The players agree – when Liverpool meets Carlo Ancellotti’s table-topping Chelsea this Sunday both sides will be out to win. It’s not a scenario many United supporters have faith in though, with the nightmare prospect of Rafa Benitez resting key players and the Kop egging on the away side to victory all too realistic.
Indeed, in a recent poll on popular Liverpool blog Empire of the Kop nearly half the supporters participating said they were hoping for a Chelsea victory next Sunday lunch time. Even if that win ends Liverpool’s faint hopes of making the Champions League next season.
Little wonder, with Untied baring down on a record-breaking 19th domestic title and the rivalry so strong these days. United and Liverpool each stands on 18, with a Merseyside win on Sunday all but handing Sir Alex Ferguson’s side an historic English title.
For United fans it grates too, with a favour needed from the club’s biggest rival hardly a scenario that most supporters dared to countenance earlier in the campaign.
“We need Chelsea to slip up now so hopefully Liverpool or Wigan can do us a favour,” said United’s 34-goal striker Wayne Rooney.
“Liverpool are a proud club with a lot of history and I’m sure they’ll want to win that game as they’re fighting for the Europa League. We just have to try and win our last two games. If Liverpool or Wigan can help us out, we’ll be happy.”
Few supporters this side of the East Lancs Road relish cheering on Anfield’s finest. Fortune has it that United does not need Liverpool to beat in-form Chelsea at Anfield. With Chelsea’s recent goalscoring ensuring that goal difference is now irrelevant, a bore draw will do Ferguson’s men nicely.
Provided the Reds beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light of course.
While conspiracy theories abound among United fans and many Liverpool supporters face a moral dilemma over the game, the players are making the right noises in public.
“There is no way they will think about anything else other than winning the game, regardless of whether it helps them get in the Champions League or not,” Chelsea’s Frank Lampard said.
“There is no chance 11 Liverpool players will go out and consider United winning the title on what happens in that game. They will go out to win. They will want to be professional.
“They will give everything, there is no doubt about that. It is a difficult match but it’s not a case of us worrying. Everyone is aware that when they go to Liverpool it will be difficult, whatever stage of the season it is.”
Liverpool has been here before of course. In 1995 the Merseysiders beat Kenny Dalgleish’s Blackburn Rovers 2-1 on the season’s final day. It would have given United a 10th English title had Ferguson’s team not failed to beat West Ham United on the same May afternoon.
The stakes are now higher though. United’s charge towards historic English preeminence is sure to clarify many Kopites thinking. But with fourth place still an outside possibility Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard says that the home side will aim for the win, whatever the fans want.
“We are underdogs for fourth position but our fans know that we have also got Everton breathing down our necks and we certainly don’t want them finishing above us,” added Gerrard.
“We have got a couple of games left now and the idea is to take maximum points to see if we can get into fourth through the back door. If we take maximum points, who knows? The teams above us might slip up.”
However, the nightmare scenario for United supporters is an Everton defeat at Stoke City on Saturday, combined with a Tottenham Hotspur win at Eastlands.
Add a Liverpool victory over Atletico Madrid on Thursday into the mix and the Merseysiders will simultaneously be out of the Champions League reckoning, guaranteed a Europa League spot next season and handed an incentive to rest players.
The more cynical among you will expect to see Gerrard joining the injured Fernando Torres on the sidelines whatever the scenario.