Gene from The Busby Babe was kind enough to answer some questions about ManUre and the upcoming match. I know, a United supporter who can read and write. And a nice fella. Who knew?
A: Probably that the impressive start in league was accomplished with so much youth. In the 3-0 match versus Spurs and in the 8-2 match versus Arsenal, the average age of United's starting XI was just 23 years old. There have been numerous injuries in the young season and it has been a joy to watch the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, and Danny Welbeck thrive in their opportunities. In addition, both Anderson and Tom Cleverley have provided much more than anyone would have imagined as they dictated matches in the center of the park for the first month of the season.
As of late though, United have been less than impressive. The youngsters were using their pace and ability to play some fast and fluid football. The injuries to Welbeck and Cleverley, along with simple squad rotation, has seemingly broke up the rhythm of the early season success. Sir Alex Ferguson hinted early on that he wanted his young players to get opportunities early so that his older and experienced players (e.g. Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Park Ji-sung) could grow into the season after an exhausting run-in last season. Overall though, we can't complain about being top of the table in league and with the away draw at Benfica in Champions League. However, the draw at Old Trafford with FC Basel was quite shocking... and fortunate considering that it took a 90th minute equaliser by Ashley Young to earn a point. There is a lot of work to be done in Europe.
Q: On the flip side, anything about the beginning of this season worry you?
A: Yeah, the number of shots conceded that have been on goal. 97 in league play to be exact -- which is tied for the most in the league. Much has been made about David de Gea and his early season struggles but not enough has been made about how well he's played since the season opener. A big reason why we've only conceded 5 goals in league is due to numerous world-class he's made this season.
Injuries in defense has decimated United at times -- to point where Michael Carrick is starting games at center-back and Antonio Valencia at right-back. Perhaps this is an issue. Also, United's attack has been more fluid and interchangeable this season and maybe this leads to a lack of structure in shape versus the counter-attack. Our full-backs have been caught out quite often this season on the counter and with no use of a holding-midfielder, there has been no cover and our center-backs have been exposed in space on the counter.
It would also be nice if the ball stopped striking Chicharito in the face in training (concussions) or if opposing defenders stopped killing his leg (I have no idea what a "dead leg" is).
Q: With Vidic not always a guarantee and Rio Ferdinand looking for all the world to be finished, are you totally confident in a backline of Jones, Smalling, Valencia, and Evra or some combination thereof? And seriously, Johnny Evans? That's like Ferguson's joke on the world, right?
A: Vidic is probably a guarantee when healthy and if his form is anywhere near where it's been during his time at United. Rio... we'll see I suppose. He's had a few poor games this season and I'm not sure whether that's due to age or fitness (perhaps a bit of both?). I have all the confidence in the world in both Jones and Smalling -- both at center-back and right-back. They appear to be both for the now and the future. Evans was quite terrible in the early going of last season but he's actually been very solid this season. He's done incredibly well in deputising for Vidic and Rio and has shown improvement in his aerial ability.... but he is still prone to a crucial mistake. Valencia has been more of an emergency choice back there and I think he's mostly going to be played at right-back against lesser sides -- when Ferguson might anticipate United dominating possession and his attacking ability at right-back can prove useful.
I'm not sure who will the back four will be at Anfield because of injury and fitness concerns to Vidic, Smalling, Ferdinand, and Fabio. Evra is almost a guarantee to start at left-back and if Vidic is fit and not deemed too rusty(he played for Serbia on Tuesday), he likely starts. I would guess Jones starts at either center-back or right-back as well. My biggest worry is who plays right-back -- if it's Fabio (if recovered from injury) or Valencia who is tasked with marking Stewart Downing, I will need heart meds on Saturday. If it's Jones or Smalling there, I'll likely feel reasonably comfortable with whatever the back four combination is.
Q: While Anderson and Cleverly looked great to open this campaign, how far can you go with them? Can they deal with a top flight midfield against? Or does Darren Fletcher stroll right back into the side?
A: No clue. No one has ever really doubted Anderson's talent, just his consistency. But he's been very good thus far this season. Cleverley -- at worst he looks to be a solid squad player and it'll be interesting to see if he can develop into an influential player in the center of the park. Surprisingly (to me at least), the two formed a nice partnership before Cleverley was injured at Bolton. Both fit in well with United's fluid attack by contributing with late-arriving runs into the box. Each seemed to have a good understanding as well with the other -- when one went forward, the other generally stayed back to cover.
Fletcher looks to finally be recovering from the mysterious illness that hampered him for so long. Carrick and Giggs were also very good last season in the Spring for the run-in. What form the former will be in is always unpredictable and the latter has seemingly re-invented himself as a playmaker in the center. It's enough talent to compete on multiple fronts and perhaps even good enough again to win the Premier League. No way in hell though can it match a team like Barcelona. But no one can. The team that takes down Barcelona won't match them in the midfield -- finding a way to just compete there and using a different way of playing might be the way to beat them. Icelandic volcanoes help as well. Not sure if that really answered your question.
Q: If there's one thing about Liverpool that does scare you, what is it (no jokes about crime here or women here, please)?
A: The fluid movement in attack -- especially that of Luis Suarez. I know Dirk Kuyt got the hat-trick at Anfield last season but I thought it was Suarez that killed us with his movement between the lines. As I mentioned earlier, United hasn't been using a true holding player and that space between our defense and midfield lines is exploitable. If Steven Gerrard plays withdrawn off a lone striker, he could potentially hurt us as well from this space. Also, with the poor play of our full-backs as of late, I'm worried about Charlie Adam sending long diagonal balls in behind them when Liverpool counters. This kind of service for Downing into space could prove lethal. In that regard, I hope Smalling plays right-back.
Prediction: I hate this fixture.... mainly for health reason. 2-2