Tag Liverpool

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The hire race

May 18, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 52 comments

There will come a day when Sir Alex Ferguson’s name is associated not with Manchester United’s dug-out, but the North Stand at Old Trafford. It may not be in the coming summer, nor perhaps until the 70-year-old Scot is carried from the Theatre of Dreams in a box, but a change, as Sam Cooke once promised, is gonna come.

United’s stability under Ferguson, driven by the Scot’s obsessive-compulsive requirement for total control, is an outlier in football, where the average tenure of a Premier League manager is just 24 months. Moreover, the trend is increasingly away from the dictatorial model practiced in Manchester.

Yet, overseas owners at Chelsea and Liverpool will be looking enviously at Old Trafford as a model for storied and stable success as those clubs reach out to the market for new managers this summer.

But one day soon David Gill and the Glazer family will go through the same process now underway at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, of recruiting not only Ferguson’s successor, but the quality of manager demanded by a club of United’s stature. Yet, true to United’s cloak and dagger modus operandi it is highly unlikely that the club will hold any formal search, selection and interview the process for the role.

Indeed, football is one of the few industries remaining where senior executives are appointed, frequently on multi-million pound contracts, and then given even larger capex budgets, without any hint of due diligence. In other industries people would, quite literally, go to prison for the crass neglect of fiduciary duty.

Contrast this approach with the typical Fortune 500, or other large corporation, where an executive can expect to beat off potentially hundreds of candidates through a four or five round interview process, technical exercises and psychometric, intelligence, mathematics, language and logic testing. Often this process involves both interviews by the corporation’s board, executive management and outside consultants.

Even known candidates, whose track record is not in doubt, can still expect a due diligence process if only to ensure cultural fit at the highest levels of management.

Yet, football is an industry that is “different” Rant was told by one experienced journalist today; a sector where fickle fans, apparently, will not accept that there should be a process for finding the best candidate, leaving owners to appoint on a wing and a prayer. It is, of course, rank nonsense that helps explain the criminal failure rate of football management appointments.

No surprise, then, with the mocking tone of media coverage of Liverpool’s search and selection process for Kenny Dalglish’s successor at Anfield. Fenway Sports Group, led by Boston Red Sox’ owner John W Henry, has drawn up a long-list of candidates, including André Villas-Boas, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martínez whom, prudently, they would like to interview for the post.

Burned by Dalglish, an employee who spent more than £100 million on new players, but whose track record includes just two trophies in the past 20 years, FSG has set about deepening the due diligence process this time around. It is surely a sensible move.

To put Dalglish’s failure in context, while the Scot’s wages were around £4 million per annum, his spending was more than 50 per cent of Liverpool’s annual revenues. This is akin to newly IPO’d Facebook offering a new employee $2 billion to spend on whatever they want, and then Mark Zuckerberg complaining that HR hadn’t interviewed anybody else for the role.

Similarly at Aston Villa, who informally interviewed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday, Randy Lerner is seeking to cast the net wide to find not only the best candidate, but the man who will fit with the ethos and philosophy of the owner, staff and players. Solskjaer is not the only candidate, with Lerner undertaking a process, not simply appointing the latest hot thing.

Yet, there is still shock in the British media that FSG should want to break with football’s traditional method of appointing managers on a nod and a wink. Managers – ‘the most important employee at a football club’ – Rant was told, do not like to be interviewed because it undermines their current position. The heart bleeds that football clubs are, apparently, simply unable to recruit in the normal fashion, behind closed doors, and with a sensible level of due diligence.

Meanwhile, in the capital Roman Abramovich will likely continue the model that has served Chelsea poorly since Jose Mourinho’s departure. On each occasion Abramovich has anointed the new man seemingly on a whim – either through personal friendship, or in the case of the aforementioned Villas-Boas, because the Portuguese was the latest ‘hot thing’ on the market. The last mistake cost the Russian oligarch nearly £30 million, and his team a place in next year’s Champions League.

Which is all the more worrying when United comes round to replacing Ferguson. After all, while we know much about Mourinho, Solskjaer, and even David Moyes on a superficial basis, United’s senior executives will have little insight on a personal level. Not so much the blind leading the blind into a new era, as the partially sighted hoping that the light ahead is the end of the tunnel, and not a train wreck waiting to happen.

It’s precisely why FSG, despite the monumental mishandling of Liverpool’s transfer, communications and marketing strategy over the past 12 months, is now doing the right thing. Football industry be dammed, it’s better to get the right man, despite the negative headlines, than appoint another ill-fitting candidate on little-to-no information.

And while United fans may snigger at Swansea manager Rodgers turning down, on Friday, an interview with Liverpool, it may be best to remember that old Cooke refrain: change is gonna come. The question is, how will United manage its way through?

Suárez and police fail to ruin Evra’s day

February 11, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 71 comments

The day began with the Greater Manchester Police confiscating copies of Red Issue outside Old Trafford, and ended with Sir Alex Ferguson finally coming out fighting on the issue of racism. In between Patrice Evra wildly celebrated a Manchester United victory in front of the Stretford End, while Luis Suárez and Kenny Dalglish brought further embarrassment to their club. Just your average United versus Liverpool clash, then.

Barely two weeks on from the disgraceful scenes at Anfield, where 40,000 Liverpudlians sought to set race relations back a generation by victimising Patrice Evra, United exacted a modicum of revenge in Manchester. United won comfortably enough, but there was far more to this occasion than the odd goal in three. Set in the context of Suárez culpability over racially abusing Evra last October, the clash sparked into life before a ball had even been kicked when the Uruguayan refused the United captain’s pre-match handshake. The striker’s snub ensured a testy encounter, with players on both sides confronting each other in the tunnel at half-time, and then again at the final whistle.

But tensions were raised long before the players entered the field, with the GMP confiscating copies of Red Issue, t-shirts mocking Suárez, and arresting supporters selling the fanzine pre-match. The crime? Including a satirical, albeit tasteless, picture of a Klu Klux Klan hood on the back cover, with the words “Suarez is innocent” emboldened in red. So much for freedom of speech, then.

GMP accused the long-running fanzine of ‘inciting racial hatred’ in what is surely a massive over-reaction against an image that sought to mock Liverpool’s lack of action over racism. Inside the stadium fans reported that both fanzines and t-shirts were confiscated by stewards, although when contacted by Rant, the club insisted that it had not asked the police to seize the fanzines.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public,” said Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts.

“I have taken this cause of action as both items are potentially offensive and we cannot be in a situation where hundreds or thousands of people were displaying offensive images at a football match. The consequences of taking no action could have resulted in public order incidents inside or outside the ground.”

Sadly police took no action against the deeply offensive image of Suárez lauding it inside Old Trafford, or for that matter, broadcast to millions via television.

