7:45am ET, live in the US on espn2
Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 01.28.12
1-1 (h) 10.15.11
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.06.11
0-1 United (a; FA Cup) 01.09.11
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Spurs (h); 3-0 Wolves (a); 2-1 United (h)
United: 3-3 Chelsea (a); 2-0 Stoke (h); 1-2 Liverpool (a)
Liverpool: Bellamy 6; Suarez 5; Carroll 3; Adam, Gerrard, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Henderson, Johnson, Kuyt 1
United: Rooney 15; Chicharito 8; Berbatov 7; Nani, Welbeck 6; Anderson, Carrick, Park, Valencia, Young 2; Fletcher, Giggs, Jones, Scholes, Smalling 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Gerrard Bellamy
Joy. Another match against Manchester United, good for both the heart and soul, in no way a supreme mindfuck which reduces fans to quivering amoebae. This will be the fifth time Liverpool have faced United since Dalglish's return 13 months ago. These are always fun, always well-mannered, and always focused on what happens on the pitch. Right?
In can you hadn't heard: Suarez. Suarez, Suarez, Suarez. Lots and lots of Suarez. Get used to it, because he'll probably be the talking point before, during, and after. Will he start, will Evra shake his hand, will he defecate on the St. George's flag in the center circle then embark on a homicidal rampage, etc etc. Going by the pre-match narrative, football will be a secondary or tertiary concern. Super. Never one to shy from the spotlight, I doubt off-field concerns will prevent Dalglish from starting the Uruguayan, and a singular substitute appearance on Monday should be enough preparation for 90 minutes tomorrow. The most likely scenario is Suarez replacing Carroll as the focal point of Liverpool's attack.
Otherwise, it's unlikely the team will deviate much from that against Tottenham, aside from Enrique's availability. The tactics will probably differ – United will have more of the ball at Old Trafford compared to Spurs at Anfield; Liverpool will focus more on counter-attacking at pace, as at Stamford Bridge and the Carling Cup semi at City – but that should suit the personnel.
Where Liverpool could change is on the flanks. Bellamy, Liverpool's player of the month for the last two months, seems assured of one of the two spots. But Dalglish may want to keep his pace in reserve on the bench, breaking glass if needed. Kuyt's defensive abilities seem less necessary against Young or Valencia, especially if Liverpool's relying on speed when breaking out of their own half, but Kuyt's record in big games is superlative. Henderson, Downing, and Maxi are the other options, but Henderson's been far better in the middle (and Liverpool almost certainly won't play 4-4-2), Downing's in supremely poor form, and Maxi's appearances have been few and far between, although that might change now that his telepathic connection with Suarez can be revived.
And then there's United. Sunday's match at Chelsea was car crash fascinating. You saw the wreck coming from miles away, but couldn't slow down. All you could do was watch helplessly, careening toward the pile-up, certain United would claw back from the 0-3 deficit. As if it'd happen any other way. Chelsea collapsed, because Chelsea collapses. Webb gave two penalties, because Webb gives United penalties. Chicharito scored the crucial equalizer with minutes to play, because Chicharito always scores off the bench. And then De Gea made two unbelievable late saves to ensure the result, because De Gea... well, anyway. It was all somehow both astonishing and expected.
United's injury woes are marginally better than two weeks ago. Ferdinand and Young are available, while Smalling and Cleverley are questionable and Nani, Lindegaard, Jones, Fletcher, Vidic, and Owen remain absent. Rooney will start up front with Welbeck or Hernandez, with Carrick and Giggs or Scholes in midfield, Valencia and Young or Park on the flanks, and Evra, Ferdinand, Evans and Smalling or Rafael in defense.
The home team has won six of the last seven meetings between the clubs – the lone exception was October's 1-1 draw at Anfield. It will take a first class performance from Liverpool to break that precedent. The Mancs are truly dangerous, again among the best in the league despite less-impressive performances and a long injury list. Liverpool have more away wins than home wins and have been better in "big games," beating Chelsea, City, Arsenal, and Everton on their grounds, but have also tepidly lost some away matches they had no business losing. Nonetheless, if past is any precedent, form is most likely meaningless in the M62 derby. Blood, guts, thunder, war minus the shooting, cliche, cliche. Let's just hope all that's limited to the pitch.