02 March 2007

Liverpool v Manchester United 03.03.07

7:45am, available in the US on Setanta Sports.

Liverpool: 3rd place; 53 points out of 28 games
United: 1st place; 69 points out of 28 games

Last 4 meetings:
0-2 United (a) 10.22.06
1-0 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 02.18.06
0-1 United (a) 01.22.06
0-0 (h) 09.18.05

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 4-0 Sheffield (h); 2-1 Barcelona (a); 1-2 Newcastle (a)
United: 3-2 Reading (a); 2-1 Fulham (a); 1-0 Lille (a)

Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Kuyt 9; Bellamy 7; Crouch 6; Gerrard 4; Alonso, Garcia 3; Gonzalez 2
United: Ronaldo 16; Rooney 10; Saha 8; Solskjaer 6; Scholes 5; Giggs 4; Fletcher, Vidic 3; Park 2

Referee: Martin Atkinson (Oh Martin, we’ve had fun together so far this season. Well, it’s far better than Graham Poll, who was originally scheduled, for sure.)

Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carra Agger Arbeloa
Gerrard Alonso Sissoko Riise
Kuyt Bellamy

Same exact line-up that went out at Barcelona. Why mess with what works?

I refuse to write this line-up with one eye on next Tuesday. Squad rotation and full fitness for the Champions League encounter hasn’t even crossed my mind. I would absolutely refuse to sacrifice anything in order to have a more rested first-team for Barcelona at Anfield. This game, even though the league is lost and the Champions League remains the final hope for a major trophy, is just as important. If this is the same team Rafa wants to go out against Barca, so be it. They can play 2 games in 4 days. Anything less than full-strength against United is completely unacceptable.

The midfield will be where this game is won, and it’s why Gerrard, Alonso, and Sissoko are all included. The supply line through Paul Scholes needs to be cut off and Carrick needs to be hassled as soon as he gets the ball. Frankly, all of United’s midfield needs to be harried as soon as they pick up possession. With time, United can tear through teams. This midfield line-up should give them as little time as possible. Given this, it’s going to be a massive game for Momo.

As for the strikers, while I clearly remember Crouchy’s goal winning the match for Liverpool last year, he’s the one left out here. I can’t see Liverpool giving all three strikers a run out given the emphasis needed to be placed on the midfield, and Kuyt and Bellamy will continue to be the first choice pairing. I also think those two have the best chance of troubling Ferdinand and Vidic. Given that Crouch has postponed surgery on his broken nose, he’ll have some part to play both here and against Barcelona (probably much more likely to start against Barca), but Kuyt and Bellamy win out for me, and Crouch will add another dimension off the bench.

My biggest question is can Arbeloa handle the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo? I’m fully aware the danger of giving a player his first league start against Manchester United, but with the lack of options on the left side, Arbeloa’s excellent performance against Barcelona, and the fact that Riise has been far better in big games in midfield, it seems the best option. Hopefully, Arbeloa can track one of the most dangerous players in the Prem as well as he did Messi. Because we all know how Ronaldo can change a game, not much else needs to be said on that.

It’s been far too long since Liverpool has beaten United in the league at Anfield. No matter the fact that progression in the Champions League is at stake next Tuesday. All focus will be on the task at hand: take three points off Satan incarnate. Nothing less will suffice.

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