Tensions were further increased before kick off when Liverpool’s star striker refused to shake Evra’s hand, resulting in an frustrated reaction from the Frenchman, and a counter snub from Rio Ferdinand. Suárez’ refusal came after Liverpool manager Dalglish had promised, on Thursday, that the matter was now behind his errant player and a handshake would take place.

Indeed, the Uruguayan’s deliberate provocation almost brought dividends for the visitors, with Evra flying into a tackle with the striker barely 30 seconds into the game. Referee Dowd was saved a difficult decision when the Frenchman flipped Ferdinand on his heading, missing Suárez in the process. Had the striker’s pre-match snub been as apparent to fans inside the stadium, as it was to those watching on TV, anger may well have spilled over from the pitch and into the stands.

To those watching the Uruguayan’s actions were little more than a premeditated act of insensitivity – another in a long line of indelibly offensive behaviour by the striker. It is also likely to backfire; an act so immature that even Dalglish’s one-eye defiance can hold no water. One wonders what Liverpool owner John Henry, still silent after all these months, must be thinking over in Boston.

“I could not believe it, I just could not believe it,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“We had a chat this morning and Patrice said: ‘I’m going to shake his hand, I have nothing to be ashamed of, I’m going to keep my dignity.’ And he [Suárez] refuses. He’s a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, that certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.

“The history that club’s got and he does that and in a situation like today could have caused a riot. I was really disappointed in that guy, it was terrible what he did. It created a tension, you’ve seen the referee didn’t know what to do about it. It was a terrible start to the game, a terrible atmosphere it created.

“We’ve got to get our house in order in terms of fighting racism. It’s an important issue in this country. Football’s come a long way from the days of John Barnes when they were throwing bananas at him to where we are today. We can’t go back. We have to go forward in a positive way and ban it altogether.”

By half-time opposing players were at each others’ throats as Evra sought to confront Suárez, and those on both sides engaged in what Sky Sports euphemistically called “shenanigans” – it could have been a lot more serious than a few minutes of pushing in the Old Trafford tunnel.

Meanwhile, in the studio Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher clashed with Jamie Redknapp. The former Liverpool player placed blame for the incident on the Football Association’s insistence that the normal pre-match routine take place, while Neville called the striker’s snub “embarrassing”.

Then came the moment United fans hoped for as Wayne Rooney scored twice within five minutes of the re-start to put the Reds in control and top of the Premier League table. With no little drama Suárez bundled in a goal for the visitors, but anything less than victory would have been an injustice for the hosts in a match that United thoroughly dominated.

Once again football seemed the back-drop to a bigger story though. Evra’s joyous victory celebration in front of the Stretford End was just yards from Suárez as the Uruguayan trudged off the pitch, head hung low. Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel were only prevented from confronting the United captain by the rapid intervention of referee Dowd.

Over to Kenny for an apology? Not likely, as Dalglish once again failed to confront the issue of racism, instead blaming the media for increasing the tension surrounding the match. Laughably, the Liverpool manager also pretended that he was unaware of Suárez’ non-handshake. It is, seemingly, never Liverpool’s fault.

“I never knew he never shook his hand,” claimed the increasingly befuddled Dalglish.

“I’ll take your word for it. But I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I never saw it. That is contrary to what I was told. I think you are very severe and are bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for anything that happened here today. You know something else, when we had the FA Cup tie, because there wasn’t a 24-hour news channel in the build-up to the game, nothing like this happened.”

The striker continued in a similar vein, taking to Twitter to claim that “everything is not as it seems.” Noises coming from the Liverpool dressing room, leaked via the media, suggested that Suárez had not rejected Evra’s hand, but that the Frenchman had withdrawn the offer. There has been a long-line of ludicrous statements emanating from Anfield since October, but this one surely tops them all. It is not, seemingly, ever Liverpool’s fault.

Meanwhile, at GMP headquarters the police continue to hold more than 1,600 copies of Red Issue as “evidence” of a potential offence under the Race Act. It was a day in which football leapt from myopic denial, to the police state, all in one short afternoon.

Red Issue back page

Red Issue back page, via @andersred

Cleverley returns for Liverpool tie

February 10, 2012 Tags: , Matches 105 comments

Tom Cleverley returns to the Manchester United squad as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side takes on Liverpool for the third time this season. United face the Merseysiders just a fortnight after losing in an FA Cup fourth round tie at Anfield, but midfielder Cleverley’s return provides a timely boost in United’s pursuit of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. Cleverley has not featured since October, and not completed a match since the Reds beat Arsenal 8-2 in August, but is likely to make the bench for the Saturday lunchtime tie at Old Trafford.

England international Cleverley adds additional midfield creativity to a United side that came back from three goals down at Stamford Bridge last weekend, but slipped two points behind City in the title race. Ferguson will also be able to call upon defender Chris Smalling, but Phil Jones is unlikely to feature until next week’s Europa League fixture against Ajax.

But United appears to have come through one of the worst injury crisis during Ferguson’s 25 year tenure at Old Trafford, with up to 11 players missing at any one time through the autumn and winter. Indeed, winger Nani remains on the sidelines, while the long-term injured, including Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić will not feature.

“Tom’s training well. We were disappointed the Chelsea Reserves game was called off on Monday,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“The plan was for him to stay over with us [after last Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge] and play in the game on the Monday. That was called off. But he’s trained very well and he’ll be involved tomorrow.

“There’s not much change on the injury front for us. I think Smalling could be available, but all the rest is as it was last Sunday. Phil Jones got a knock against Manchester City, which he never quite recovered from. He’ll be fit for next week. He’ll be fit for the Ajax game.”

Manchester United versus Liverpool, Premier League, Old Trafford, 11 February 2012, 12.45pm. If Cleverley’s return does not add enough spice to the fixture, then Luis Suárez’ first appearance at Old Trafford since completing an eight match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra certainly does. With the United captain suffering consistent abuse at Anfield a fortnight ago, the Uruguayan striker is likely to receive a typically warm Manchester welcome.

However, Sir Alex believes that the debate about the potential handshake between Evra and Suárez is irrelevant, although the media is likely to focus on the moment during the pre-match rituals. Instead, Ferguson chose to concentrate on the lax defending that cost his side three goals at Stamford Bridge and defeat against Liverpool in the cup.

“I think our performance levels in the last few weeks have been good, but we’re losing goals in important games and that’s a bit of a concern,” the 70-year-old manager added.

“Last week, Juan Mata’s goal was a fantastic strike – we couldn’t do a thing about that – but an own goal and a deflected goal… we should do better. We lost two soft goals against Liverpool in the FA Cup and that shouldn’t be happening at our club. We expect a hard game tomorrow but I’m just looking for the sort of performance we’ve been showing recently. That should help us.”

