By Kevin Koczwara
Manchester United head to Anfield this weekend to hopefully put and end to Liverpool’s title chances. A win for United would be the knockout punch for Liverpool, putting them down for the count with little to no chance at winning The English Premier League for the first time in 20 years.
A Liverpool loss would be their fifth in a row and could the final straw for Rafa Benitez — especially with rumors of Jose Mourinho filling his shoes swirling (he isn’t loved in Italy by any measure). Benetiz needs his side to perform the level that everyone expects of them, because it is believed he is at fault for the poor play of recent.
The way the match-up is working out right now is the efficient United are going into a floundering Liverpool–hampered not only by form but by injuries. That scenario could lead to one of two things: A United blow-out, or a tightly contested game with a lot of cards handed out, and physical play.
Let’s look at all the factors coming into this game:
Liverpool have the bigger question marks here.
If Torres isn’t fully fit come Sunday, then Liverpool are dead in the water because they don’t have another striker on their bench who can put the pressure on Nemanja Vidic, and any fear at all in the United back-line. If David Ngog starts, then surely Liverpool will be reaching for some attack and praying to the heavens.
Their best option to fill-in for Torres if he isn’t fit to go would be starting Ryan Babel on one side outside midfield position and Albert Reira on the other, with Voronin and Kuyt playing off one another. Kuyt, despite his stature, wins so many balls in the middle through hard work, can gain possession. And Voronin (I hate that I am saying this) is maybe the best option they have the bench for this situation. He is quick, and assertive. He doesn’t hold onto the ball too long and is looking to show the manager what he is made of. So he is a better fit than say Ngog or anyone else on the bench for this game.
Liverpool also have to deal with the injury to Steven Gerrard. He tweaked the groin injury he got while on international duty this past Tuesday in the Champions League loss to Lyon. If Gerrard isn’t fit then Liverpool will be begging for someone to pick apart the United defense, his passion, passing, free kicks and long range shots are all things Liverpool needs right now. He is amazing on the pitch, and Liverpool have no one that can replace him. (They can’t replace someone like Torres either, but he is a striker and therefore less important in my book because midfielders control the game).
Liverpool may look to Yossi Benayoun to fill in the space in the middle, but he isn’t the same caliber as Gerrard (but who really is?) and struggles in big games, and when he has to become the main attacking midfielder. Maybe a good idea to start Jay Spearing in his first ever derby and move Kuyt to the middle of the attack. This move can give them some strength in the middle.
I personally like the Jay Spearing (instead of Lucas) and Javier Mascherano pairing because Mascherano is so strong on the ball he makes it easier for Spearing to get comfortable, and settled. If you watched Martin Kelly on Wednesday you would have noticed he used Mascherano as his outlet, and blanket because you know if you pass the ball to Mascherano you know he will at least win the ball back if you make a bad pass to him.
Glen Johnson should be fit for the game, which is a major boost for Liverpool. Martin Kelly was injured on Lyon’s first goal on Wednesday, so Liverpool are thin on true right backs (Carragher can fill in there but you want him in the middle alongside Agger or Skrtel). Johnson is so strong in the attack up the right that any player playing with him immediately becomes better and more dangerous because Johnson opens up a lot of space on the pitch. He can also cross the ball with both feet and make room for himself with the ball at his feet–all things Liverpool have been missing in recent games.
Manchester United only have a few question marks, but they have greater depth than any other team in the Premier League.
Wayne Rooney is their major missing piece. The striker was in form until aggravating his calf. But United have a plethora of attacking players, so Rooney missing out wouldn’t be a horrible thing. They do have Berbatov, who last time I checked is one of the most skilled strikers in the world. Rooney will probably suit up and give it a go on Sunday, but look for him to be subbed out at some point.
United are getting back Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs which will help them immensely. Giggs can start or come off the bench, and either way his skill is unmatched and he is a game changer for United, and has been for as long as I have been a live, or close to it at least. His passing and shooting are world class (still, after all these years).
Evra is a great left back, he is underrated by many fans. When he is fit and in form he may be the best overall left back in the Premier League. He has great pace, passing and a passion for the game. If he is matched up against Glen Johnson and Ryan Babel he will surely have his hands full, but he always rises to the challenges presented to him.
Darren Fletcher could be out, which means Anderson should start in the middle alongside Paul Scholes and be more attack minded than he usually is (he is United’s version of Lucas, should be so much better than he is on the pitch, all the talent int he world but just doesn’t use it right). Look for Anderson to have a good game if Giggs is on the outside of him taking a lot of the pressure off his shoulders.
Anfield Management Issues
Anfield will not only be hostile towards their visitors, Manchester United, on Sunday, it will also be full of angry protesters who see the U.S. owners of Liverpool as cheats, cowards, and thieves. Watch for the march before the game and the protests during the game, people are angry at George Gillete and Tom Hicks because they haven’t lived up to the promises that they made, and are believed to have used club funds to pay off some of the debt that they took on when buying the club.
In news regarding the future of the club, Bob Kraft is still showing signs of interest, but the world of European Soccer doesn’t fit his model, yet. Maybe someday a world Committee can sit down and put together some salary cap rules for the sport, because it may do some good for the game. But for now, Kraft will sit and wait for his time.
Rafa Benitez isn’t scared for his job, really? He has only lost 4 in a row and made an enormous amount of blunders on the transfer market. It is okay that Javier Mascherano has come to the Spaniard’s defense and that Andrea Dossena has stated that Liverpool can still win the league, they are players on the squad and need to be confident in their manager. (By the way, Dossena is one of those major flops of Benitez’s).
But does Jermaine Pennant have it right when he said that Benitez restrictions his players too much–maybe that is why players like Robbie Keane and Ryan Babel have struggled under his whip. But if Benitez and Liverpool lose a 5th straight, and bow out of the Champions League soon, then he will surely be looking for another job come January.
Silverware is ho you are judged at Anfield, not just how competitive the squad is every year. Liverpool isn’t Valencia, Liverpool wins trophies and honors, and Benitez is in desperate need of one to save his job.
I am going to say that Liverpool wins 1-0 because United goes down to 10 men early and can’t hold off the Liverpool attack the whole game. I will also say that the game will be finished 10v10 because there is bound to be 2 red cards handed out in a game like this, both teams are going to want this and both teams need the win if they want to establish themselves in the top four come May.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow The Soccer Guys on Twitter @TheSoccerGuys. And Let us know your thoughts on this weekends match-up, all of them. We want to hear from you!