By Stephen Darwin
Following their defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday, Manchester United will be hoping they can dust themselves down and bounce back when they visit fierce rivals Liverpool in the Premier League this weekend.
Fans of the Red Devils will be desperate to see their side prove that the loss at Stamford Bridge was nothing more than a minor bump in the road while the prospect of further harming Manchester United’s title bid will hardly be off the agenda in the minds of Liverpool supporters.
Goal.com UK caught up with Well Red magazine editor Gareth Roberts and Daniel Harris, author of 'On The Road, a journey through a season', to address the burning issues ahead of the crunch clash on Sunday.
What are the opposition's real weaknesses that you feel could be exploited on the weekend?
GR: Obviously the situation at centre-half looks to be one Liverpool could potentially exploit, especially if we line up with Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll in the side. Saying that, while Vidic is suspended it would come as no shock if Ferdinand makes a 'miraculous' recovery and plays on Sunday. It wouldn't be the first time Ferguson has overplayed the extent of players' injuries.
DH: All over the show. In net, Reina is basically Grobbelaar without the dishonesty, supported by a defence comprising anything up to a back-seven – the bare fact of his appointment isn’t the only aspect rooting Dalglish’s Liverpool back in good old 1985.
In midfield, Meireles is a good player, but otherwise, there’s no guile, no pace, and no wingers. Gerrard’s miles past his best, and though he’s always capable of welting one in, he doesn’t have the nous to control a game, thus has rarely excelled against United, save 2009’s ultimately fruitless win. Up front, Suarez has the ability to provide a little bit extra – his movement and touch are decent, though he’s nothing to be scared of, provided he keeps his teeth to himself.
Which opposing player do you regard as their dangerman?
GR: It's got to be Nani at the moment. Rooney's still blowing hot and cold from what I've seen, while Nani has improved his consistency and is scoring and setting up a lot of goals. I'm sure United fans think he's been a bit of a 'Thriller'...
DH: None of them, unless Fergie’s XI includes bouncers, women and Lucas Neill.
Which opposing player will be getting booed the most by your fans - and why?
GR: Now that professional Manc Gary Neville, the man with the worst moustache in football, has hung his boots up (he wouldn't have got a sniff for England if Rob Jones had had more luck with injuries by the way), it's got to be the bed-hopping Shrek-lookalike Wayne Rooney. Why? He's an Evertonian playing for Man United.
DH: I doubt there’ll be much booing of specific individuals – the players are transient, just passing through, and though I don’t like any of them, United will spend far more time explaining to the home crowd exactly what we think of them and why.
Do you have any concerns about Phil Dowd being appointed as the referee for this fixture?
GR: No, not really. The constant referee debate bores the arse off me in all honesty. Saying that, I'm glad it's not Howard Webb.
DH: None whatsoever. Each time I go to a domestic game and they announce who’s in charge I think 'ah, he’s an officious moron', but it’s irrelevant; when you don’t win, a dodgy ref is never the reason. Though United were the victims of some avant-garde decisions at Chelsea in the week, that’s not why we lost - we should have played well enough to render them irrelevant.
How do you think both managers will approach this game?
GR: I think Liverpool will try to win the game, no doubt about it. We've got nothing to lose and it would be great to put a spanner in the works for United's title bid. After losing to Chelsea, I think United will be desperate to win, although I think Ferguson will revert to his more cautious approach of keeping Berbatov on the bench and starting with an extra midfielder and Rooney up front on his own.
DH: Given the way he’s set his team up so far, I’d be surprised if Dalglish went for it - he’ll certainly know that he doesn’t have the firepower or the back-four to compete in an open game. I expect him to adopt the Houllier prototype, also adhered to by Benitez, which involves cluttering as many men as possible in front of the defence and hoping to pinch a goal at some point - not a bad way of playing United, given the lack of class and drive in our midfield. And though he’ll want to beat United, a draw’s not a bad result for Liverpool, whereas we could really use a win, particularly if Arsenal beat Sunderland on Saturday.
As for Fergie, the Chelsea game was heartening in that he sent the team out to attack, not something he’s not done enough of in the last five years. Given the players missing from our back-four, it makes sense to go for it on Sunday too, particularly given the mismatch that is our forwards against their defenders.
How good is Andy Carroll & will he cause problems for Manchester United if he features on the weekend?
GR: He's yet to play for Liverpool, so it remains to be seen how he will fit in and how quickly he will settle, but he's certainly shown that he can handle the Premier League at Newcastle. I think Carroll, with the right service, has the potential to be unplayable on his day. He is fantastic in the air, has good feet and a great shot on him. If he plays, I think he will put himself about and cause United problems.
DH: From what I’ve seen, Carroll has the potential to be good, but I’ve not seen that much. Should he play, he may cause problems, he may not – both Brown and Smalling have handled far, far better players. But regardless of his ability, I’m absolutely delighted that Liverpool signed him – he’s precisely the type of character that they should have, and I’m sure that Gerrard in particular welcomed him with open elbows.
Do you feel Liverpool are more dangerous now, without Torres, than when they lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup earlier in the season?
GR: Yes. Torres wasn't exactly busting a gut towards the end of his time at Liverpool and he's been replaced by two forwards who are younger, hungrier and offer different kinds of threats. We're also a stronger side at home, and as long as United aren't handed a dodgy penalty in a matter of seconds, as they were at Old Trafford, then I'm sure it will be a much tighter game
DH: I didn’t consider them dangerous then, and I don’t now, but I’d always rather a team without Torres than with. Whatever I think of him as a man, it’s impossible to argue that he’s not an outstanding player, much superior to what has replaced him, and even when unfit or not playing well, capable of contributing decisively.
How significant is the fact that United are vying to win their 19th title - which would see them overtake Liverpool?
GR: Other than winning this match, there's not a lot we can do about that is there? We'll just have to pray another pensioner catches Rooney's eye and the scandal that follows means United take their eye off the ball.
DH: It is and it isn’t. Numbers alone count for very little; it’s not what you win, but how you win it, or even how you don’t win it; football’s about glory, not success.
That said, I’d rather a dull season with a title than a dull season without a title, and should it work out in our favour, the principal joy will be in putting yet another one over on Liverpool, all the more so given their base obsession with the bare fact of victory. And particularly given the huge sums of money being extracted from the club, it’s important to take any opportunity that presents itself – not doing so last season was a huge oversight, and things are likely to get worse, not better.
Where do you think your opponents will finish the season and who do you see winning the Premier League title?
GR: First or second. The title's between United and Arsenal.
DH: No idea where they’ll finish, but I think that, as just about the tallest midget, we’ll scramble our way to another title.
What would be viewed as a successful finish to the season for your club?
GR: Well we're still clinging to the fading hope that we'll make fourth. But realistically, given how much Roy Hodgson dragged us down, top six and winning the Europa League would be a great season in the circumstances.
DH: Winning the title would signify a partial success, as would winning the European Cup, which is, of course, far less likely. But to render the season an absolute triumph, our away form, and, more importantly, our away football, will need to improve radically and immediately.
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