Injuries to each of Ferguson’s back four, save for Evra, has certainly not helped. Indeed, the French defender’s poor form in recent matches can, in part, be attributed to potential burn-out – Evra has featured in more games than any other United player this season. Evra’s ongoing form has United fans debating the Frenchman’s future despite the manager’s persistent faith.

One man for whom there is little debate is Ryan Giggs, with the 38-year-old midfielder signing a one year contract extension on Friday. The Welshman will be just months short of his 40th birthday by the time the new deal expires in summer 2013. And Giggs will compete with another veteran, Paul Scholes, for a place in United’s starting 11 along with Michael Carrick.

Elsewhere, Ferguson will pick between Smalling and in-form Rafael da Silva at right-back, while Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck are competing for a place in attack. Ashley Young could retain his place despite the below par performance at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

“It is brilliant for him, the club and the fans that somebody of his calibre is going to continue at his age,” said Young of Giggs’ new deal.

“He has been brilliant throughout the years that he has played and is somebody that I admire and look up to. Obviously players like Giggs and Scholes have experience from their many years at the club and when they talk, you listen because they have been there and done it. They have won so many titles and medals and have achieved so much in their careers. If I can achieve part of that I’ll be thrilled. I’d say I’m an experienced player at 26 but I still listen to the seniors and want to improve.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish must decide whether to include Suárez in his starting side. The striker came off the bench during Liverpool’s draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Monday. However, Andy Carroll caused goalkeeper David de Gea significant problems at Anfield, with the young Spaniard struggling to cope with Liverpool’s direct, physical, approach. Jose Enrique could play missing the scoreless draw with Spurs though injury.

United has won six of the last seven league meetings between the sides at Old Trafford – the exception was Liverpool’s 4-1 win in March 2009. And the Reds home form is nothing like last season’s, with Ferguson’s side dropping eight points at Old Trafford already. By the same stage last year, United had dropped just two points.

Ferguson knows that there is little room for manoeuver, especially with City facing a comfortable looking run of fixtures before ‘squeaky bum time’ kicks in during the spring!

Match details
Manchester United versus Liverpool, Premier League, Old Trafford, 11 February 2012, 12.45pm.

Potential Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Kuszazck, Smalling, Fryers, Cleverley, Cole, Giggs, Park, Pogba, Welbeck, Berbatov.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Kuyt, Gerrard, Spearing, Adam, Downing; Suárez. Subs from: Doni, Aurelio, Coates, Carragher, Henderson, Carroll, Bellamy.

Stats

  • United provided one of the games of the season against Chelsea on Sunday, coming back from 3-0 down to secure a 3-3 draw and stay in the title race;
  • Michael Carrick covered the most ground in that game for the third Premier League game in a row, with 6.68 miles;
  • Patrice Evra has covered the most ground in total this season with 131.2 miles;
  • Two penalties from Wayne Rooney and a header from Javier Hernández brought United back into the game. Rooney’s goals were his 14th and 15th of the season, and have come from 87 shots at goal with 64 per cent on target;
  • David De Gea has been heavily criticised this season, but the young goalkeeper pulled off two sensational saves to keep United in the game against Chelsea. The Spaniard has made 97 saves this season, averaging 6.5 per game. That’s the fourth highest average in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Meanwhile, Liverpool welcomed back Luis Suárez against Spurs on Monday, but the Uruguay striker could not break the deadlock as Liverpool were held to a scoreless draw;
  • Charlie Adam covered the most ground for Liverpool against Spurs with 6.83 miles, and has covered 141.3 miles in total this season for Liverpool (the most of any Liverpool player);
  • Andy Carroll has been credited with improved form in Suárez’s absence. The former Newcastle United striker has averaged 4.8 miles in each of his Premier League games without the Uruguayan – his average across the season is just 3.8 miles per game;
  • Suárez has made 76 efforts at goal this season with 53 per cent on target, while Carroll has had 50 with exactly half on target;
  • Suárez has averaged a shot at goal every 22 minutes, while Carroll has had an effort every 28 minutes this season.

Form
United: WWWLWD
Liverpool: DLDWWD

Officials
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Assistants: S Bennett, A Garratt
Fourth Official: A Taylor

Evra stands tall in the cauldron of Liverpool’s hate

January 29, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 104 comments

The match did not conclude well for Patrice Evra, with the Manchester United captain allowing Dirk Kuyt to run inside and score Liverpool’s winning goal at the Kop End on Saturday. Indeed, by the end of a tortuous 90 minutes Evra looked mentally and physically shattered; beaten both by his opponents and fatigue. Yet, at no moment was the French defender defeated by the melting pot of vile – at times overtly racist – hatred directed by Liverpool’s supporters. Standing proud to the end, Evra’s side may have lost an FA Cup fourth round encounter, but the defender completed the game riding the highest of horses.

Catalysed by Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool’s hierarchy, Anfield’s regulars jeered the United number three’s every touch. This much was expect given the extent to which Liverpool has sought to, and largely succeeded in, regressing race relations at the club over the past three months. Few stood back from the organised cacophony; hate was not only directed at Evra, but deemed universally acceptable.

“There’s only one lying b*stard,” sang the Kop, echoing Liverpool’s ongoing defence of Luis Suárez – that Evra simply fabricated an allegation of racial abuse in October. This was a song delivered without irony, given that Dalglish, Suárez, Kuyt, and director of football Damien Commoli were each caught changing their stories to the independent Regulatory Commission that sat in judgement of the Liverpool striker.

Yet, it was no surprise that Liverpool manager Dalglish chose to categorise 90 minutes of abuse as nothing more than “friendly banter.” After all, the 60-year-old Scot has proven to be as unreconstructed as they come, having chosen to smear Evra, as Dalglish’s own evidence to the Commission demonstrated, right from the very start of the affair back in October.

While the atmosphere was deeply unpleasant, far worse was to come from Liverpool’s once proud supporters than mere noise. Shortly before half-time one supporter was caught on camera aiming a ‘monkey gesture‘ towards Evra. It was an image posted on this site, and to Twitter. Within minutes the picture had spread throughout the football community.

Merseyside Police confirmed on Saturday evening that a 59-year-old man from North Wales was arrested following an ‘alleged’ incident at the match. The supporter was taken to a local station for questioning.

Yet, there has been not a word from Liverpool about the incident. So quick to launch a smear campaign against Evra, the Football Association or any other party deemed to have wronged the club; so reticent to decry racism in genuine terms.

One wonders whether the club will ever come to understand the very real damaged caused by its reaction to Suárez’ sanction. Liverpool, and Dalglish in particular, not only failed to apologise for the striker’s racist abuse, but the club has now sponsored a new wave of race hate among its fan-base. The latest incident is the third this season, beginning with Suárez, and including the disgraceful abuse of Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi earlier this month.

