Thursday, September 11, 2008

Red Rivalry Returns As Liverpool Meet United

Matt Monaghan looks at the history of this most heated of English rivalries, the 'North West Derby' between the Reds of Liverpool and the Red Devils of Manchester United.

For all those who believe that the passion and high emotion that made football great in the past has been callously removed from the modern game by the unscrupulous corporate giants that have bought in to the sport, this Saturday’s encounter between Liverpool and Manchester United should act as an example of how bitter local rivalries still circumvent the more sedate environment of today.

Indeed, a quick look at the faces on the terraces at Anfield will show two of football’s more vociferous tribes hurling hatred and rancour at each other with the type of venom normally reserved exclusively for a person’s most hated enemy.

This regional rivalry itself has festered within the populations of Manchester and Liverpool from the time of the industrial revolution, through the Busby Babes era to the glorious years enjoyed under the stewardship of Bill Shankly, and until the present day where Rafa Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson will act as the standard-bearers as they take their players in to this North West battlefield once again.

Remarkably, in recent years the sort of sniping that emits from the clubs’ supporters has not exactly been matched by the managers of the sides in question.

For the Machiavellian Sir Alex Ferguson this has been the more surprising when one considers the constant digs he has taken at Arsene Wenger and Kevin Keegan in the past. Against Benitez and his troops he says nary a peep - amazing when one considers his highly-publicised desire in his autobiography to knock Liverpool “off their f****** perch” when he came to Manchester in 1986.

Rafa Benitez has also hardly been reticent to speak when it involved his greatest irritant Jose Mourinho, with the meetings between Liverpool and Chelsea in the Premier League and Champions League often being surrounded by the trading of unflattering remarks between this embittered Iberian pair. United? "No comment."

Considering these events, it is almost unbelievable to see that the only real moment of any major public disagreement between the current stewards of Liverpool and Manchester United occurred in the summer of 2007 with Rafa Benitez’s failed chase for the signature of then-Red Devils left back Gabriel Heinze.

During this time, Sir Alex Ferguson questioned Rafa Benitez’s grasp of the intricacies of British football, whilst Benitez used United’s firm stance on Heinze’s future as a chance to attack the Red Devil’s perceived “preferential treatment” over the fixture list and the ease of the clubs move for Carlos Tevez.

This brought an instant rebuttal from Ferguson, with the Scottish manager stating to the Guardian that "I am really disappointed with Rafa. He is going on about Saturday fixtures after European games. Well, he wants to look at our fixture list over the last two or three years. Maybe then he would have something to complain about. As for Carlos Tevez, it took about three months."

However, as the build up for this Saturday’s clash between these two clubs starts to intensify, the peaceful accord enjoyed between Ferguson and Benitez is starting to show signs of cracking once more.

The source of this apparent freezing of relations between managers comes from Sir Alex Ferguson stating in The Sun when asked if any pre-season moves impressed him that “The big surprise was Liverpool paying £20million for [Robbie] Keane.”

Whilst Ferguson may have previously made similar comments in relation to Robbie Keane’s transfer value when the player was at Wolverhampton Wanderers, his undoubtedly acute sense of how the written press can be used to work to his advantage leads to the conclusion that a remark of this nature could only have been made in the full knowledge that this would have a negative effect on the Liverpool camp.

For some, this comment can only exist as an example of a sea change in Ferguson’s view of Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool, with the fact that the Merseyside club has faced the wrath of the United manager’s tongue being a firm sign that they are now considered a genuine title threat to the current Premier League champions.

This viewpoint is also granted further standing as Robbie Keane is likely to be Liverpool’s main attacking threat when the teams meet on Saturday due to the fitness doubts surrounding star pair Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, and thus Ferguson has sensed the time to strike and put as many doubts as possible in the mind of the Republic of Ireland hot shot.

Also, the disrupting effect that such comments can have could also have been in Ferguson’s mind when he made the remark, with Robbie Keane’s preparation for this Saturday’s game now being dominated by questions from journalists to such an extent that Keane has had to state that "I am very surprised that John O'Shea doesn't play [for Manchester United] every week.

"Football is about opinions. Everyone has their opinions and I respect everyone's opinion," he shrugged

However, to hark back to Ferguson’s previously stated professional dislike of Liverpool, these words could also be construed as nothing more than mischief making from a man who has bought fully in to the local rivalry enjoyed between the two sides, with his low opinion of Robbie Keane being used as a form of ‘oneupmanship’ against a club he believes to have made a categorical mistake in paying too much for a player he sees as nothing more than of average ability.

