Manchester United battles their long-standing, bitter rival, Liverpool, in the FA Cup at Old Trafford, and it should the tie of the Third Round.
After a week of good results in the Barclays Premier League, United now shifts gears to focus on the FA Cup, which has been the one bogey competition for the Red Devils over the past couple of years, and what better way to turn around those misfortunes then against your most-hated rival.
However, the FA Cup, as United found out last year, offers up surprises from the less opponents, so the Red Devils need to still be at their best – or close to it – to send Liverpool crashing to yet another sorry defeat.
United has 11 titles, which is the most of any team in the highly-competitive knockout tournament’s 130 year history, with 11, and Liverpool is tied for the fourth best with Aston Villa with seven FA Cup titles.
For some odd reason, the match really has a hint of a feeling that the Reds might being able to do something similar to what Manchester City did to United back in 1973/74 – sending us down to the second tier of English football.
Stating the obvious, Liverpool has really struggled this season, and a win by United in English’s most historic cup competition would see their manager, Roy Hodgson, who has only been in the gig for just over six months, be sack by their new American owners.
After these two clubs locked horns in the beginning part of the season, and with Liverpool on the verge of bankruptcy, the Anfield club was purchased by New England Sports Venture, but that has done little to change their misfortunes.
As it stands going into this little Premier League sabbatical, Liverpool is in 12th place in the standings – and a 19 points behind United after 20 games!
United has not only had a better goals against record, 19 to 27, over Liverpool, but the Reds of the North has outscored them 43 to 24.
Many people say that this is the FA Cup, and that the league does not matter, but they are not talking about the most-anticipated derby in English football, every time Liverpool and Manchester United play – it always offers a cup final feel with the supporters.
Some positive pundits might say that their reason for their dip has been injuries to key players, which there are only three at best – Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres, but it has been their lack of will, desire and unity that has put them in this wonderful bit of catastrophe.
These two teams have squared off twice in the FA Cup in the last 11 years – in 1999 and February 2006 – with both teams tasting the thrill of victory.
However, the loss to the Scousers in 2005, which will be forever-remembered by Alan Smith’s leg break, was the first time Liverpool beat United in 85 years in the FA Cup.
After losing four straight to their Merseyside rivals, United has triumphed to two straight victories over Liverpool, but both of those victories proved that form counts for nothing.
Speaking of long-term records, Dimitar Berbatov notched the first United hat-trick against Liverpool in 64 years back in September during the Red Devils’ 3-2 win at Old Trafford.
As it does many times, the scoreline was misleading, because United was well worth the three points, and Sir Alex Ferguson put it, “They (Liverpool) didn’t offer anything – I couldn’t see us losing the game.”
United took a one-nil lead just before half-time when Berbatov outmuscled Liverpool’s No. 9, Torres, to head the Red Devils in front.
Just fifteen minutes after the restart, United had their second, and it was a brilliant piece of skill from Berbatov as he outfoxed the Liverpool defenders, and left Reina rooted to the spot with an expertly taken overhead kick.
However, as they did throughout the first part of the season, United let their opponents back into the match two goals in a six minute span.
Completely against the run of play, Jonny Evans, somewhat needlessly, chopped down Torres in the box and Howard Webb had no choice, but to point to the spot.
Gerrard calmly converted the penalty to halve the United lead, and just minutes later, they were somehow level, and the Red Devils were lucky to not have been reduced to ten men.
John O’Shea was deemed to not be the last man with another silly foul on Torres, and if United fans were truthful they could see how it could have easily went the other way, and Gerrard curled his free-kick around the poorly constructed wall to beat Edwin van der Sar.
The Red Devils would have the final say, and it was that man from Bulgaria, who etched his name in United’s history, as he overpowered Jamie Carragher to head home the winner in front of the Stretford End.
After admitting that he got last year’s team selection wrong in the 1-0 loss to Leeds United at this same stage, Ferguson will be looking to make amends for that mistake, and should select a very powerful team to face Liverpool.
Sir Alex has said that Rio Ferdinand was just rested against Stoke City, and is fine for the game with Liverpool, if selected, but the manager is still waiting on the fitness of Wayne Rooney and Edwin van der Sar.
If the big Dutchman is not available for the match with Liverpool, Sir Alex will have his new goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard, now available after his registration has finally gone through with Football Association.
There was also some really good news surfacing on United’s injury front that Antonio Valencia has returned to training after suffering that horrific leg break back in September, but the Ecuadorian will not be available until the end of next month.
The FA Cup, along with the Carling Cup in recent years, offers a chance to see bitter rivals pinned against each in a no holds barred kind of match, and that is exactly what the supporters inside Old Trafford will see when Manchester United plays Liverpool on Sunday.
Out: A. Valencia (leg), O. Hargreaves (hamstring), P. Scholes (groin), J. O’Shea (calf); Questionable: W. Rooney (ankle), E. van der Sar (illness)
E. van der Sar; Rafael, R. Ferdinand, N. Vidic, P. Evra; Nani, M. Carrick, Anderson, R. Giggs; J. Hernandez, W. Rooney
Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1