By Christopher Boulay
The 186th edition of Liverpool v Manchester United takes place on Sunday. The biggest derby in England may see one of its most passionate displays in years when the two clubs take to the pitch at Anfield. However, many will be keeping an eye on the collective crowd, as both of the clubs’ managers have gone out of their way to diffuse the potentially toxic minority in the stands.
Sunday’s fixture will be the first match at Anfield since the Hillsborough Independent Panel released its report that revealed what exactly happened during the 1989 FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest in Sheffield, England. While the majority of Reds and Mancunians in the stands are expected to spend the match displaying the best aspects of the heated rivalry, there is worry about minority support.
Many wonderful displays are set to honor the 96 people who died on that day 23 years ago. Any vocal disruption referencing this incident in a negative light, or referencing the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, were condemned by both clubs, as well as much of the media, in the past week. United manager Alex Ferguson released a letter for away fans attending the match that reminded them of the importance to act respectfully during the match.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers explained his comfort with the situation, and does not expect any major issues to occur. He did note that the match could be “emotionally-charged” because of the healthy rivalry between the two clubs, not an ignorant minority.
The match will be very important for Liverpool, as the club has yet to win this season in the Premier League. Momentum began to pick up mid-week, as the Reds came back to defeat BSC Young Boys 5-3. The mainly reserve squad showed incredible resilience, and it may transfer over to the first team against United. Additionally, Liverpool has owned the home fixture against the Old Trafford club in the league, not having lost since December 2007 (three wins and one draw).
Jonjo Shelvey’s spectacular performance in Europe could ensure he is locked into the starting lineup for the fixture, where he will likely join Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen in midfield.
They will have difficulty dealing with a Red Devils side that is in fine form. A win against Galatasaray in Europe this week punctuated a build-up to this match that included a 4-0 smashing of Wigan, and an impressive victory against plucky Southampton to start the month.
The Liverpool defense looks to be healthy for the first time since the match against Arsenal on September 2. Strength in depth at the back could be crucial to fight off the Red Devils’ attack, which may still be trouble even without Wayne Rooney. The former Evertonian is out until at least next week with a deep leg contusion. In his place will be some combination of Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie, all capable of inflicting damage to a defensive setup that looked less than stellar so far this season.
Liverpool’s attack hasn’t completely jelled, as the club have only scored three goals this season. Two of those came from forward Luis Suarez, while Martin Skrtel accounted for the other. If there is a fixture where this needs to be sorted, it is on Sunday. Raheem Sterling’s incredible play will have all eyes turned to him, and if he can create something against United, it could catapult him to the forefront of every football fan’s mind. The youngster has arguably been Liverpool’s best player so far this season, and another solid performance is desperately needed.
For the players, there isn’t a bigger opportunity to create a movement for league positioning and honors than at home against United. At the same time, there may be no fixture that can produce a more frustrating mentality than losing at Anfield to that club down the M62.
Liverpool v Manchester United
When: Sunday, September 23, 0830 EST/1330 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool, Manchester United 4-0 Wigan
League Position 2011-12: Liverpool 18th (2 points), Manchester United fifth (9 points)
Projected Manchester United Starting 11
GK: De Gea
DEF: Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael
MID: Kagawa, Carrick, Cleverley, Nani
FW: van Persie, Welbeck
Subs from: Lindegaard, Buttner, Evans, Scholes, Anderson, Valencia, Giggs, Powell, Hernandez
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique
MID: Gerrard, Allen, Shelvey
FW: Sterling, Suarez, Borini
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Flanagan, Coates, Carragher, Robinson, Henderson, Sahin, Downing, Assaidi
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.