In keeping with the pattern, Dalglish praised Liverpool’s supporters on Saturday.

“The fans are entitled to support their team, absolutely no problem,” claimed Dalglish on Saturday.

“I don’t think there was anything there that was untoward. I think both sets of fans were a magnificent advert for their clubs. Both clubs can be very proud of the fans they have here. There was a good bit of banter between both fans, which is brilliant because you don’t want to take that away.”

But the genuine concern is that Evra’s contemporaries will now be less inclined to report incidents of racial abuse given the furious reaction extracted from Liverpool supporters by their club. It is a concern touched on by a media community now growing restless at Liverpool’s approach to race relations.

“I found it horrible, I found it a very difficult day to report on,” Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Northcroft told Sunday Supplement.

“I live in Liverpool and my partner is black and she’s found this very uncomfortable. We know black friends who are Liverpool fans and they’ve also found it very uncomfortable. What we had yesterday was a black player being booed and barracked and targeted by the Liverpool fans and called a liar. And for what? His crime was to have complained about racial abuse the last time he was at the stadium. That particular case was upheld by an FA commission, but he’s being targeted and treated as a villain.”

Meanwhile, Evra, although clearly drained by the fixture’s intensity, reacted not once to the bile from the stands. Indeed, the 30-year-old has behaved with a quiet dignity throughout, keeping largely silent in the face of supporter-driven hatred, and media scrutiny.

But Evra’s silence has only been in the public sphere, behind the scenes the Frenchman proved not only to be a forthright and credible witness, but a genuine leader. Yet, with the defender so heavily abused just a day after QPR player Anton Ferdinand was sent a bullet in the post – presumably by a disgruntled Chelsea supporter – questions will be asked about football’s ability to deal with racism in the future.

“Are we saying if you make a complaint about racial abuse you’re going to get a bullet sent through the post to you or you’re going to get called a liar by 40,000 fans?” added the Mirror’s Oliver Holt.

“We’re trying to empower black players not to put up with this any more, and yet we are in danger – because of the reaction that has happened and the vilification of players who have done nothing except complain about being racially abused – of pushing things back to a conspiracy of silence.”

In this Liverpool is highly culpable, as is the FA for allowing one of the country’s most venerated club’s to become a force not for unity, but division.

“Football at times can be like pantomime, you can boo the referee if you feel he makes a bad decision and you boo a player if you feel he has feigned an injury or made a bad tackle and you can live with that,” PFA chairman Gordon Taylor told talkSPORT.

“But when you are booing a player because he has made a complaint that was upheld by an independent panel, you worry that it is going to put off anybody complaining again because of the backlash and furore we have seen.

“That’s just what we don’t want because there is no point in having a campaign to eliminate such a highly sensitive issue as racism if it is going to get drowned out by the backlash.”

In that there is a lesson. Suárez’ punishment may have sent the proverbial message that racist abuse on the pitch is not acceptable. Perhaps it is now time for the Uruguayan’s club to face a similar judgement.

Fergie urges calm for Liverpool cup clash

January 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 5 comments

Amid the tension and media interest generated by Luis Suárez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra in October fans could be forgiven for losing sight of the sideshow this weekend: the fight for a place in the last 16 of the world’s oldest cup competition. Yet, the simmering hatred ingrained into Manchester United’s rivalry with Liverpool has an added dimension this weekend, with the visitors’ first outing at Anfield since the Uruguayan’s transgression in October. It makes for a fascinating FA Cup fourth round tie; one in which the subplot still threatens to grab all the headlines.

Sir Alex Ferguson may be unwilling to talk about Evra – in public at least – but there is little doubt that Liverpool’s actions in both vociferously defending Suárez, and fingering Evra for the Football Association’s eight match ban of the striker, has irked the Scot. Ferguson’s aggressive dismissal of media questioning on Friday is all the tell any supporters need.

It is not as though one has to look far beneath the surface to uncover the deep emotions that this tie has always uncovered. Mutual resentment did not require Suárez’ actions to bubble up from beneath the surface, and spill over the edge from rivalry to hate. Yet, October has certainly catalyzed the process; acting as a reference point for one of football’s most divisive encounters.

Will hate spill over into something more on Saturday? Certainly with tensions running so high both Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish were circumspect in their comments on Friday. Despite this the damage has surely already been done by the Anfield club: Evra, United’s captain, can expect to ride the gauntlet of abuse on Saturday. None of it is likely to phase Senegalese-born Evra.

Meanwhile, United supporters, just over 5,000 of them, were urged to be “loud and witty” but no more by Ferguson. Travelling fans will need every ounce of restraint in an encounter that needs no kindling.

Supporters need only recall the last occasion United last visited Anfield in the FA Cup when Alan Smith snapped is right leg in two places, and home fans saw fit to charge the striker’s ambulance. It was no isolated incident in a long history of dark moments between these two clubs.

Liverpool versus Manchester United, FA Cup fourth round, Anfield, Saturday 28 January 2012, 12.45pm.There is a football match, of course, and if Ferguson’s men are to secure the FA Cup for the first time since 2004 they will have to both overcome the odds and history. Indeed, with up to 11 players injured, Ferguson’s men must win the hard way if United is to beat Liverpool at Anfield for the first time in almost five years.

“It’s a massive game for both clubs. There’s a tremendous profile around it,” admitted Ferguson on Friday.

“As Steven Gerrard said yesterday, there is a responsibility on the players to behave properly and also both sets of fans. We want to make sure we are talking about the game, nothing else. It is something you want to look forward to. That is what I intend to do.

“I always think home draws make you favourite. In my time there haven’t been many cup ties between the clubs. It’s one to look forward to and I think the players will follow that.”

Ferguson would not be drawn on Evra’s role, although there was never any question of the French defender being left out of United’s side on Saturday. Indeed, Ferguson has steadfastly refused to discuss the affair, even in the wake of the FA Regulatory Commission’s damning indictment of Suárez.

Instead, Ferguson was keen to talk up supporters’ responsibility on Saturday, both for maintaining order in a testing atmosphere and for driving United towards victory.

“Our fans were terrific there this season. The issue of clubs reducing the number of tickets for our supporters has been going on for quite a while now. It has become a convenient way of selling their hospitality. But the stewards have a difficult enough job as it is. We should be helping.”

Whatever the distractions United must win a tie without a team of absentees. Long-term injury victims Tom Cleverley, Nemanja Vidić, Darren Fletcher and Michael Owen are joined on the sidelines by a plethora of senior pros. Ashley Young, although back in training, is not ready to take part, while Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand will not be risked.