Thus, whilst the arguments may continue over the true intention of Ferguson’s words, there can however be no doubt that if Keane does crack and Liverpool fail to respond to the challenge set out then the crafty United manager will have succeeded yet again in his clever use of the press. For Rafa Benitez though, he must instead use such remarks to galvanise his players to set a firm benchmark that Liverpool are here to stay in the title race, and to inspire Robbie Keane to prove one of his greatest doubters wrong come Saturday afternoon.

Brazilian Starlet Feels At Home

New Brazilian striker Vitor Flora has thanked Lucas Leiva, Fabio Aurelio and Diego Cavalieri for helping him settle into new surroundings at Melwood.

The 18-year-old striker - who signed for the Reds last month - admits having fellow countrymen already at the club has made life a whole lot easier for him.

"I have received tremendous support from Lucas and Fabio since I came here and also Diego, said Flora.”Rafa Benitez is like a father figure, I say, a good person and very simplistic."

The player, who spent last season with Brazilian outfit Botafogo, spent some time at Melwood on trial during the summer and proved his worth before Liverpool signed him up on a permanent basis.

He will feature in Gary Ablett's reserve team squad this season and is eager to show his quality to repay the faith shown in him.

"The English football is the one most desired by all players and one of the most difficult to succeed in," he added.

"I am very happy here. I already felt that Liverpool were great and now, knowing the structure and organization more closely, the club has become even greater.

"I have already had four training sessions with the first team and I participated in a friendly against them on Friday.

"Although the majority of them are with their international teams, it was a great experience as, before, I had only been working with the ball or possession."

St. John: This Is The Game For Keane

With Saturday's clash with Manchester United edging closer, one legendary former Reds striker today pinpointed our new hit-man as the potential key player against the Champions.

Robbie Keane has yet to find the net since joining the club in the summer transfer window from Tottenham Hotspur, but Ian St John is hoping he will be on fire against the League champions.

"This game is really set up for Keane - it's all there for him to get his first goal for Liverpool against Manchester United and help us win the game," St John told

"We're all expecting a lot from him, and it's always difficult coming to a new club and trying to settle in with the players. But I think if you are a new player, this is the kind of game you will be really desperate to get a goal in."

St John predicts the match with Alex Ferguson's men will be another tense affair and wants total commitment from the players. "I'm expecting the usual fraught type of game - my fingernails will be getting bitten away," added the Scot, who scored 118 goals in 426 appearances for The Reds in an illustrious ten-year spell at Anfield during Bill Shankly's reign as manager.

"I'm sure it will be an exciting game and I want to see total commitment from the players. Everybody should be fired up for this one and really going for it. The fans want a victory against United so much and the players have really got to turn it on for them. The players have to come off that pitch on Saturday and be able to say: 'I couldn't have given any more'."

Keane Laughs Off Fergie Jibber-Jabbin

Robbie Keane has laughed off Sir Alex Ferguson's suggestion that his move from Tottenham to Liverpool was the surprise transfer of the summer.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the Manchester United boss admitted raising an eyebrow upon learning Keane had sealed a move to Merseyside.

The striker arrived at Liverpool burdened with a hefty price tag and in the knowledge Reds boss Rafa Benitez had tinkered with his formation to accommodate a much-feted partnership with Fernando Torres.

Keane, who captains Republic of Ireland in Montenegro on Wednesday, insists Ferguson's assessment of his move is water off a duck's back, as he believes the game is all about opinions.

"I'm very surprised John O'Shea doesn't play for United every week," said Keane. "Football is about opinions and I respect everybody's opinion."

Keane will have a chance to prove to Ferguson he is well worth the £20.3million Liverpool shelled out for his services when his new side play United at Anfield on Saturday.

Jamie Carragher Draws A Crowd In City Book-Signing Date

LIVERPOOL FC star Jamie Carragher is a hit with the fans off the pitch as well.

Hundreds of football supporters waited for hours to shake hands with their hero, with some queuing from as early as 8am.

The Liverpool defender spent two hours signing memorabilia as well as posing for photographs with die-hard Reds and fans, including young babies.

In the book, Carra: My Autobiography, he reveals that playing for his club was more important to him than representing his country.

The book signing, which took place at WHSmith’s new Liverpool One store, was followed by an invitation-only event.

The party was held at the star’s own restaurant, Cafe Sports England, on Stanley Street last night.

