Sunday, September 19, 2010

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs Liverpool

With 36 English titles between them, Premier League games don't get much bigger than Manchester United against Liverpool.

The two North West giants continue their intense rivalry at Old Trafford on Sunday in a fixture that always serves to make the heart beat a little faster for supporters of both sides.

The backdrop to this encounter involves a season which has barely got underway but has already had its fair share of drama for the two teams.

United have already fallen four points behind defending champions Chelsea after throwing away winning positions to draw in away games against Fulham and Everton, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s side also had a below-par night against Rangers in the Champions League.

Liverpool have a new manager, Roy Hodgson, who has made a mixed start as the Reds look to recover from last season’s disastrous seventh place finish which eventually led to the departure of Rafael Benitez to Inter.

Admittedly Hodgson’s charges have had a very difficult run of fixtures to open the new campaign, along with European commitments to be balanced, but defeat on Sunday would mean an unsatisfactory return of one win from five league games.

Therefore the pressure is on for the new man at the helm to pick up some sort of result at Old Trafford in a game the significance of which his opposite number knows all too well.

Ferguson – who once famously said his aim at United was to knock Liverpool off their perch at the top of the domestic game – used his pre-match press conference to re-iterate just how big the game is.

"I sound like a parrot but this is 'the fixture'. There is no question about that," he asserted.

"It doesn't change. The form fluctuates quite a bit but we won the last game so hopefully that turns it back towards us again.

"Roy has the experience. He has gathered a wealth of experience in Italy, Switzerland and Finland and the job he did at Fulham was absolutely extraordinary.

"But our approach will not change. We have to express ourselves the way we always do.”

A win in front of their own fans will certainly be the target for United, although they will be wary of their fierce rivals.

Liverpool have tasted victory in three of the last four games in the head-to-head, although the last meeting saw the Red Devils win 2-1 thanks to a winning goal from Ji-Sung Park.

Whatever the result on Sunday there is sure to be incident, with the final result potentially significant in setting up a positive or negative season ahead for either side.


Manchester United

Antonio Valencia begins a long injury absence after picking up a serious ankle injury in midweek.

Many of United's other key players will be feeling fresh after Sir Alex Ferguson made 10 changes for the Champions League draw against Rangers.

Anderson is back in first-team contention after a long absence with a knee injury, although is unlikely to start the match.

Rio Ferdinand is expected to make his first Premier League start of the new season alongside Nemanja Vidic - a player who has struggled against Liverpool in the past - in the centre of United's defence.

Possible Starting XI: Van der Sar; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Park; Rooney, Berbatov.


Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres will return for Liverpool after being rested, along with Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel, for Thursday's Europa League win against Steaua Bucharest.

England midfielder Joe Cole, who set Liverpool on their way to victory against Steaua with a goal after 30 seconds, will also make his return to Premier League action after completing the three-match suspension he incurred for a red card against Arsenal on the opening day.

Fabio Aurelio (Achilles) and Dirk Kuyt (shoulder) are both still sidelined.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky; Poulsen, Meireles; Jovanovic, Gerrard, Cole; Torres.

Roy Hodgson: Result Against Manchester United Is Not Pivotal To Liverpool's Season

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is hoping his team can avoid a second defeat in Manchester as they visit Old Trafford on Sunday to play Manchester United.

The Reds have had a difficult start to the season having already played Arsenal, Manchester City and Birmingham, games that have seen them secure only two points, with the home victory against West Brom the only shining light on their campaign so far.

However Hodgson believes a win at Old Trafford would provide a massive confidence boost, although has stated that the result will not be pivotal at the end of the season.

"You might get the shots in the arm which you help you or the kicks in the backside which bring you down, but the health of a football club should be judged by what goes on on a daily basis," Hodgson told Sky Sports.

"It is a part of football life and players need to be aware of that.

"If you have had the kick in the teeth, and it might be deserved, that is the reminder you have to do better.

"But when you get the shot in the arm that is the little reminder you have to be careful to keep your feet on the ground because around the corner disaster awaits.

"Having said that, we have had a really difficult start in the league and that does not get any easier, us having to go to Manchester United.

"But I see very positive signs and I'm very confident that the longer we work together, come May hopefully we will have a decent season behind us.

"This match has come a little bit early. Five games into the season is a poor time for barometer readings - they need to come at least a third of the way through the season.

"I would be very surprised if the intelligent people out there who understand the season is a marathon not a sprint will start reading too much into a defeat for one or the other teams."

Hodgson also admitted Liverpool will have to defend well if they are to get anything against United but has revealed he will use the same structure that proved successful in the Reds' 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest at Anfield on Thursday night.

"We are going to put a team out which will defend well and attack well - something which we have tried to do in every game we've played so far," he continued

"Sometimes we will succeed better than others but that is football.

"The first thing to do when you go to Old Trafford is to defend well because there are some very good attackers.

"They are very dangerous offensively so if your defensive set-up is wanting then they will punish you.

"But we won't change our system from the way we played on Thursday.

"The things we tried to do against Steaua were exactly the same things we tried to do against West Brom and Birmingham with less success.

