Sunday, September 23, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Man Utd

English football's fiercest rivalry will be renewed this weekend as Liverpool and Manchester United go head-to-head at Anfield.

The encounter promises to be an emotionally-charged affair, marking the Reds' first home game since the recent report into the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 supporters lost their lives.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has already confirmed the Red Devils will offer any assistance possible in ensuring the day goes smoothly, calling for mutual respect from both sets of fans.

The reverse fixture at Old Trafford last season saw Liverpool's Luis Suarez refuse to shake the hand of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra following a much-publicised race storm, but reports ahead of Sunday's game suggest there will be no such incident at Anfield, with the players not expected to cause further controversy on such a sensitive occasion.

Red Devils midfielder Michael Carrick has urged for the focus to be on football ahead of the clash, with United coming into the match on the back of three back-to-back victories and sitting second in the fledgling table.

In contrast, Liverpool is yet to register a win in the Premier League this season under new manager Brendan Rodgers and will be desperate to break that duck against their rivals.

History is on their side, with the Reds having won four and lost none of their last five games in all competitions at home to United.

Both sides come into the clash on the back of European exploits in midweek, with the Red Devils beating Galatasaray 1-0 at Old Trafford in the UEFA Champions League and Liverpool claiming a 5-3 victory at Young Boys in the Europa League.

Rodgers is expected to bring his big names back into his Liverpool line-up for Sunday's visit, with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez among the stars rested for Thursday's European win.

Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling were substitutes in that clash and could return, while midfielder Jonjo Shelvey staked his claim for a place with a two-goal cameo in the second half in Switzerland.

Joe Cole (hamstring) and Lucas (thigh) remain Rodgers' only injury concerns within his squad.

Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young could return to play some part for United as they close on fitness, but Robin van Persie is likely to lead the line.

Goalkeeper David de Gea kept a clean sheet against Galatasaray and could keep his place between the sticks ahead of Anders Lindegaard.

Alexander Buttner made a goalscoring debut at left-back against Wigan last weekend and Ferguson may choose to keep him in his side.

Rodgers Expects Peaceful Crowd

Brendan Rodgers expects this weekend's emotionally-charged clash between Liverpool and Manchester United to pass off without crowd trouble.

The mouth-watering Premier League encounter at Anfield on Sunday will be the Reds' first home match since the publication of an independent panel's report which absolved Liverpool fans of any blame following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

A minority of United fans reportedly sang tasteless chants about Hillsborough last week while songs about the Munich air crash have been heard sung by a section of Liverpool fans in the past.

Sir Alex Ferguson has also penned a letter appealing to the Red Devils faithful to show respect in light of the Hillsborough report which is to be distributed to supporters at the turnstile.

"Liverpool-Manchester United games are always very emotional," said Liverpool chief Rodgers.

"You add to that the findings of the last couple of weeks and it makes it even more emotional.

"First and foremost, we want to pay tribute to the families, the victims and the survivors. It is our chance to do that.

"After the fight of the last 23 years, it is the very least we can do.

"There has been dialogue all week, there is respect in terms of the traditions of both clubs.

"A lot of work has been done and hopefully Sunday will pass off peacefully and well and we can talk about the tributes and football."

One unwanted side issue has been speculation over whether Liverpool forward Luis Suarez will shake the hand of United defender Patrice Evra following last season's race row.

But Rodgers said he was "very" confident the pair would shake hands.

He added: "I think enough has been said and written about that over the last year.

"This has been ongoing and everything to say about this has been said. There is nothing else I can add other than you just move on."

Gerrard Aims Winning Run

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard hopes a victory over Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday will act as a springboard for a winning run of games.

The Reds go into the clash hovering just outside the early relegation zone with just two points from their opening four games.

Gerrard believes Sunday's clash is the biggest club-game in the world and he is relishing trying to help Brendan Rodgers' side post their first win of the campaign.

He told the club's official website: "For me, it's the biggest because the Premier League is the biggest league in the world and these are the two most successful clubs.

"I'm not being biased when I say that - I think Liverpool versus Man U is the biggest game. Maybe Barca and Madrid is up there close to that, but for me it's still this one.

"It's a massive game - we're looking for our first win of the season and there would be no-one better for us to start getting three points on the board. Hopefully then we can go on a run of winning games and move up the league because our start to the season has been inconsistent."

The Premier League encounter at Anfield will be Liverpool's first home match since the publication of the new report into the Hillsborough disaster which absolved Reds' fans of any blame.

