TV: FSC in the colonies, ITV in the former Empire
Manc Mouthpiece: The Busby Babe
Generally, after a raucous night out, you'd like the next one to be a little quieter. Maybe a good dinner and only a couple pops with friends at an establishment you can easily walk to and from. But sometimes, a bender is called for, and you can't avoid it. Liverpool find themselves in this predicament. After Wednesday's triumph and return of feeling good to be a supporter again, there's just the small matter of taking care of the other half of that town down the M62. The one with a lot more baggage and feeling from the rest of us.
There's obviously more than a football match going on tomorrow, and I'm sure the media will do everything in its power over there to sweep this up into a fervor to rival Helm's Deep. And these are not two sets of supporters that have had the most genial of relationships with each other. However, most times based on just observation, when there's this kind of fear and anticipation of a small land war, nothing materializes. It will be loud, there will probably be some songs and chants that wouldn't be considered above-board, but past that I wouldn't expect anything different from a usual Liverpool-United tango, which is passionate and edgy enough. The league fixture at Raymond James Stadium East is probably another matter, as Suarez will return for that one.
On the pitch, there's one big worry for me. Liverpool haven't lost in the last four games with United at Anfield, and that's mostly been because Lucas has eaten whoever is in midfield against him. Obviously, that can't happen tomorrow. Even with playing the full route on Wednesday, I think we'll see Gerrard-Adam-Henderson again. There really isn't another choice unless Shelvey is brought in, and he could only replace Henderson and maybe Adam. Gerrard took up some of what Lucas would have done against City, he'll be asked to do the same here.
Even still with that odd combo in midfield, Liverpool should still swallow whatever United's got in there whole. Giggs and Carrick are fine against a team either down to 10 men or a lesser light. But not here. Paul Scholes was getting horsedicked years ago in these fixtures, I can't see why that would be different now. There don't appear to be many other options.
And United have that problem everywhere, being beat up. Rooney might miss out, Nani is going to for sure, so will Jones, and Vidic, and Ferdinand is a major doubt. This will leave them with a backline of Rafael-Smalling-Evans-Evra. And as they said in the Old Testament, if Johnny Evans is out there, you always have a chance.
Still, without Rooney, the Mancs could feature Javier Hernandez (simply the constant character in all my nightmares) and Danny Welbeck. I think Welbeck is kind of a spazz still, but he's a quick talented spaz and that could be a problem for either a tired or changed Liverpool backline.
As for other changes Liverpool have to make, there's simply no way Craig Bellamy's knees are going to make three matches in a week. If they do, it'll be some sort of miracle or we'll hear them shatter through our TVs. That means either Kuyt or Carroll to lead the line. Neither of which pleases me much, I'm guessing Kuyt's knack for the big moment sees him win out. But Smalling and Evans...boy, if there ever was a backline asking to be bullied by what Andy Carroll is in theory....
Downing, after a decent match on Wednesday, probably keeps his place. Either Maxi or Kuyt go to the right, depending on who's up front. I'm guessing Kenny will try to squeeze one more match out of his favored backline before making changes at Wolves on Tuesday.
It has always sounded petty and reeking of an inferiority complex, but I'm not the only Liverpool supporter who just aren't all that impressed by United. Especially when they're this injured. But what they are is efficient and ruthless. I fully expect Liverpool to be the side on top for more of the match, and to create more chances. But United bury the ones they get, and Liverpool generally don't. They don't have to flip this completely on its head to see both Manchester clubs out of the cups in three days' span, but they do have to make sure the scales aren't completely tipped to one side.
And oh lord would it be sweet.