04 March 2011

Liverpool v Manchester United 03.06.11

8:30am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 United (a; FA Cup) 01.09.11
2-3 United (a) 09.19.10
1-2 United (a) 03.21.10
2-0 Liverpool (h) 10.25.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 West Ham (a); 1-0 Sparta (h); 0-0 Sparta (a)
United: 1-2 Chelsea (a); 4-0 Wigan (a); 0-0 Marseille (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Meireles 5; Gerrard, Kuyt 4; Maxi 3; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Cole, Skrtel, Suarez 1
United: Berbatov 19; Chicharito, Nani 9; Rooney 7; Park, Vidic 4; Fletcher, Giggs 2; Evra, Fabio, Macheda, Owen, Scholes 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guesses at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Lucas Gerrard
Kuyt Meireles Maxi

So, who's fit? Both Kelly and Shelvey are definitely out. Concerns remain about Agger, Meireles, Aurelio, and Gerrard. And then there's Andy Carroll, who only exists in training pictures on the official site and as a figment of our collective imagination at this point. There will be increased temptation to start the ballyhooed signing because of United's defensive problems, but that won't happen unless he's 100% ready. Which is hard to imagine given that he hasn't even made the bench yet. The enormous Geordie should finally be named as one of the seven substitutes come Sunday.

Dalglish, who had his press conference yesterday, dropped few hints. There's a lot of time for things to change between Thursday and Sunday. Outlets such as the BBC and Daily Mirror give hope that those four worries will be available. If Agger's out, it's Skrtel or Kyrgiakos. If Aurelio's out, it's probably Wilson at left back. Cole would replace Meireles, Poulsen would replace Gerrard. Each of those potential changes would prompt a shift in formation and tactics.

I jokingly said similar before last week's match, but I highly doubt Liverpool will play three at the back on Sunday. Primarily, United's width through Nani (and Giggs every so often) poses a big threat but also because of Liverpool's injuries in defense, especially to Agger. When playing four at the back recently, Liverpool were best described as 4-2-3-1 in both legs against Sparta and against Fulham, and as 4-3-1-2 against Wigan.

United have a fair few injury concerns of their own. Vidic is suspended, while Anderson, Evans, Valencia, Park, and possibly Evra and Ferdinand will all miss out. Top scorer Berbatov, who scored all three of United's goals in the reverse fixture and dove for the winning penalty in the FA Cup meeting, has found himself on the bench fairly often of late. Rooney was on his own up front in the 2-1 derby win three weeks ago, while the Shrek and Chicharito partnership has started the last two matches.

Regardless of precedent, it'd be incredibly strange to see Berbatov left out. He gave Carragher a torrid time in September's meeting, bamboozling the defender for two of his three strikes. United's main problems lie in defense, headlined by the absence of Vidic, so often torched by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in this fixture, sent off in the dying seconds against Chelsea ostensibly to avoid another Anfield humiliation. At the same time, Evans is injured, as are Ferdinand and Evra. Ferguson proclaimed that Wes Brown – not seen in the league since November's 2-2 draw at Villa – will partner Smalling, but that manager's potential for mind games (read: drunken lies) is well known.

I hate these matches. This fixture makes me far more insane than any other, and if you follow me on Twitter, you know that every fixture makes me insane. Does United's loss to Chelsea midweek finally demonstrate a chink in the armor or will it provide further ammunition to reassert dominance and put one over on their rivals? Either way, we'll see a hard-fought, contentious, controversial fixture. As always.

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