"Nothing changes. We know what we have to do, we know what principles we work under and we will keep working at it and keep trying to produce it on the field."

Paul Konchesky Calls For 'Sensible' Refereeing In Manchester United Clash

Liverpool defender Paul Konchesky has pleaded with referee Howard Webb to keep his head cool as they clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The left-back, a summer signing from Fulham, has also told Webb to appreciate that tackles will without doubt be flying in as both teams will want to record an important victory over their fierce rivals.

“You hope the referee understands it is a big game,’’ Konchesky told the Daily Telegraph.

“I won’t alter my style. You need a strong ref. It is a big derby and there are going to be tackles flying about, so you need a sensible ref who isn’t going to be silly and send people off left, right and centre.

“You can’t hold back, it is a big game. This is a massive game for the club. Hopefully we will have a sensible ref.”

Webb, who showed 14 yellow cards when he took charge of the World Cup final in South Africa, has been criticized for being too strict but did admit that he should have sent off Nigel De Jong as well as John Heitinga and he will be hoping for a quieter afternoon at Old Trafford.

However, Konchesky is relishing the game against United.

“The derbies up north are bigger than the ones in London,’’ said the former Fulham defender.

“No disrespect to Fulham, if you go to Old Trafford and come away with a draw it is a massive bonus, but going with Liverpool you expect to win. That is the expectation of the club and the fans. They are fanatical fans and this is what they live for.

“Every day, you get out of your car and there are Liverpool fans wanting to talk to you. It is a good thing but we need to pay them back and bring silverware for them. The feeling in the club is we want to be up there fighting for the Champions League.’’

Liverpool Boss Interested In £14m Serie A Forward As Potential Torres Partner

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has earmarked Uruguayan international Edinson Cavani as a January transfer window target as he looks to bring in more attacking options.

The Palermo forward is currently on loan at Napoli and has scored in his opening two matches for the club and was expected to make a move to Naples a permanent one next summer but the Anfield manager hopes to persuade the powerfully built striker to move to Merseyside.

Cavani has been a big success since his move from Montevideo to Italy in 2007 and helped his country to a fourth place finish at this summer’s World Cup and his physicality and strength could well suit a move to the Premier League.

The 6ft 2in striker is also something of a flair player and is known for his superb close control and Hodgson may well see the £14m rated man as an ideal foil for Fernando Torres.

A potential move to Liverpool may well depend on how well Napoli fair this season after last season’s impressive top six finish.

O'Neill In Line For Anfield

Martin O’Neill is in line for a sensational return to football – as the next Liverpool boss.

Two of the consortiums trying to buy the Merseyside club want to take ex-Aston Villa chief O’Neill to Anfield if they are successful with proposed takeovers.

They rate O’Neill, 58, a far better bet to bring back the good times to the crisis-torn Reds than current Kop gaffer Roy Hodgson. That will be a massive blow to Hodgson as he battles to restore stability at Liverpool following his summer switch from Fulham.

The ex-Inter Milan coach is already ­under intense pressure after a shaky start to the season. His side head to Manchester United today having won just one of four league games.

Hodgson knows a change of ownership at the club is essential to make long-term progress. Yet, should that happen, he could well find himself surplus to requirements.

O’Neill stunned the football world last month when he quit Villa only five days before the new campaign kicked off.

He had become fed up with a change in direction under Villa owner Randy Lerner, which meant a drastic reduction in transfer funds.

However, his shock resignation now appears to have put him in position to assume the Liverpool reins - depending on the outcome of the club’s on-going power struggle.

Joint-owners Tom Hicks and Tom Gillett are refusing to sell their shareholding for anything less than £600m.

But that stance could be about to change as the Royal Bank of Scotland threaten to seize control of the club if the

Yanks fail to pay off debts totaling £280m before October 11.

The RBS would then sell Liverpool at a reduced price to one of a number of interested parties - bringing O’Neill’s name into the frame.

And there’s no question the ex-Celtic coach, linked with the Anfield hot seat throughout his career, would relish the challenge of steering Liverpool back to the top of English football.

Tom Hicks Set To Sign £281M Deal To Stay In Charge

The American, who met Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton in London for talks last week, hopes the deal with the Blackstone/GSO Group will allow him another two years to find a buyer for the Merseyside club, who face Manchester United today.

The deal reportedly does not include any funds to buy new players or to build a new stadium. The notion of Hicks remaining in charge could also lead to questions over the long-term futures of Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres, who have voiced concerns over the club’s ambitions under the American owners.

Liverpool’s board must now decide whether they must mount a legal challenge to Hicks. There is uncertainty over whether the board can block his proposals.

I Don't See Why Liverpool Can't Win The Title, Says Kenny Dalglish

Kenny Dalglish has a confession to make. He can remember playing worse games for Liverpool than Fernando Torres managed at Birmingham last week, a performance that drew personal criticism so strong Roy Hodgson had to speak up in defence of his striker. "I had nightmares too, lots of them," Dalglish says. "The thing is, I can remember them when most people don’t. When you start looking back, people only want to remember the good times, and I’m sure that will happen with Fernando. He’s a fantastic player, we should realize how lucky we are to have him, because when he finishes there will be no dispute about how good he was. He will just be remembered as a great. And for having a good record against Manchester United."

