When Andrea Dossena lobbed Edwin van der Sar to score Liverpool’s fourth goal at Old Trafford in March the Merseyside team completed a Premier League double over Manchester United for the first time since 2001-2. Despite the fact that Rafa Benitez’ side ended the season with no trophies – Sir Alex Ferguson’s men picked up the Premier League and Carling Cup – the result remains a source of pride for Liverpudlians and pain for United supporters. Ferguson’s team travel to Anfield tomorrow in search of a result that will right the wrong.
The teams meet an Anfield in markedly different form. United, having emerged victorious from a potential banana skin in Moscow, travel to Anfield in good spirits, expecting victory. Indeed, with just one loss all season – in August at Burnley – United already has significantly more points than at this time last season.
Key players will also return to the United squad, with Wayne Rooney now fit to take part having recovered from a calf injured picked up on international duty with England. Darren Fletcher’s participation remains doubtful with a groin injury, while Park J-Sung is definitely out with a knee problem. However, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra, who both missed the Moscow tie, are fit to take part.
Ferguson must choose between deploying both Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the 4-4-2 formation that has become typical this season or go with the ‘European’ lone-striker used in Moscow this week. However, in a typical Ferguson ruse, the Scot suggested, Friday, that Rooney may sit out the match due to his fragile temperament in matches against Liverpool.
Despite typically using a single striker in matches against the ‘big four’, Berbatov’s form – outstanding against Bolton last weekend – is likely to come into Ferguson’s thinking when picking the team for tomorrow’s 2pm kick off.
“The United-Liverpool fixture, as I’ve said many times, is without question a massive game,” Ferguson said Friday.
“That’s not changed in the 23 years I’ve been here, this is the game.
“We go into the game in decent form, and there is a confidence to our play. But it’s a derby game and anything can happen. Going to Anfield at any time is hard, for both teams. It won’t be any different on Sunday.”
Liverpool meanwhile come into the game under intense pressure, having lost four games in a row. The club’s worst run of form since 1987 has placed Benitez under increasing strain, to the point that co-owner George Gillet offered a ‘vote-of-confidence’ in the manager this week.
With the pressure on, Benitez this week suggested that the two side’s differing results are a factor of money available to each manager. A ‘fact’ repeatedly proven a lie.
On the pitch Benitez is without captain Steven Gerrard through injury, although talismanic striker Fernando Torres will return after yet another hamstring strain and £18 million Glenn Johnson is also fit to start at right back.
Despite the Anfield side’s recent poor results United defender Rio Ferdinand says that it matters little when the teams take the pitch tomorrow afternoon.
“I think form goes out of the window in these games,” Ferdinand told United’s official website.
“We all know that when there’s a big rivalry between two teams, whether it’s a derby or a big cup clash, form doesn’t come into it. It all comes down to who performs best on the day and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Supporters traverse the M62 ready to answer Liverpool’s fans who, in 1993, suggested legend Eric Cantona return to Anfield once United had won 18 English league championships. Ferguson’s men take to the field Sunday in just that place, having collected an 18th title in May.
Liverpool, meanwhile, hasn’t taken the title back to Anfield since 1990. A victory for United Sunday will surely end the Scousers hopes for another season.