Liverpool - Can Lightning Strike Four Times?
Liverpool have been an inferior team compared to Manchester United since... well, since the early nineties. It has been even more so during the last few seasons as United conquered Europe, won back-to-back-to-back Premier League titles while Liverpool were merely trailing pitifully behind, trying to keep up in vain.
However, the mediocre Scouse band won the last three league games between the two teams, a record which is nothing short of astonishing if you consider the massive gap in quality. For some reason, we made some awful mistakes against them, effectively bringing about our own downfall.
The common denominator of the three games is that Darren Fletcher appeared in neither of them. Twice we lost at Anfield without a proper ball-winning midfielder: last season Fergie opted for a suicidal 4-4-2, with Anderson and Rooney on the flanks, Carrick and Scholes in the middle. We took the lead, outplayed Liverpool for 20 minutes but their physical superiority began to tell and we faded. Still, it needed two spectacular mistakes from Van der Sar and Giggs to gift them the victory. Why Fergie did not bring on Hargreaves or Fletcher when Carrick had to go off injured is a mystery.
At Old Trafford, Fergie opted to leave out Fletcher for no apparent reason and with Anderson being in his wayward mode we were too often outnumbered in midfield. Yet again, though, we have taken the lead and should have preserved it but this time it was Vidic's turn to commit a horrible individual error (by the way, am I the only one who finds the talk about how Torres destroyed Vidic very tiring? He capitalised on one mistake from Vidic and that's all, it's not like he ran a riot or anything. Yet we never hear the end of it) and then Evra fouled Gerrard needlessly to give away a penalty and it was uphill from there, even though for 30 minutes in the second half United laid siege to the Liverpool area. Then got a man sent off (Vidic but he brought down Gerrard, not Torres, whatever the media would make you believe) and we collapsed.
And of course there was this season's clash. This time United missed Fletcher through injury and Fergie opted against using Anderson and went for a 4-4-2 with Scholes and Carrick. Again, the physicality of Lucas and Mascherano were way too much for us, especially as Andre Marriner was more than willing to allow them to commit a series of dirty fouls without punishment. When we were softened up enough by their roughhouse tactics, they struck through Torres and we were unlucky not to equalise when Valencia hit the post.
So, can lightning strike four times? First, the most important thing is that Fergie does not make the mistake of leaving Fletcher out again. We need his energy in midfield. Also, Park should play behind Rooney, in the role he performed to perfection against AC Milan - he could help to harass the unconvincing Lucas who must not be allowed to do all the bruising and tackling he did at Anfield and at Old Trafford last season. And of course Nemanja Vidic must not think that with Fernando Torres breathing down his neck it's a good idea trying to caress the ball. Just whack it out for a throw and it will be all right.
If we can gain the upper hand in midfield - which we should - then it's up to Rooney to take advantage of Carragher's lack of pace and positional sense and we should expect big things from Valencia as well, lining up against one of Liverpool's weakest links in Insua. They will, in all probability, defend deep and hoof the ball forward to Gerrard and Torres, a method that worked very well for them last season but if we do not make the same mistakes, these long balls should not pose much of a threat this time.
Of course, all this tactical talk is useless if the ref allows them to make one niggly foul after another as they did at Anfield. If they can bring the game down to their level, we'll have no chance to win. But let's hope that an in-form United can prevent that happening against a tired and poor Liverpool side.
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