TIME: 7:40 AM EST
TV: SKY Over There, ESPN 2 Over here
Manc Meeting: The Busby Babe
That's the headline I wrote after Liverpool's win at Anfield last March, and I hope to get to use it again sometime Saturday afternoon.
But that'll be after a bathtub of Alka-Seltzer. The match we love to think about but hate to watch more than any other arrives tomorrow morning (for us in the States). I'm well past the point of being able to watch these in public, and I don't know how anyone else does. Maybe it's just that all the pubs around here get littered with American United supporters, a more obnoxious breed I can't find. Or maybe I just don't want other to see my dementia. Either way.
Anyway, to the match itself. United come into Merseyside top of the league by a solitary goal (tied with City on 19 points). So for all our inferiority complexes -- i.e. mine -- a win would see Pool only three points back. And while their football at times has been utterly breathtaking, especially the pace they can sometimes play at, it's not as if they show up without holes in the armor.
First, they've only kept two clean sheets in the league. One was at home to Tottenham who were playing their first game of the year and looked completely gassed by half an hour. And the other was last week against Norwich. If you watched either of those matches, United were lucky to not concede. Quite frankly, even if Vidic plays tomorrow (and he probably will), you can have at this defense. Either of Phil Jones or Chris Smalling (I can only pray it's Johnny Evans) who partner Vidic are still young, and would have to be considered susceptible to the darts and arrows of one Luis Suarez. Or maybe they can be exposed in the air by Andy Carroll, but considering the speech impediment and violent shakes that Fernando Torres gave Vidic in their meeting, you'd have to think Suarez is considered the more dangerous.
The other weakness I think you can find is in the center of midfield. And this has been the case for a while. The last two meetings at Anfield, Lucas has essentially laid it across United's face, be it with Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, or whatever other joker they've tossed out there. Ferguson has generally opted for a 4-4-2 this season, and I don't expect much different here. And it'll most likely be Fletcher and Anderson. While they may be heavy on graft, they could be considered light on creativity -- though both are better in that department than they've been. The one worry is that their determination will likely snuff out Charlie Adam, who won't get anywhere near the time he needs to construct his perpetual motion device.
Which is why I expect Kenny Dalglish to outnumber them there, with all of Gerrard, Adam, and Lucas starting. We have our reservations about Adam, but in matches this tight -- and it probably will be -- his dead-ball delivery just might be something we can't do without. And if he's protected by Lucas and Gerrard (although I'd put Gerrard most advanced), maybe his Je ne sais quoi attitude toward tackling and closing down could be mitigated.
We know the back four is Enrique-Agger-Carragher-Kelly. This match would have to come just a bit quick for Glen Johnson, but Agger's apparently fully fit and he's too important to leave out. In all honesty I'd rather see Agger-Skrtel and not have to deal with the tightrope of death that Carragher is constantly walking these days. But I don't think he gets dropped until he gives Kenny no other choice.
As for the other three spots, my best guess is Suarez leading the line with Downing and Kuyt on the flanks. Considering United's danger from the wings, Kuyt's willingness to help lock that down is probably needed here. Downing isn't a slouch on that either.
If Liverpool can choke out the center of United's midfield, and apply just a decent amount of pressure to this defense, they'll score. The array of talent they bring from wide and up front is frightening indeed. But I haven't seen a winger yet who Enrique didn't have in his pocket this season, and Kuyt will be there to help tame Ashley Young with Martin Kelly. It's going to be high-paced, and there's going to be enough back and forth that you may want to have an ambulance outside for your assured aneurysm.
But isn't that why these are fun?