starting Buttner in the second successive league match, but it's seemingly the right football decision too. Buttner impressed in his debut against Wigan, while Evra disappointed in United's meandering, narrow victory over Galatasaray on Wednesday. Of course, that back line's 'sometimes sketchiness' pales in comparison to Liverpool's defensive woes this season, but ssshhh don't tell them that.
As for United. You know United. Already near the top of the league, one point behind Chelsea. The struggling, surprising 0-1 loss to Everton was fun, but the other three matches were par for the course: standard improbable-for-anyone-else comebacks against Fulham and Southampton, then the all-too-typical mauling of Wigan. Ferguson's side will probably line up in a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1, historically their preferred formation at Anfield and the preference pretty much regardless of opponent this season, especially with Rooney absent. The above back-line, with either De Gea or Lindegaard in goal (Ferguson will most likely flip a coin in about 20 hours or so). Cleverley plus one in midfield; Carrick or Anderson seem more likely than Scholes after the latter played 80 minutes against Galatasaray, and it'll probably be Carrick after his performance in that midweek match. Valencia should get the nod over the frustrating Nani on the right, with Giggs – held out on Wednesday – or Welbeck on the left, Kagawa in the hole, and the always-terrifying van Persie up front. Rooney, Jones, Young, and Smalling will miss the match through injury.
Not to tempt fate, but United haven't beaten Liverpool at Anfield since 2007, winless in the last five visits. Incidentally, Mark Halsey was also the referee in charge of that fixture. Since that 2007 match, Liverpool have won four, drawn one at home. At Old Trafford, United have won five, lost one. Venue has become vital in this fixture. Which is slight consolation given Liverpool's form both home and away so far this season.
Thankfully, I guess, form frequently means little when these sides meet.