Last 4 head-to-head:
0-1 United (h) 03.03.07
0-2 United (a) 10.22.07
1-0 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 02.18.06
0-1 United (a) 01.22.06
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 Marseille (a); 1-3 Reading (a); 4-0 Bolton (h)
United: 1-1 Roma (a); 4-1 Derby (h); 2-0 Fulham (h)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Torres 6; Babel, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso 2; Benayoun, Hyypia, Sissoko 1
United: Ronaldo 9; Tevez 6; Rooney 4; Giggs, Nani, Saha 2; Ferdinand, Scholes, Vidic 1
Referee: Mark Halsey
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Riise
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
I guess I’ll just say it. I hate Liverpool/United games.
Yes, partly because United always seems to beat Liverpool while getting the rub of the green. United’s won two of the last four meeting in injury time, Liverpool hasn’t beaten them in the league since April 04. But it’s also because I’m a mess leading into the game; I know about the Derby, and it’s every bit as important, but this rivalry is something else, and always destroys the nerves. I guarantee I’m pacing throughout the match, and I’ve already apologized to housemates for the shouting to come Sunday morning, whatever the result.
But this is a different Liverpool team than the one United’s faced over the last couple of years. First, foremost, and unnecessary to reiterate, Fernando Torres. Liverpool hasn’t had a striker of his quality in ages, and he’s settled quicker than nearly any import, no matter the transfer fee. Ferdinand and Vidic are both exceptional defenders, but they will have their hands full on Sunday.
Once again, like stated in the Marseille preview, outside of Alonso, Agger, and possibly Finnan (who’s still struggling with the knock that precluded him from playing against Marseille), this is probably Liverpool’s strongest XI. In fact, this is the exact XI that turned out against Marseille. I’m fully aware of the whole rotation narrative, but Benitez will stick with a side if he believes it will work. Last season, the same side that beat Bordeaux lined up against Villa, and the same side that beat Besiktas 8-0 turned out against Fulham last month.
After rushing Alonso back against Arsenal, I’m wary of seeing him start here. His quality is undeniable, and he’d be an incredible boon for the team against United, but Xabi’s fitness is paramount. With metatarsals, there’s the possibility of further injury. I know it’s United, but there’s still 5 months left to play. We’ve seen it with the opposition’s #10; Rooney’s struggled with metatarsal injuries since Euro 04. But Benitez sees Alonso every day. If the gaffer thinks he’s fit, I hope to see him on the field.
In the same article, Benitez questions Finnan’s fitness as well. Were Finnan available, I’d assume he’d start with Arbeloa at fullback. The thought of Ronaldo running at Riise down Liverpool’s left certainly strikes fear, but Riise’s been better in his last two outings, and I’m not sure about Aurelio’s fitness either. Plus, I don’t believe we’ve seen Aurelio paired with Kewell on the left.
As much as it’s hyped, and as much as I’m on pins and needles, this game isn’t the end-all, be-all of the season. Again, I’ll rely on Benitez’s pre-match chat:
"It is an important game. You are calling this weekend the grand slam with Chelsea and Arsenal also playing, but it is only December and it's not a game that will decide the league title.It goes without saying that this is an important game, even though we're less than halfway through the season. And surprisingly (knocking furiously on wood), I’m more confident than usual going into a United match. The team is better than Liverpool's had in recent campaigns. Outside of Reading, recent form is excellent. They’re playing well, and scoring at a much higher rate than in past years. Gerrard’s been simply world class over the past month, as has Torres. The defense has frightened more than usual, and Liverpool’s had a nasty habit of giving away unusual penalties, but only Chelsea has more clean sheets in the league.
"We are closer to the top and we have eight more points than we did at this stage last season."
Of course, I’m still counseling patience, and agree with the declaration that it’s only December. But a win would go so far in cementing the progress the team’s made, building the confidence needed to make a title run, quieting the critics, and getting the monkey off Liverpool’s back.
Let’s see and hear Fortress Anfield.