Meanwhile, United waits on news of winger Nani’s injury, with the club fearing a broken metatarsal bone. Wayne Rooney, who hobbled away from United’s victory at Arsenal last week, may not be risked, and Michael Carrick faces a late test.

Despite the absentees Ferguson’s men head into the tie with one of England’s most in-form forwards in Danny Welbeck. The once gangly kid has grown into a Premier League striker of the highest class over the past 18 months. United will surely need the Longsight-born forward to be at his dynamic best on Saturday.

No wonder Ferguson singled out the 21-year-old England international for praise.

“We were always aware of Danny Welbeck’s ability as a kid,” added Sir Alex on Friday.

“It was just a matter of waiting for Danny to develop into a man and we’re seeing the signs now. He has a great physique but I think there’s still more to come. I don’t think he’s finished growing yet. Our stats show there’s still a bit to do before he becomes a complete adult in a physical sense. He has a good attitude but then he should – he’s a young player with an opportunity at Manchester United.”

Should Rooney not make the tie as seems increasingly likely – the Scouser has not trained all week – Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández will compete for a place along side the United youngster. With so many injuries Ferguson’s back-four picks itself, although the Scot must choose between Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Paul Scholes in central midfield.

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Dalglish will be without Suárez, with the Uruguayan serving the sixth of an eight match ban. Jay Spearing may return to the squad, although Dalglish is unlikely to make many changes from the 11 that knocked Manchester City out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday.

Yet, despite Liverpool’s mixed recent form the Anfield side has not yet lost at home this season. Dalglish’s side has recorded five wins and eight draws at Anfield, although the side is struggling to keep in touch with the top four. Yet, there can be no room for any doubt that Liverpool’s players will up the mediocre level of commitment displayed, for example, in the recent defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Hostility from the stands will surely be met by passion on the pitch.

It is incumbent on Ferguson’s men to quieten both.

Match Facts
Liverpool versus Manchester United, FA Cup fourth round, Anfield, Saturday 28 January 2012, 12.45pm.

Potential Line-ups
Liverpool (4-5-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Henderson, Spearing, Adam, Gerrard, Downing; Carroll. Subs from: Doni, Bellamy, Kuyt, Kelly, Coates, Rodríguez, Carragher, Aurélio, Shelvey, Flanagan.

United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Giggs, Carrick, Park; Hernandez, Welbeck. Subs from: De Gea, Fryers, Cole, Fabio, Lingard, Keane, Scholes, Berbatov.

Form
Liverpool: LWWDLD
United: WLLWWW

Officials
Referee: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)
Assistant Referees: Michael Mullarkey & Stuart Burt
Fourth Official: Howard Webb

United Rant Live: Liverpool v United

January 27, 2012 Tags: , , Matches 259 comments

Liverpool versus Manchester United is the biggest game of the season at any time, but an FA Cup game at Anfield, with 5,000 travelling Old Trafford regulars, and all the drama surrounding Patrice Evra, means this fixture has an extra dimension.

For the second time on United Rant, the podcast regulars will be live blogging a game this season. Join in on the comments below or Tweet us. Paul – @UtdRantCast and Ed – @unitedrant.

The game kicks off at Anfield on Saturday, 28 January 2012, 12.45pm GMT. We’ll be with you around 45 minutes before the whistle!

Page will automatically refresh every 20 seconds or hit F5.

 

[liveblog]

Be witty, be loud – just don’t mention Suárez

January 24, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 11 comments

It recalls that classic Fawlty Towers episode. You know the one, where Basil does everything he can to ‘not mention the war’ as a group of German tourists visit his ramshackle hotel. Except, of course, the bit about not mentioning the war. Sir Alex Ferguson appears to have heeded that particular, if farcical, lesson this week, writing to fans attending the FA Cup fourth round tie with Liverpool at the weekend to appeal for good behaviour.

Fair enough one might think, with the tie likely to be even more tense than usual, and supporters’ groups keen for a full ticket allocation to be restored at Anfield. Curious though that Ferguson chose to complete the letter, sent to just over 5,000 fans, without a single mention of the Luis Suárez affair. After all, the fallout from Suárez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra, and subsequent eight match ban, will still be felt at Anfield on Saturday even if the Uruguayan is absent.

Indeed, Suárez is one of the key reasons the tie has been shifted to an early kick-off, with the Football Association calling on the clubs to maintain order.

“FA Cup ties are tense affairs at the best of times,” Ferguson wrote in the letter to travelling United supporters.

“Add in the fact that Manchester United against Liverpool is the biggest game around and it becomes even more so. Your support is vital to the team and down the years that has been especially true at Anfield. But please put the emphasis on getting us into the next round and giving the sort of support you are famous for – positive, witty and loud.

“I wrote to fans attending the away match in October urging them to co-operate with stewards and officials at Liverpool so we can make a strong case for restoring our allocation for future United games at Anfield. The fans did almost everything asked of them that day and as a result, we have a much improved allocation for this important FA Cup tie. Please do everything you can to continue that good work and protect next season’s allocation.”

Ferguson continues, much as he did in October, to demand that United supporters respect local stewards and Anfield’s ground regulations. It’s a short-hand admonishment for those United supporters that neither sit nor keep the gangways clear at away fixtures.

In that narrow sense Ferguson’s appeal is perfectly sensible. Diligent work by supporters’ groups such as IMUSA and MUST, keen to stem a rising tide of reduced ticket allocations at away matches, will only pay dividends when United’s opponents run out of ammunition. Yet, Ferguson’s letter does not quite hit the mark either; not in the current climate, not with the stench of Suárez’ actions still hanging over the tie.

Indeed, the Suárez affair continues to place a strain on relations between Liverpool and United. The Anfield club released a series of inflammatory statements after the lengthy sanction to the Uruguayan was handed down by an FA Regulatory Commission. Liverpool’s repeated briefing of media outlets during the two month wait for a verdict is known to have irked Ferguson. Liverpool went on to slander Evra, accuse the FA of institutional conspiracy, and fail to even partially understand the nation’s mood. It is an episode that has brought shame on a once proud club; one of England’s oldest and most successful teams.

Meanwhile, Evra, United’s captain for the season, is bound to receive the ugliest of receptions at Anfield, all in the name of ‘supporting’ the Frenchman’s abuser. Few on Merseyside, it seems, will understand the irony when the all-too-inevitable barrage of abuse heads the defender’s way.

This is, of course, where Ferguson’s communication with supporters this week falls short. The legendary manager is also likely to dodge questions on the subject during his Friday press conference. Unlike hotel owner Basil Fawlty, Ferguson is simply not going to mention the war.

In reality the match will be dominated by talk of Suárez’ actions and eventual ban. The atmosphere, fuelled by Liverpool’s bloody-minded defence of the striker, is bound to increase tension between supporters. One can only hope that hostility does not extend beyond the verbal, to something far more sinister – much as it did the last time United visited Anfield for a cup tie in 2006.