Since the report there have been widespread appeals to fans of all clubs to cease tasteless chanting about tragedies to have befallen their rivals and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has been especially forthright in his comments on the matter.

Liverpool boss Rodgers said: "We want this day to be remembered for the right reasons before the game, and the footballing reasons.

"A lot of work has been done and hopefully Sunday will pass off peacefully and well and we can talk about the tributes and football.

"It is an emotionally-charged game. I wouldn't sit here and tell Liverpool supporters how to behave. I know how they have behaved over many years has been fantastic.

"These are well-educated supporters who value humanity. I have no issues or no problems there, the message has been clear, and from Sir Alex as well, in relation to his supporters.

"I am sure once we pay the tributes to the families we can get on with the football."

Fowler Calls For Suarez And Evra To Perform Floral Tribute

Robbie Fowler has suggested Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez should lay floral tributes before Liverpool clash with Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday.

This weekend's game is significant as it is the first game at Anfield since the publication of the Hillsborough report.

The two players were highlighted since Suarez was banned for eight matches after he racially abused Evra last season.

"It would be nice for Luis Suarez to put some flowers at the United end regarding Munich, and for Patrice Evra to do the same at the Kop," Fowler said.

"The two clubs do have a rivalry, but some things are far more important that football and this is one of them.

"Both clubs have a respect for each other, for what they have achieved in the game."

Eight players and three club staff died in the Munich air disaster of 1958, when the plane crashed on take-off. Ninety-six fans died in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 when fans were crushed in the stadium.

Evra and Suarez did not shake hands before the last match at Old Trafford in February.

Manchester United captain Vidic is more concerned with the game itself rather than any pre game rituals.

He said, "If they shake hands, they shake hands. I don't think it's the most important thing in the world.

"Its more important not to do any stupid things in the game, to go there and play football - what we dream of, to play that derby and to be all about the football, not about the fighting or any other things.

"To be fair, I don't want to think about that. Obviously we want to focus on the game.

"We have a theme, what happened in history about the fans and we have to respect that day.

"Obviously we can't go with any other issues, we will just go there to play football."

Ayre Plays Down Handshake Issue

Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has played down the significance of the pre-match handshake between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra.

Reds forward Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Evra during the corresponding fixture at Anfield last October and the row was further stoked by the Uruguayan's failure to shake Evra's hand before the return match at Old Trafford in February.

But with Sunday's latest encounter between the two clubs at Anfield already certain to be a highly emotional affair in the wake of last week's damning revelations concerning the Hillsborough disaster, Ayre says the issue over whether the players shake hands or not is not at the forefront of his mind.

Ayre told talkSPORT: "We will be doing a handshake as there always is and, as regards to the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra thing, I think it's just a non-story for this day.

"Despite what the media says, nobody has gone and told Luis Suarez what to do.

"Luis is a grown-up, as I'm sure is Patrice Evra, and I think those players, like every other player on the pitch that day and everybody in the stadium, will recognize this isn't a day to talk about who is going to shake whose hand.

"This is about everybody being together for a much more important cause."

The club understandably wants the focus to be elsewhere on what will be a poignant afternoon, the first game at Anfield since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report into the 1989 tragedy in Sheffield.

There have been repeated calls from Liverpool and United, with the latter's manager Sir Alex Ferguson particularly vocal, for fans on both sides to show respect, especially with regard to past tragedies.

Tasteless chants about Hillsborough and the 1958 Munich air disaster have been heard in the past and the clubs want it stopped.

Ayre said: "It will be an emotional and big game for everybody.

"Obviously this is our first home game since the announcement and findings and it's a great opportunity for our fans to pay their respects and in many ways for everybody to pay respect to our fans.

"As much as the families and everyone else fought for this, it goes without saying that our fans have stuck with them and helped with that support throughout, so it's an important day for everyone.

"This is about using the stage to show the world how important this was and how important an announcement it was.

"It's ironic really that it comes with our biggest game of the season so that is in some ways quite nice because the world will be watching.

"We have massive respect for what Manchester United went through with their own tragedy and I remember in Kenny Dalglish's book he made the point that one of the first people to call him after the Hillsborough disaster was Sir Alex Ferguson, and that says it all.

"Whatever happens on the pitch, we are all rivals, but off the pitch at times like this everybody comes together."

Wenger Hints That Walcott Could Be Available In January

Arsene Wenger has given Theo Walcott a two-month ultimatum to sign a new deal - or risk being sold in January.

Walcott is being frozen out at Arsenal, and will not start at Manchester City on Sunday as his contract stand-off drags on.

