Liverpool head to Old Trafford looking for first signature win
I write about this every time this fixture comes up. But there is no more miserable experience than Man United-Liverpool. At least when it's at Anfield I have some hope that the Reds can get the win. But when it's at the Theater of Prawn sandwiches? I'll start shaking Saturday night. I'll watch with my hands over my face from most of it. I'll be shaking uncontrollably during it, just waiting for the axe to fall. Every United attack will cause me to come closer to a seizure than anyone would be comfortable with. No matter the score, I won't believe that Liverpool can get the three points there until the refs blows the whistle. Even that 4-1 mauling in 2009, with United down to 10 men, I wasn't comfortable until Dossena lobbed Van der Sar (that actually happened). And I won't be Sunday.
There are two huge questions for me heading into this. The first is how Brendan Rodgers is going to deal with his fullback problem. Because Jose Enrique is out, it's pretty obvious that Andre Wisdom has to start. The last big match he started, or one of, was at Goodison Park and we know how that went. There really aren't any other alternatives that wouldn't involve throwing another kid out to the wolves. The only one I can think of is to shift Agger to left-back and bring in Carragher or Coates, but I don't have enough Alka-Seltzer in the house for that. There's no way he'd toss Stewart Downing back there in a back-four with such attacking venom facing him. Rodgers could opt for what he did in the second half against Everton to protect Wisdom, which was shift to three at the back and have Johnson and Downing be wingbacks. It's not perfect, but I'd feel better about that then Carragher coming in or Downing stranded. But nothing is pleasant about it.
The second is what will comprise Liverpool's midfield. I'm almost certain it'll be Lucas-Allen-Gerrard. But it shouldn't be. Jordan Henderson is in far better form than Allen, and Gerrard is better when bracketed. He hasn't been as effective as the most advanced midfielder. We'll just have to see. Also, Henderson's harassing of a backline and midfield would be more likely to find Liverpool profit.
Getting to the more minor questions, when Liverpool have won this fixture at home in the past few years, it's because Lucas has eaten the United midfield. As we've seen lately, that Lucas isn't here yet. Maybe this match snaps him back into form, but we don't know. What i do know is that any combination of Cleverly, Jones, Scholes, Carrick, or Kagawa doesn't really scare me. They can be rolled, especially if Fergie is tempted to toss out Scholes aging legs that can't handle a match of this magnitude any more again.
Of course, a lot is going to be made of the two strikers, and especially Luis Suarez because he's the worst person to ever be conceived obviously. This fixture last season, Suarez played as a man who just wanted the whole thing to be over, which was understandable. But Liverpool can't have that Sunday. He's got to be the dynamo we rely on, even with 75,000 aching to drink his blood and almost certainly influencing the ref to give him absolutely nothing.
On the other side, Liverpool actually did keep RVP pretty quiet an Anfield. Until he buried the winning penalty of course. You can cut off his service in midfield, but he'll still get a couple of free kicks and chances to get a look at goal. I'm not sure there is any way to keep him completely quiet. You just have to hope you do more at the other end, I guess. Rooney's hurt, I'm guessing we'll see Kagawa behind RVP instead of Hernandez partnering him. But Hernandez will come on at some point, and I'll throw a lot of things.
This isn't all to say there's no hope. The United defense is in need of odor guard. I don't care what the stats and film say about his improvement, Johnny Evans has always and will always suck. Rio Ferdinand can't possibly keep up with Suarez's movement if he's in the mood, and their fullbacks are great going forward and less so when defending. Vidic is just returning from injury, and you wonder if this kind of match comes just too quick for him. And it's not like he's always distinguished himself against Liverpool, is it?
On the other end, Van Persie isn't the physical bully that give Agger and Skrtel such trouble. He might be the world's best right now, but he's at least in the mold that the Dane and Slovak handle better. Maybe?
Most of all, Liverpool need a signature result. Even a draw would feel pretty good. There's no win over a team in the top half. The only big team to have something taken off of them by the Reds is Man City. even if a lot of those results were undeserved. We want memories, something to hang on to. A marker to know that it's all definitely working and progressing. Sunday would most certainly be that, would it not?