Liverpool v United - The Lowdown
As you probably know, the Liverpool v Manchester United clash is looming. Super Sunday or Grand Slam Sunday or whatever Sky has dubbed it, it's upon us so it's time to analyse the key match-ups all over the field.
It's never easy to pick a starting line-up and especially in Benitez's case it will be bloody difficult. However, I'll try to predict the starting elevens.
Liverpool: Reina - Arbeloa, Hyppia, Carragher, Riise - Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Kewell - Crouch, Torres.
It's almost their Marseille starting eleven, except that Crouch would come in for Kuyt - I predict this for the sake of a bit of rotation. Xabi Alonso is short of match fitness, Babel is better as a substitute it seems so for me, their midfield picks itself though it can be imagined that after starting two games in four days, Kewell will be benched. And a 4-5-1 can't be ruled out, with Sissoko drafted into midfield and Torres alone up front.
United: Van der Sar - Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra - Anderson, Hargreaves - Rooney, Giggs, Ronaldo - Tevez.
I think it's a relatively safe bet to say this will be our starting eleven. Hargreaves is fit, according to Fergie therefore he will start, the attacking quartet picks itself just as the defence.
So let's see those match-ups.
Benayoun v Evra: I think it's the most straightforward. Evra all the way, he's in the form of his life, possibly the best left-back in the world at the moment. I can't see an inconsistent Benayoun troubling him unduly but I might be wrong of course.
Kewell v Brown: If it was a 25-year-old Kewell, playing in his best form, I'd have to go for the Australian. But now I think they are evenly matched: Brown is having his best season for a while and very consistent. Kewell is in good form but he'll have a difficult task. Same goes for Babel who is a bit up and down, unpredictable. His pace could worry Brown though.
Torres v our centre-backs: That's the big one. I think it does not matter much if they play with two strikers or only Torres - it's the Spaniard we have to contain at all costs. He's Liverpool's only attacker who can claim to be in the Rooney-Tevez-Ronaldo category, his pace is exceptional, his technique is outstanding and has an eye for goal. Vidic and Rio will have a mammoth task - but if anyone, they, cornerstone's of the Prem's meanest defence, can stop him.
Anderson and Hargreaves v Gerrard and Mascherano: It all depends on Gerrard. If he's on song, our admirable partnership will be in real trouble. However, if his Hollywood passes go astray as they so often do... then Liverpool will have trouble in attack because Mascherano rarely makes meaningful forward passes and concedes possession too often. In that sense our midfielders are more of the all-rounder type. Will be very interesting.
Giggs/Rooney v Arbeloa: I think it will be Rooney if we opt for the 4-2-3-1 which usually sees Giggs playing in the hole behind the main striker. The Spanish right-back is enjoying a good season so far but will be under severe test, no matter which United player he faces. He did well against Rosicky earlier but now will have a more difficult job.
Ronaldo v Riise: No contest. Riise is past his peak though still a very good player while Ronaldo is firing on all cylinders. Clichy is much faster than Riise yet he lost Ronaldo on two occasions at the Emirates and the winger ended up with scoring one and setting up another. Hopefully he'll be up to the occasion again.
Tevez v Carragher and Hyypia: Well, it's clear that long balls won't be successful. However, neither of these two is particularly quick and they were often stretched against Arsenal so that's what we've got to do: make them run. Tevez's pace and mobility must be exploited. He was contained well by Toure and Gallas who are very quick for centre-backs but he could thrive between Hyypia and Carragher if he gets good service.
To conclude: on pure quality (especially if we look at who we can bring in from the bench) we should win this game, I firmly believe we have the better team and Ferguson so often got the better of Benitez. However, Liverpool's relief and joy over the 4-0 win at Marseille might cause problems if it liberates them and allows them to play as freely as they've rarely done under Benitez. Let's hope it won't happen and we record another Anfield victory.