Meanwhile, Evra will mercifully not face the burden of shaking Suárez’ hand on Saturday lunchtime, with the Uruguayan facing the sixth of an eight game ban. That pleasure will come when the sides meet in the Premier League next month. Liverpool’s players, meanwhile, will likely perform their usual trick of significantly increasing the intensity of performance against United. Few Anfield supporters will recognise the side that lost so tamely at Bolton Wanderers recently.

Which brings us back to Ferguson’s letter. Well meaning no doubt, but ultimately lacking the bite that it might have given the circumstances.

Ferguson’s Letter

Sir Alex Ferguson letter

via @TuftyMUFC

Liverpool loses dignity, respect and legitimacy

January 4, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 92 comments

So the arguments are done, the verdict filed and the report offered: all 115 pages of it. And the ban – eventually – accepted by Luis Suárez and Liverpool for the Uruguay international’s racially motivated abuse of Patrice Evra on 13 October. Except they haven’t. Not really, with club and player still protesting innocence, defaming the Football Association and Patrice Evra in the process and, in full conspiratorial mood, suggesting evidence was deliberately missed by the independent panel. No genuine apology has been offered or ever will be by the Merseyside club or player for Suárez’ abuse of the United defender 10 weeks ago.

The truth, as established by the Independent FA Regulatory Commission is that seven times Suárez aimed abuse at the United player. Seven times he did so by referring in derogatory terms to the colour of the Frenchman’s skin. The facts, as former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez once famously said, are no longer in doubt.

But the truth, it was once said, should never get in the way of a good story. Indeed, it has been one of the most disgraceful episodes in Liverpool’s history as the 119-year-old club set about deliberately prejudicing the most sensitive hearing the FA has held in years. From the get go, so the FA’s report tells us, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish slandered Evra, accusing the Frenchman of “doing this before” – an erroneous and offensive, but widely spread, piece of misinformation that the Senegalese-born Frenchman had made previously false accusations of racism. He hasn’t. Ever.

Meanwhile, the club issued a series of media briefings aimed at winning not the hearing, but in the court of public opinion, while constructing a case that we now know was built entirely on a lie. The lie that in Uruguay all instances use of the word “negro” is acceptable. The Commission, aided by two linguistics experts, systematically dismantled the excuse over 115 pages of the most thorough investigative report English football governance history.

Kenny Dalglish

Yet, Dalglish and player are steadfast in their refusal to fully apologise; utterly insistent that a widespread conspiracy, involving Manchester United, the FA, an Independent Commission and the media has taken down their man. Injustice they cry! It is has become a cult of total denial; a collective mental illness, led by the clan leader, Dalglish, who is taking hordes of followers with him.

“Ask a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not. They will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suárez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable,” Dalglish told the media on Tuesday night.

He deliberately ignored the two linguistic experts used by the Commission that contradicted this position. The mind boggles.

“His wife calls him that and I don’t think he is offended by her. We have made a statement and I think it is there for everybody to read. Luis has made a brilliant statement and we will stand by him. We know what has gone on. We know what is not in the report and that’s important for us.

“I think it is very dangerous and unfortunate that you don’t actually know the whole content of what went on at the hearing. I’m not prepared, and I can’t say it, but I am just saying it is really unfortunate you never got to hear it. That’s all I’m saying. Wrong place, wrong time. It could have been anybody. I can’t answer for the FA, you ask them.”

Readers may be forgiven for thinking that, out-of-context, this is the rant of a madman, fuelled by suspicion, hate and delusion. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Except this is no madman; Dalglish is quick-witted and in full control of his faculties, but still prepared to spread disinformation to the last. It is far more insidious than mere paranoia.

Almost universally outside insular Liverpool’s confines, the world of football has condemned the club for its stance. After all, Liverpool is a world renown institution that is a flag-bearer for English football. The club’s management should know better. And while United supporters can watch, dumbstruck by the utter ineptitude down the East Lancs Road, it is to football’s discredit that Liverpool has set out to destroy much of the work done to eliminate racism in football.

Voices of reason

Yet, the voices of reason will still hope that a recalcitrant Dalglish, perhaps prompted by the embarrassingly silent owner John W Henry, will eventually see sense. History suggests those voices do not hold their collective breaths.

“An apology would certainly help things because hen people do apologise it certainly moves things on,” Show Racism the Red Card chief executive Ged Grebby told Goal.com on Wednesday.

“I think that it would help the situation no end if he accepted that he had done wrong and personally apologised to Patrice Evra. If there was an element to this that he did understand the language differences then the easiest thing to do would have been to apologise.

“I think that Liverpool Football Club owe Patrice Evra an apology. They raised this issue about him having previous over the Chelsea incident when, if you look at that, it was two members of Manchester United’s staff that reported it. It was a legitimate incident. It wasn’t a red herring.

“The FA have sent out a really strong message to say that it is not acceptable in the game for there to be any kind of abuse where you are using people’s skin colour, religion or culture.”

Support for this position has come from across the football world, including those outside of a often parochial England. Indeed, for once the FA has set an example for which European nations can learn much. While racism is endemic in Spain, for example, the FA has taken a strong step in England.

Pressure from the FA?

And that is apparently a key tenet of Liverpool’s paranoid attack. That in seeking to take a strong line against racism, the Independent Commission has been pressured by the FA executive to, essentially, fake the findings of the report, an erroneously sanction Suárez. It is a nonsense that few outside of Liverpool’s fraternity will pay any heed to.

“Racial abuse between players on the field of play has been an unspoken taboo for too long, an area that has been unsatisfactorily dealt with by English football despite many cases over the past ten years,” said Piara Powar, Executive Director of Football Against Racism in Europe.

“We would also call on Liverpool FC to think again about their public campaign to dispute the charges and contest the principles involved in the case. As a club with an international standing the vehemency of their campaign is unquestionably causing them reputational harm, and has lead to Liverpool fans to become involved in a backlash of hatred on web forums and other public arenas.”

Liverpool backlash

That backlash has included some of the most obscene racist and deluded thinking ever experienced in the English football community. Racism, it seems, is more alive than ever if the content created on social media sites by Liverpool supporters is a barometer. The sad irony is that those Liverpool supporters subjecting Evra, Stan Collymore and others to racist abuse, do so in the name of ‘supporting’ a player accused of the very same crime.

Liverpool has much to answer for. The storm of vitriol, deliberately whipped up by the club and Dalglish, has intensified because of United’s involvement. Victimisation is well practised in Liverpool, but ‘injustice’ at United’s hands could never be accepted. Dalglish’s tweet, for example, when the panel’s verdict was announced shortly before the New Year that Suarez should “Never Walk Alone” pandered to the masses in crudest fashion.

