The two most successful sides in the English game, Liverpool and Manchester United, face each at Anfield on Sunday, kick off 1.30pm, and on recent evidence, the visitors will line up as favourites. There is sure to be a tense atmosphere given the timing of the match in the aftermath of the Hillsborough report that finally exonerated Liverpool fans for the awful tragedy that befell the 96 victims of the crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
Adding fuel to the already hostile environment will be the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra handshake scenario, but on this occasion both men will be expected to bury the hatchet and shake hands, as this Sunday is not about that pair at all. Also, Sir Alex Ferguson has already condemned the mindless minority for inappropriate chanting during last weekend’s Wigan game at Old Trafford, and ahead of the kick-off, the two captains, Steven Gerrard and Nemanja Vidic, will release 96 balloons in honour of the deceased.
Once the match begins, Liverpool will look to put an end to their worst start for over a century; just two points gained sees them languish way down in 17th place, just four off the bottom. In contrast, United have recovered from the opening 1-0 defeat at Everton to win their next three games, and are just one point behind Chelsea. However, they have not found Anfield a happy hunting ground of late, having failed to win there since a Carlos Tevez goal gave them a 1-0 victory in December 2007.
Sir Alex Ferguson also saw his side knocked out of the FA Cup 2-1 last January as Dirk Kuyt got the winner late on. The Dutchman has since moved on though, and at present, Liverpool have not got a recognised in-form striker. Goalkeeper Pepe Reina has had his dodgy moments already this season as well, and with United likely to welcome Wayne Rooney back into the squad, the visitors look to have much the stronger squad on paper.
Having said that, Liverpool will fight tooth and nail as they normally do in a fixture that has produced five red cards in the last nine Premier League meetings and a total of 13 reds in this fixture overall. That is more than a coincidence, and the red card market should be closely scrutinised.
Manchester United have overtaken Liverpool as the most successful league side, with 19 titles compared to the Merseyside club’s total of 18, but Liverpool can still claim to be the most successful of the two overall, boasting 41 trophies compared to United’s 38. They must cling on to that thought as they bid to kick-start their season-and what better way to do it than to beat the old enemy on such an emotionally charged day.