Benitez: Carra Can Be Reds Manager

After revealing last week that he would like to manage his beloved Liverpool one day, Jamie Carragher's bid for the Reds' bench has received backing from current incumbent Rafael Benitez.

Carragher declared last week in a newspaper interview that it is his ambition to be employed as Liverpool manager once his playing days are over.

The 30-year-old has been at Anfield for his entire career, and as such, commands the type of adulation reserved for 'one-club' men.

The defender is known to be an astute observer of the game, and his current manager believes that he has the credentials to make it in management.

Carragher's unwavering commitment to the Liverpool cause and his increasing knowledge of the game all make him a capable successor to a long-line of Liverpool legends.

Benitez told the club's official website: "I think he has the qualities to be a Liverpool manager, he could be ready in 10 or 15 years.

"His commitment is 100 percent. He has a really good mentality in every training session and during games - every player in a top side like Liverpool has to have a mentality like his. Maybe he thinks about football more than even me.

"When you have more experience you sometimes try to be just with your family and think about other things. He loves football, he enjoys playing and talks about it all the time, I think he has many good qualities."

Fabio Relishing Left Back Fight

Fabio Aurelio today insisted he's relishing the challenge of competing with summer signing Andrea Dossena for a place in Rafael Benitez's first team.

The Brazilian full-back is fit again after recovering from a series of injury set-backs and is now hoping to get the nod on the left side of defence for this weekend's clash with Manchester United at Anfield.

But with new arrival Dossena also staking his claim for the left back berth, Aurelio knows the competition for places at Anfield is stronger than ever.

"Always when you are in a big club like Liverpool you have to fight for your place in the team, so having Dossena here now is the same as when John Arne Riise was with us last season," he told

"It is very good for the team because everyone has to push that extra bit harder to get their place. I want to stay fit and help this team improve.

"Andrea hasn’t been here that long so it has only been a short time to get to know him, but he has a strong character and is a very good professional. Always before Rafa signs someone he likes to know about their character.

"I am at a great club and playing with good players here always helps you to improve your level. I will keep my fingers crossed that I don't get any more injuries because I think I can do great things for this club."

Tommy Smith: I'll Settle For Liverpool Winning 'Ugly'

Much has been made about Liverpool failing to turn in the performances we've been hoping to see so far this season - yet getting away with it.

Seven points from nine in the league, plus coming through a tricky tie against Standard Liege to qualify for the Champions League proper, is not a bad return considering we’ve failed to hit the heights.

But I, for one, won’t be complaining if we again fail to turn on the style on Saturday against Manchester United and chalk up another ‘ugly win’.

For a start, we will possibly be without our two best players, Gerrard and Torres, unless their recovery powers allow them to face the Reds’ big rivals.

It’s obviously going to make it tricky for us against a side like United if those two are out, and it will be up to the rest of the lads to put in one hell of a shift and scrap for 96 minutes.

That’s how long games against United usually last and you just can’t afford to switch off for a second from start to finish.

The good news is that United are also without their best player by a mile, Cristiano Ronaldo. I had also thought Carlos Tevez might join him on the sidelines after being sent off twice in recent international games. But, for some reason, it seems it’s okay for him to play.

If there is another factor that will help offset any absence of Torres and Gerrard then perhaps it is the form of Wayne Rooney, who has not been at his best. But we know his qualities and it would be wrong to rely on him having another off day.

So much of this match is about self belief now and I just hope the lads go out there full of confidence and determined to give their all and provide Rafa Benitez with his first win over United.

Liverpool versus United has the classic makings of a derby game these days. It is a test of nerves and bottle as much as anything else. In my day there was just two derbies on the calendar – against Everton.

The games against United then were just considered big games.

But it’s different now and every player has got to be ready for the atmosphere they’ll find themselves in.

It would be great if we managed to turn on the style, but we haven’t managed a league goal against United in recent seasons, let alone a victory, so I’ll take whatever comes. providing we get that key result.

Saturday afternoon can be as ugly as it likes. But if it ends in a victory then we should all be happy.

The United game may see Albert Riera given his debut and what a chance it is for him to make his mark.

Fortunately, he does have Premiership experience so that will help.

But while we perhaps can’t expect miracles in his first game, it would be nice to think Liverpool have bought the finished article at 26 years of age.

Everyone will be looking forward to seeing what Riera can do and the Kop will be backing him all the way.

If he can hit the ground running at Anfield - and Robbie Keane can begin to play as we all know he can - then it will give us a big boost.