It is a dangerous time for the game, concludes Professional Footballers’ Association chairman Gordon Taylor, who warns that racism is a curse that football must collectively challenge. Seemingly, in spite of Liverpool’s intransigence.

“Some issues are bigger than a player, the club or the game and racism is one of those. We have to learn from it and there should be no misunderstanding or ambiguity in the future,” adds Taylor.

“You don’t want such issues to divide clubs or society. We’re all in a football family but we’re all under the law of the land. Once a penalty has been paid and carried out we move on in a positive manner to make sure the penalty acts as a deterrent. The educational process continues.

“We all know the word ‘negro’ can be taken to mean a very inflammatory word. Any reference to the colour of a person’s skin has to be eradicated. In the heat of battle things can be said, but sometimes they go beyond what’s acceptable.  We have had 20 or 30 years of campaigning against racism. I hope we can move on from this and learn our lessons.”

Sadly, it is a lesson unlikely to be heard on Merseyside if the past two months is a barometer. One of England’s finest clubs, mired in hate and paranoia. Now devoid of dignity, barren of respect, and when it comes to race relations, without a shred of legitimacy.

Refs and racism in focus amid muddle of tactics

October 17, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 40 comments

It was never going to be a quiet affair. Manchester United at Anfield rarely is and Liverpool’s rejuvenation in recent times ensured a feisty contest from the outset on Saturday lunchtime. Controversial refereeing and post-match accusations of racism simply add to the drama of the occasion, which remains Britain’s biggest and most intensely fought match.

Yet, whatever wrongs United will feel at Charlie Adams’ tumble or Patrice Evra at Luis Suarez’ alleged racist language, Ferguson’s bewildering tactics and team selection also deserve attention. In truth it was not one of the Scot’s finest days, an observation he will only briefly reflect on as fixtures come thick and fast in the coming weeks.

United’s team and formation felt wrong from the start, with far too much negativity, and too many players out of position. That Ferguson’s side went to Anfield in search of a point says much for the Scousers’ progress in recent months, however inconsistent, but for also for United’s attitude after three defeats in-a-row at Anfield. Ferguson sought and was happy with a point from the trip 30 miles west.

The safety-first formation, without Wayne Rooney and Nani until 20 minutes from the end, also included Phil Jones and Darren Fletcher as central midfield holding midfielders. The formation left Ferguson shorn of this campaign’s two best players, while Danny Welbeck was isolated in attack. Meanwhile, Park Ji-Sung, the coward’s winger, focused on retaining United’s shape and not providing attacking impetus. No wonder United appeared so disjointed against a Liverpool outfit that has improved only marginally under Kenny Dalglish from a very low base.

Rooney, said Ferguson, was left out of the fixture after learning of UEFA’s three-match Euro 2012 ban. It was, and remains, a limp excuse, smacking of a manager’s distrust of the player’s recent performances at Anfield. Or his maturity. Or, perhaps, both. “He’s devastated by the suspension,” said Ferguson disingenuously. “I felt with these circumstances that he’s better off starting from the bench.”

Nani’s omission was simply tactical, with Park’s defensive discipline preferred over the Premier League’s leading dribbler and, according the statistics, second best crosser this season. Security over creativity and end-product. It was the same story in central midfield, with Anderson – so often lauded as a potential fantisista (albeit rarely delivering) – dropped in favour of Jones, for the youngster’s first game in midfield for his new club. At Anfield of all places. The experiment failed.

And the muddle so nearly ended in defeat, with Liverpool bossing possession and creating more chances than United, until the final quarter-hour, when Ferguson’s side finally found its attacking feet.

“It only became a good game after Liverpool scored,” Ferguson added. In truth the match only came to life when the Scot introduced Rooney and Nani, and then, with 15 minutes remaining, the match-saver Hernández. Each should have been on from the start demonstrating the bold, creative, attacking play for which United grabbed so many plaudits early in the season. All that now feels a long time gone.

“We looked upon it as a two-team situation as we wanted to make sure there were no silly mistakes,” Sir Alex explained.

“They had no real chances apart from Suarez when there was a lucky break but, other than that, they were never a threat to us. That job had been done, that’s why we were bringing Wayne and Nani on when they scored the goal.

“It was probably a typical United-Liverpool game. It was very intense, of course, and I don’t think the game really got started until Liverpool scored. It was a good game after that. When you’re one-nothing down with 15 minutes to go you can’t be confident, but we’ve got the players who can do that.”

But this tactical muddle has been vastly overshadowed by subsequent events.

First, there is the controversy surrounding Adams’ 67th minute dive to earn Liverpool the goalscoring free-kick. Adam’s was a tumble so blatant that MUTV was today forced to censor United defender Jones’ angry interview on the matter. Midfielder Adams tacitly admitted the dive – albeit under the guise of a denial – claiming that “it’s just the way it goes” when there is minimal contact. Of course it is Charlie, when you live in Steven Gerrard-land!

Then Evra accused Suarez on French TV station Canal Plus of calling the 30-year-old Frenchman a “n****r” at “least 10 times.” It is an accusation that United will take to the Football Association after Evra reiterated his grievance in a meeting with Ferguson on Monday. Uruguayan Suarez “vigorously” denies the allegation, although player and club are hardly likely to do anything else.

“We spoke to Patrice today and he’s adamant that he wants to follow it on,” added the United manager.

“It’s not an easy one because everyone knows that Manchester United and Liverpool have great responsibilities in terms of what happens on the field. I thought Saturday’s game was a terrific game and both sets of fans were good; there was none of the silly chanting we’ve heard in previous years and both sets of supporters deserve praise for that.

“It’s not something that we want to level at Liverpool, and it’s not against Liverpool. Obviously Patrice feels very aggrieved at what was said to him and it rests in the hands of the FA now.”

More concerning though is Liverpool’s reported demand that Evra face sanction should the accusation against Suarez not be proven. In a case that is likely to come down to one man’s word against another, with no conclusive evidence yet forthcoming, the Anfield club’s call is tantamount to denying Evra his moral right to freedom of speech.

Few expect the FA to act on Adam’s dive nor Suarez’ alleged racism, even if the latter is proven.

Highly important though issues of racism and diving are, neither should obscure analysis of United’s sixth average performance in the past seven matches. The other was the reserves’ victory over Leeds United at Elland Road in the Carling Cup. And each has come without Tom Cleverley, in whose absence the heart has grown significantly fonder.

Yet all this adds to a ‘Lancashire’ derby that although no spectacle on the pitch has become one of the more dramatic in recent times. Indeed, the fall out is set to roll on while the FA conducts an investigation of Evra’s allegations. United, meanwhile, may have cause to warn Jones of the negative headlines inflammatory remarks always bring, no matter how in-the-right United’s 19-year-old defender may be.

