Liverpool v Manchester United, Premier League, October 25, 2009
Just over seven months ago Liverpool travelled to Old Trafford and gave Manchester United a spanking in front of their own support. Fernando Torres embarrassed Nemanja Vidic, Fabio Auerlio scored a cracking free-kick, Liverpool emerged as 4-1 winners – even Andrea Dossena got on the scoresheet.
Coming as it did just four days after the 4-0 home win over Real Madrid, with Liverpool finally looking like genuine challengers, Rafa Benitez was hailed as a genius who could finally deliver the title back to Anfield. Here was proof that the Merseyside giants would challenge for years to come even if they would fail to catch United last season.
Fast forward and it has been a tumultuous ride for Liverpool fans who are going through the season from hell. It is over half a century since they have lost four matches in a row, as they have done in recent weeks to Fiorentina, Chelsea, Sunderland and Lyon.
The same themes have been brought up again and again in recent weeks; the sale of Xabi Alonso, the poor form of Mascherano and Carragher, the injuries to Torres and Gerrard, the beach ball at the Stadium of Light. Rafa Benitez must feel he has gone through a whole season already and we arenâ€™t even in November.
As a result of all that has happened on the pitch, not forgetting the ongoing saga of Hicks & Gillett off the field, this clash against the champions has taken on immense importance. Ultimately, Liverpool can turn their season around with a win in this match and would only be four points behind United in the league.
Liverpool cannot afford to sack Rafa Benitez and nor can they afford not to both progress in the Champions League (Liverpool are a whopping 25/1 to win their group) or reach the competition next season. They undoubtedly have the quality to turn it round and simply need a result to light the touch paper, the situation at Anfield looks bleak right now but in his time at the club the Spanish manager has overseen a fair few famous comebacks. (Liverpool are 2/11 to win nothing this season.)
The fitness of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres (5/4 to score) is crucial to face United but there is no reason Liverpool will fear this match after winning both league games last season. Yossi Benayoun (9/4 to score & Liverpool win), the impressive performer against Lyon, will surely start and Glen Johnson should also return. The performances of Javier Mascherano and Jamie Carragher will be massive as if Liverpool can keep it tight; they will have a chance with the Kop roaring them on.
Ignore the chat about the Liverpool fans turning on Benitez, it will take just one red balloon in the away end to ignite the home fans and we can expect a stirring rendition of Youâ€™ll Never Walk Alone before the match. Throw in the returning Michael Owen (10/1 to score a brace) as well as appearances from Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney (11/2 to score first) (both hated by the Kop) and you really have a match that could be burning hot, despite the fact itâ€™s an early Sunday kick off.
Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s side have performed better than many expected this season, following the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez, but have ridden their luck at times and havenâ€™t always been that impressive. The win over Bolton last week was a case in point, whilst United claimed all three points they struggled late on and the Trotters had their chances to level.
Rio Ferdinand has not looked his composed self for club or country and when Wayne Rooney (a doubt for the clash) doesnâ€™t play the Red Devils donâ€™t look nearly as threatening. Dimitar Berbatov (2/1 to score) and Ryan Giggs have started the new season in fine fettle but a number of other United players (for example Neville, Nani and Carrick) have looked below par.
It may seem unlikely now but Liverpool have the quality to win this match. Confidence may be low but minds will be focused for the visit of United and a few weeks of frustration could come to boiling point. Benitez, Hicks & Gillett and the Liverpool fans will be desperate for a win here and this threat may spur them on to victory, since a fifth consecutive defeat just doesnâ€™t bear thinking about.
101gg predicts: Liverpool 2 â€“ Manchester United 1 (17/2)
Full match odds here.