Manchester United v Liverpool, FA Cup third round, January 9, 2010
By John Toner
In the stand out fixture of the FA Cup third round, Liverpool take on Manchester United in the 181st North West Derby at Old Trafford on Sunday.
With the Red Devils top of the league having a game or two in hand depending on who you class as their title rivals and Liverpool floundering in 12th position, the match is a stark juxtaposition of English footballs two most successful teams.
Liverpool go into the game on the back of some shocking league form having lost four of their last 6 games. Roy Hodgson suggested the fans hadnâ€™t helped Liverpoolâ€™s predicament this season when he said â€œEver since I came here the famous Anfield support hasnâ€™t really been there,â€ following the 0-1 home defeat to Wolves.
This comment has only served to further alienate the already hostile fans and, after the latest 3-1 humbling at Ewood Park, Roy Hodgson is on the brink of losing his job. With the club already ten points off qualifying for any sort of European competition and some sections of the support fervently calling for the managers head, Liverpool stumble towards this famous fixture in disarray.
By complete contrast, Manchester United approach the game in supreme confidence having won five of their last six league games and remain undefeated all season. The most ominous aspect of Unitedâ€™s form is that despite occupying the summit of the Premier League and having yet to lose a game, they have been rather inconsistent, especially away from home.
A point that was made by defender Nemanja Vidic before the 2-1 win against Stoke â€œIf someone had said we would lose this many points I would have said we would not win the league, that’s for sure. But here we are, top and still unbeaten, and if we had won just half of the away games we have drawn we would have been out of reach by now.”
The visitors to Old Trafford will be without Jamie Carragher as he recovers from a successful shoulder operation which will keep him out until February. Raul Meireles suffered bone bruising in the game against Bolton but may still feature, however Jay Spearing remains sidelined despite being able to train again following his ankle injury.
Sir Alex Ferguson has a hat trick of injury worries ahead of the clash with Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Edwin Van Der Sar all doubts for the game, however the manager is hoping Rooney and Van Der Sar will come through. Ferdinand is most likely to miss the game although United will be buoyed by the impressive showing of Chris Smalling against Stoke and the return to training of Johnny Evans.
For Manchester United this is not only an opportunity to progress in the FA Cup but a chance to kick their fiercest rivals when they are down. One that will not be taken lightly by Ferguson, the man who famously said it was his job to â€œknock Liverpool of their f**king perchâ€ when he took the United job and victory would certainly be another step towards that goal.
With his team making a habit of losing games, the fans on his back and rumours that the board are seriously considering his position, this is perhaps the very last chance for Roy Hodgson to rescue his Liverpool career. Victory may not be enough to prevent him being relieved of his command but it would certainly help his chances.
Tonerâ€™s prediction: Manchester United 2 – Liverpool 1.