Meanwhile, Ferguson may well reintroduce the aforementioned Nani, Rooney and Hernández at Romanian no-hopers Otelul Galati in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Figure that one out.

Galati, aside from being the weakest side in this season’s Champions League, is a club also under scrutiny for racism, with the Romanian FA having fined the Romanian champions for racist supporter chanting against Rapid Bucharest earlier this year.

All we need now is an outrageous dive and a controversial goal to complete the full circle this week.

United primed for Anfield trip

October 15, 2011 Tags: , Matches 88 comments

Manchester United versus Liverpool is, says Sir Alex Ferguson, the biggest fixture of the season. Few fans will disagree. Despite Liverpool’s failures over the past 20 years there is still something highly evocative about the fixture, from the historical rivalry between these old Lancashire towns, to the genuine animosity between managers Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish. There will be little love lost as United visits Anfield Saturday lunchtime.

It is a game all about intensity of the encounter and history of the event, even if the gulf between the clubs has grown significantly. Now a cliché, of course, but on the pitch Liverpool has been well and truly “knocked off their perch,” with United claiming a 19th domestic championship last season. That Liverpool has only rarely challenged for the title over the past two decades says much for the huge gap that has developed between the clubs.

United’s larger support, better team and greater success on the pitch has eroded the rivalry for trophies perhaps but not that between supporters, with the usual hostile Anfield atmosphere expected.

“I think the fans play a part, there is no doubt about that,” said Ferguson of the fixture between England’s two giants of the game.

“In my time we’ve had nine players sent off there which is unusual for Manchester United so that is all down to the atmosphere that can be created there. Although things may change in the next few years with Manchester City, whether the derby game can be equal to Manchester United-Liverpool game, because I’ve always considered it to be the game of the season in English football and at the moment I think it remains that.

“I think they’re the two most successful clubs in England historically and also from an initial point of view when industry changed and they opened the ship canal. It had a lot to do with the history of both cities and both clubs. It’s an inherent situation. It’s been here since I came.

“I think both clubs need each other. The history both clubs have should be appreciated by both sets of fans and that’s sometimes annoying when I hear silly chants about Munich and Hillsborough, I don’t think it does either club any good at all because without each other it wouldn’t be the English league.

“The history of both clubs should be respected and hopefully we can see that because it’s fantastic for fans to see these games – the rivalry, great footballers, the intensity… to me it’s the game of the season.”

United heads into the fixture welcoming back key players from injury, including influential captain Nemanja Vidic, who completed 90 minutes of Serbia’s Euro 2012 qualification defeat in midweek. However, midfielder Tom Cleverley isn’t ready to make the bench, although Chris Smalling may be fit for the 236th tie between the sides.

“The big question mark is whether Vidic is ready for the game tomorrow,” Ferguson added.

“He’s certainly had his first game for Serbia on Tuesday, played a full game, so it’s certainly a consideration because he’s such a good competitor. He came in yesterday and felt OK. But the Liverpool game is such an intense, draining game that you want everybody to be 100 percent so it maybe more down to how he feels himself really.

“Jonny Evans’s form has been absolutely brilliant so I don’t have any real concerns about who I play because they’re all playing well.”

Liverpool v Manchester United, Premier League, Anfield, 12.45pm, 14 October 2011.Elsewhere Ferguson has a choice to make in central midfield, even without Cleverley’s return. Darren Fletcher completed 90 minutes for Scotland against Spain in the week despite overcoming flu, while Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Anderson will all compete for a spot in central areas. Certainly Anderson, the Brazilian who started the season so well but has failed to impress in recent matches, is due a decent performance.

Meanwhile, Ferguson must choose whether to rush Javier Hernández back from international duty in South American to partner the embattled Wayne Rooney in attack.

Ferguson will also boast a plethora of choices at right-back, even if Smalling fails to make the fixture. Phil Jones came through England’s fixture in Montenegro, while Fabio da Silva is fit after appearing for Brazil. Ferguson confirmed that the youngster’s brother Rafael is back in training, while there are no fresh injuries resulting from the past week’s international fixtures.

Dalglish, meanwhile, can boast a fully fit squad including, in Luis Suarez, a striker who has impressed with moments of brilliance this season. That said, much like his team, the Uruguayan suffers from inconsistency. Behind the Scouse-friendly headlines the statistics bear witness to a striker that has some way to go before the Liverpool-driven comparisons with Lionel Messi are realistic.

Whether the fixture survives without controversy is another matter altogether. Indeed, the United manager may have genuine concerns about referee Andre Marriner, who sent off Nemanja Vidic in 2009. This is the same official who failed to dismiss Gerrard despite the Liverpool captain audibly swearing at the West Midlands-based referee and raising a double-fingered salute. Ferguson will hope that Marriner is far stronger in the face of a hostile atmosphere than in the past.

In the end, however, United’s result at Anfield will depend far more on Ferguson’s outfit performing better than in the last three visits. Those three Liverpool victories is the Anfield club’s best run at home against United since nine in a row between 1972 and 1979.

“We have not played as well as we should have [at Anfield],” Rio Ferdinand told ManUtd.com

“We have given away some soft goals here and there. Over the first seven years I was at this club, we had a really good record against Liverpool, home and away. A lot of those victories were based around defending well as a team – playing collectively, not as individuals. If we do that at the weekend, I am confident we can get a good result.”

The few United supporters allocated a ticket for the fixture expect nothing less.

Match Facts
Liverpool v Manchester United, Premier League, Anfield, 12.45pm, 14 October 2011.

Likely Line-ups
Liverpool (4-4-2): Kelly, Reina; Carragher, Škrtel, Enrique; Kuyt, Lucas, Gerrard, Downing; Suarez, Carroll. Subs from: Doni, Johnson, Agger, Aurélio, Coates, Wilson, Flanagan, Robinson, Henderson, Rodríguez, Spearing, Adam, Bellamy, Coady, Sterling.

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Jones, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Amos, Fabio, Pogba, Valencia, Carrick, Diouf, Giggs, Park, Welbeck, Berbatov, Owen.

Performance Stats

  • United retains four players in the top 10 in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Rooney is in top spot, with midfielders Anderson and Ashley Young in third and fourth respectively
  • Rooney is the Premier League’s top goal scorer with nine goals this season from 32 attempts at goal, with 59 per cent on target
  • Nani is United’s top passer with 185 passes this season and is also the Premier League’s top dribbler having completed 32 dribbles, and 29 crosses this season
  • Young, meanwhile,  has completed 30 dribbles and delivered 25 crosses.

Form
Liverpool: WLWWW
United: WWDDW

Officials
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: S Ledger, M McDonough
Fourth Official: P Dowd