Friday, March 13, 2009

Match of the Day: Manchester United v Liverpool: It All Comes Down To This...

Liverpool travel to Manchester United for the biggest and most important match of the season. First plays second in a match that could determine where the Premiership title resides for the coming year.

Should United win then the title is theirs, as they would become virtually uncatchable with few games remaining. Should Liverpool win, then the title will still remain within Alex Ferguson's grasp, however the Anfield giants will be breathing down their necks during the run and one slip up could put Liverpool back in pole position.

After a mesmerizing 4-0 win over Real Madrid in midweek, this game could not come quickly enough for Rafael Benitez's charges. The momentum has returned to Anfield after it seemed to have deserted them in January.

Despite their poor run after Christmas, Liverpool have only lost one league game in the last 17 (Middlesbrough 2-0) and after the footballing lesson they gave Madrid on Tuesday, the team will be itching to face United.

However, Liverpool have only beaten United once in their last seven meetings and they will face a stern challenge at Old Trafford while they try to win Rafael Benitez's 100th game as a Liverpool manager.

Rafael Benitez knows exactly what is at stake tomorrow,

"If we don't win it will be very difficult to win the title. If we want to be in the title race we have to win at Old Trafford.

"If we can play at the same level as we did against Real Madrid, then we can beat anyone."

The manner of the performance against Real Madrid has raised as many questions as answers. Why did Benitez take the blinkers off for this night? And why don't Liverpool even attempt to play like this more often? If they did, they might not be so far behind United at this stage of the season.

Liverpool's injury worries reside around Bernabeau hero Yossi Benayoun, who has a hamstring injury, and Daniel Agger, who has struggled with a back injury of late. Both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres appear to be fully fit, but Benitez is unlikely to burden their fragile hamstrings with heavy training before the crunch tie.

Alex Ferguson, on the other hand, has a fully fit squad to choose from. But the team are in need of freshening up, and Carlos Tevez is expected to play in place of Dimitar Berbatov.

In midweek the Red Devils disposed of Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan with a facile 2-0 win over the Italian league leaders.

It was a performance that surprised all who watched the game. United were lacklustre and failed to meet their own high standards of work rate and professionalism and only profligate finishing by Inter spared Alex Ferguson's blushes.

After amassing an incredible haul of points since November, United had the wind in their sails and the title run in looked a fore gone conclusion but Wednesday night's performance has left many to reconsider the implications of a loss against Liverpool.

Before the Inter match conventional wisdom suggested that defeat against Liverpool did not matter as the Anfield team had too much ground to make up. But now that the momentum has stopped, a Liverpool defeat could signal a stumbling block for United.

One good point after the Inter match was Alex Ferguson's post match comments. He was understandably furious with his team despite the win, and if any manager can bring home the importance of maintaining a proper cohesion and applying the basics, it is him.

The Scotsman knows of the importance of this match and that a good performance is more important than the result. And in preparation of this, he has tried to stoke the fires under his squad.

"Liverpool have always been our main rival—it does not matter what the position in the league. As far as I am concerned, it has always been the derby game.

"It will always be that way because of the geography and history of the two cities.

"We are the two most successful football clubs in England. When they get together you expect sparks to fly."

The two teams should really pick themselves and it is somewhat ironic that the major guessing on both teams surrounds the right back position. But it would seem that both John O'Shea and Dossena should claim these berths.

The match looks like it could be one of the matches of the season. Should both teams play to their full potential, we could have a classic on our hands.


Manchester United 10/11 Draw 2/1 Liverpool 3/1

twitter / WillieGannon