It will increase the likelihood of Walcott leaving Arsenal - Liverpool will make an offer in the winter window, Manchester City are lining up a mega-bucks contract for a summer Bosman and Chelsea also fancy him.

Walcott has not started a game for Arsenal since stalling on a £75,000-a-week contract offer, and Gunners manager Wenger admits that the next couple of months will be crucial and will decide the player's future.

"I haven't picked him, it's true, and it's quite a good question," said the Frenchman. "I still hope to sign him and the next two months will be vital because, after that, the longer this situation lasts the more difficult it is.

"Let's hope we can find a solution in the next two months but the fact he doesn't play regularly at the moment is right, but it's not necessarily linked with his contract situation."

Wenger insisted Arsenal can afford to go beyond January, but the Mirror understands Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will bid - and that any offer is likely to be entertained by the Gunners, rather than the alternative of potentially losing him for free.

City and Chelsea would rather wait, and a better personal package is likely to be on offer if Walcott is a free agent next summer.

When pressed on whether Arsenal would sell in January, Wenger said: "It will depend on the needs of the team and the club. We can afford to go to the end (of the contract) if needed.

"No player is happy when he doesn't play.

"At the moment, Koscielny doesn't play. He's just extended his contract and still doesn't play because the defence is doing well.

"That's only temporary because by the end of the season they will all play."

Cole And Lucas Fitness Latest

Brendan Rodgers today provided an update on the fitness of Joe Cole and Lucas Leiva.

Cole has not figured for Liverpool since sustaining a hamstring injury on the opening day of the Barclays Premier League season at West Bromwich Albion, but the boss has confirmed the midfielder is now back in training.

Lucas, meanwhile, is still some way away from a first-team return after picking up a thigh injury last month, though Rodgers is pleased with his progress.

The manager told "Joe is back in training with the group. He's still going to need a wee bit of time before he's anywhere near a game.

"He's been out for a few weeks now, so he needs a few weeks' training and a game or two below his belt before we can even consider him for the first team because he's broken down twice now and we need to manage that along.

"Lucas is doing very well. He's working every day, working hard with the medical team.

"They're both doing well."

Rodgers Welcomes Documentary

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is not concerned about how he might come across in a new television documentary about the club.

The Reds granted Fox Sports Media permission to film an access-all-areas, fly-on-the-wall program throughout the summer and during the opening weeks of the new Barclays Premier League campaign.

The first of six episodes of 'Being Liverpool' aired in the United States last weekend and will be shown in the UK on Friday night.

Rodgers, who was appointed in June, said: "The filming had already started before I came in, but I have got to say the guys from Fox here at Melwood or elsewhere were fantastic.

"There were no issues, no problems. There was no interference and it was like they were not here at all.

"It is a great insight for the supporters, it's good for them to see what goes on at a football club.

"I'll be busy preparing for training tomorrow but I'm sure my family and other people will tell me how I look!"

When asked if he was worried about that, he said: "Not really!"

Premier League Clubs To Meet Next Week

Proposed spending controls in the Premier League will be discussed at a meeting next week.

The 20 clubs have been split into two groups of 10 on a geographical basis, with the southern group to meet on Monday and the northern group on Wednesday.

The majority of clubs are in favour of some kind of cost control measure - the sticking points are likely to be which measure is adopted and what the sanctions will be for breaking the rules.

Ideas include adopting UEFA's Financial Fair Play system where clubs must break even, or clubs only being allowed to spend a maximum percentage of their annual income on player costs - for example 70%, the system operated by the European elite club grouping G14 a decade ago.

Another proposal is limiting increases in spending on player wages to 10% a year, as suggested by Sunderland owner Ellis Short.

Perhaps the option most likely to win universal approval is clubs having to be able to guarantee they can operate for several years in the future rather than just one.

Under the guaranteed liability plan, if clubs have players on five-year contracts, as most do, they would have to be able to prove they can guarantee those funds for the length of those contracts.

In the case of Portsmouth, the club twice went into administration when some of their biggest costs included paying the salaries of high-earning players who were under long-term contracts but whom the club could not afford.

The clubs most opposed to cost control measures are Manchester City, Chelsea and Fulham but even they might be inclined to accept a system to guarantee financial liabilities.

The sanctions for breaking the rules are unlikely to be as drastic as UEFA's system which threatens to exclude clubs from European competition if they do not come close to breaking even.

In the Premier League, a transfer ban or fine is much more likely to be agreed to punish transgressions.