This weekend’s biggest fixture is undoubtedly the clash between England’s traditional powerhouses Liverpool and Man United, both sides could do with the three points and the kudos to energise their seasons. The game obviously won’t write each side’s entire campaign as Sky would have many believe but a win for either team could kick start a good run of form.
United have gathered eights points from their first four matches which many in the press are portraying is a bit of a disaster. When you consider however that they have played Everton away and Fulham (which has recently became a tricky fixture for the club) it is a fair points total for Ferguson’s side.
The spotlight will again as in midweek be on Wayne Rooney who doesn’t seem to have entirely got back to last seasons form. He will be under constant pressure from both the press and fans alike and Rooney will have to don some thick skin and keep his head down or his ugly temper could surface like in times of old. Fortunately for Wayne it is a home match but with the volume of the Liverpool fans he will no doubt be subject to intense abuse throughout. If this wasn’t problem enough for Ferguson he also has the trouble of picking a side unable to call on one of their most consistent performers in Antonio Valencia who suffered a broken ankle mid-week. Park Ji Sung could be the man to fill in for him who despite lacking in the quality of his team mate will surely guarantee effort and persistence. Potential future captain Vidic will certainly be hoping for a better performance than he is used to against Liverpool and Rio Ferdinand may well start next to him to provide Manchester with their first choice centre half pairing. As well as this expect the usual from United with Evra starting at left back who along with Nani will hope to give Liverpool’s right flank a hard time. Van Der Sar will definitely return to the starting eleven after sitting on the bench for Kuszczak against Rangers and will be expected to provide an assured performance in goal. Scholes will be hoping to continue his early season form and produce the magic United fans have came to expect from him even in his Autumn years and Berbatov too will be expected to continue with what has so far been a fair impressive begriming to the season. Also expect Ferguson to again start with permanent central midfielder Darren Fletcher who will be called upon to give a typically gutsy performance over the full ninety minutes for the team. As far as other positions go it will probably be O’Shea at right back and it can safely be said that Ryan Giggs will feature at some stage in the game if not as a starter.
Like Ferguson, Roy Hodgson too has some problems to deal with. Collecting 5 points from his first four games isn’t quite as disastrous as it looks when you remember that Liverpool’s first two games against Arsenal and Manchester City were far from easy. Liverpool are the only side to have taken points off the Gunners this season and they certainly wont be the first side this year to visit Eastlands and suffer defeat, similarly St. Andrews is a hard place to go and despite a disappointing performance from Liverpool a point away to Birmingham is still well earned. The big concern so far for supporters isn’t strictly the points total but the performances that have gone alongside, with the exception of the performance against Arsenal the Reds have looked very pedestrian so far this season and fans will be hoping a good performance against one of their rivals could help rectify this.
It is hard to see where Roy will go with his formation as things sadly haven’t gone to plan for him just yet. Against Arsenal he was restricted to ten men having had Joe Cole sent off, Mascherano going missing against City to a point forced his hand and in the end he plumped for a 442. The last two games has seen Hodgson line up with a very Benitez-esque formation with two holding midfielders, two wide men and Steven Gerrard playing just off Fernando Torres. One would then expect that Hodgson’s preferred formation is the one that lined up against Arsenal. Instead of two deeper holding midfielders he may choose to go for one alongside Steven Gerrard who would be expected to get forward more than either Lucas or Poulsen. Joe Cole’s return will be welcomed and he will hopefully provide a little more class and guile in the final third, possibly slotting straight back into the side just behind Fernando Torres. The two wide positions will probably be occupied by Jovanovic and Rodriguez as they were against Birmingham and fans will be hoping they get involved a lot more than they did in that game.
This however is just speculation, Hodgson could again for two holding midfielders allowing Gerrard to link up with Torres, and forcing Joe Cole into a wider position at the expense of either Maxi Rodriguez or Jovanovic. The defence will surely be the same four that lined up against Birmingham assuming that Konchesky is definitely fit. Fans will be hoping for a more assured performance from the back four in this game, especially from Martin Skrtel who against Birmingham looked weak in the air on a few occasions. With many Liverpool supporters gunning for Daniel Agger to be the regular centre half alongside Jamie Carragher it may soon become a reality. In regards to substitutions there may well be cameos from Raul Meireles and Ryan Babel and for some fans an appearance from Dani Pacheco would be very well received.
Some of the other news surrounding the game is that Howard Webb will make his premiership return after his summer break following a less than spectacular World Cup final appearance. Given the way many fans perceive him to have a preference for a certain team from Manchester the spotlight will as usual be on him and any mistakes will be heavily scrutinised. If I had to make a prediction, it may be because I am a fan but I would have to say a 1 – 0 win courtesy of Fernando Torres. The favoured score line amongst the bookmakers is 1 – 0 to United and it would be fair to say that many would agree with this prediction, United are definitely favourites for this game with the bookies and your average football fan but I am backing on Torres to find some form with the occasion of the game in which case Liverpool would be impossible to rule out.