Sir Alex Ferguson, much like the core of Manchester United’s support, is fully aware of the club’s recent record against this weekend’s opponents, Liverpool. Three defeats in a row to the old enemy from the East Lancs Road hurts the Scottish manager as much as any fan. It’s a record that United look to correct Sunday at Old Trafford.
A year ago Nemanja Vidic saw red and Fernando Torres tore into United’s defence as Liverpool strolled away from Old Trafford with a 4-1. An embarrassing margin of victory that nobody at Old Trafford dare think about repeating as the title race comes down to the final eight matches.
United faces five eminently winnable matches in the Premier League and a further three that will surely decide the club’s fate this season; tomorrow, 3 April at home to Chelsea and then the visit to Manchester City a fortnight later.
However, Liverpool head into Sunday’s Old Trafford clash in vastly different shape from a year ago, according to Ferguson. The Anfield team’s nine Premier League defeats this season has placed huge pressure on hapless manager Rafa Benitez, with the Spaniard’s job security more closely aligned to the financial cost of firing him than his performance.
“Their challenge last year was obviously championship form but you sometimes peak with a particular team and it’s difficult to do again,” Ferguson said of Liverpool’s backwards step this season.
“They had an exceptional season, but I thought it would be difficult to achieve that again.
“Everyone expected Liverpool to be better this season, but they are not and the challenge for them is to get that fourth spot.”
Ferguson’s own squad heads into the match in far better shape than even a month ago with key central defensive partnership Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand set to start a third match in a row together.
The squad is also boosted by the return of Owen Hargreaves, the midfielder who has missed 18 months after a double-knee operation. Hargreaves played 45 minutes of a reserve fixture on Thursday night and will return to the first team within a month according to Ferguson.
But the Scot has encouraged the combative midfield to concentrate on United, with media talk that a FIFA World Cup squad place has been held by England manager Fabio Capello a potential distraction in Canadian-born player’s rehabilitation.
“Talk about World Cups? He has been out for a year-and-a-half. We deserve some service from out of him,” Ferguson added.
“There is nothing wrong with talking about it but he should be concentrating on playing for Manchester United and he will do that.”
One midfielder who will play tomorrow is Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain whose off-the-ball elbow on Portsmouth’s Michael Brown the FA failed to punish this week. Angry at inconsistencies that saw Rio Ferdinand receive a four match ban for a similar challenge on Hull City’s Craig Fagan, Ferguson labeled the disciplinary committee dysfunctional.
“I didn’t expect him [Gerrard] to be charged, simply because it is a dysfunctional unit at the FA. I don’t think they know what they are doing,” bristled Ferguson yesterday.
“There is no consistency, so you don’t expect to get any consistency. But I’m not bothered. They can do what they want down there, it’s crazy at times.
“But I certainly think that, if it was a Manchester United player, he would have been done, as was the case with Rio Ferdinand.
“They [Liverpool] do all right. They are lucky like that. Maybe one day we will get lucky.”
Indeed, it is United’s turn for some fortune in the fixture with the Reds reduced to 10 men in successive matches against Liverpool.