A statistic that is bound to get a good airing this weekend is that Liverpool has not won the league for 20 years. With constant repetition, the ever-widening gap is beginning to acquire the emptiness of a cliche. So what? Plenty of teams have not won the league for more than 20 years, including Everton, Spurs and Manchester City. But those teams did not win the league in 10 of the previous 15 seasons. As Dalglish says, you could probably have got yourself sectioned in 1990 for suggesting Liverpool would go two decades without a title.

A lesser-known statistic is that Dalglish’s title-winning team of 1990, while perhaps not as dashing or as awesomely effective as his 1988 model, managed to score 40 goals away from home, two more than they managed at Anfield. When Liverpool was winning championships they tended to do so by winning around half their away games and scoring upwards of 30 away goals. Chelsea’s away stats were comparable last season (won 10, scored 35), as were Manchester United’s the season before (won 12, scored 25). Liverpool’s own stats in the 2008-09 season were not at all unimpressive. In posting their best league finish under Rafa Benítez to finish runners-up to United by four points, after losing just two games all season, Liverpool’s away form was actually better than that of their rivals. They won 13 times on the road and managed a healthy 36 goals.

The reason for mentioning all this is that last season Liverpool won just five away games and scored only 18 goals. Their home form was broadly comparable with teams such as Tottenham and Manchester City who finished above them, but taking 21 away points from a possible 57 cost them badly. This afternoon’s trip to Old Trafford holds no particular terror for a team that beat United 4-1 on the same ground two seasons ago, but in their two away games to date under Hodgson Liverpool have not been able to score a goal, much less claim a win.

Joe Cole’s suspension has not helped, and neither has an apparent over-reliance on a striker in Torres who has only rarely been sufficiently free from injury or exhaustion to do himself justice, but last week’s wretched performance at Birmingham had people asking whether that was really the best Liverpool could do. If so, it was unkindly suggested, it might be another 20 years before they manage to finish above Chelsea or Arsenal.

Taking a quick dip into the barn-tub of professional opinion on Merseyside on the subject this week, one could find Mark Lawrenson arguing that Glen Johnson should be used as a winger rather than a full-back. "Liverpool must shake up the midfield more in future away games," he said. "The defence won’t concede many so there’s no reason not to go for a win, and we know how costly draws can be from bitter experience. The midfield at Birmingham was much too cautious and careful for my liking. There needs to be more happening out wide to make an attacking statement."

John Aldridge was in broad agreement. "Torres took all the stick, but how was he supposed to threaten with no one supplying him?" the former striker said. "The team is crying out for someone to provide invention down the flanks, and pairing Lucas and Christian Poulsen at the centre of midfield suggested Roy Hodgson was happy to settle for a point."

Birmingham are no mugs, of course, and with the two Manchester teams completing an awkward trio of away games Liverpool have not been granted the easiest of starts. But unless Torres and Steven Gerrard can engineer a turn-up this afternoon to rival the March 2009 one, their already slim hopes of title contention will begin to fade for another season. That may seem a premature conclusion, but it is the sort of pressure Liverpool put on themselves, as Dalglish knows better than most.

"If Blackburn can win the Premier League I don’t see why Liverpool should not be able to," he says, conveniently neglecting to mention that in 1995 when Jack Walker was spending all the money there was no Chelsea or Manchester City to worry about. "Maybe not this season but soon. If you look at the playing strength there is more than enough to build on. There aren’t many better goalkeepers than José Reina or defenders better than Jamie Carragher, and practically any club in the world would be interested in players of the quality of Torres and Steven Gerrard. We were close to the title two years ago and we can get close again.

"People have different ideas about how to play the game but I don’t think Liverpool’s overall philosophy has changed much. They are playing one striker up front and one dropping off now and that’s similar to what I used to do. Torres may have had a bad game last weekend but that doesn’t make him a bad player. I think he might be finding it hard because he has not had a rest for three years, but if I were in his shoes I might take all that criticism as a roundabout compliment. It shows how many good games he’s had when everyone jumps on him for having a bad one. I went 26 games one year without scoring a goal so Fernando has a way to go yet."

Sterling At The Double

Raheem Sterling struck a brace as Liverpool U18s won 2-0 at Leeds United on Saturday lunchtime.

The flying winger was again on top form as he netted twice in the second half to help Rodolfo Borrell's side maintain their unbeaten start to the 2010-11 season.

Sterling's first arrived in the 50th minute before he secured the three points with his second of the afternoon at the death.

Borrell told "It was a very tough game but we deserved to win because we produced a good team performance.

"We worked very hard and played as a team from the first minute until the last."

Liverpool U18s: Stephens, Flanagan, Smith, Sama, Regan, Coady, Sterling, Roddan, Ngoo, Roberts, Silva (Walsh 70). Subs: Aylmer, Belford, Sumner, Morgan.