In terms of pure animosity and some hatred, this is still the biggest rivalry in the Premier League, although the roads that Liverpool and Manchester United have taken over the last 20 years have been very different.
There’s no longer a question of who’s the favorite and going in with the better momentum into the match: Manchester United, every time, home & away, and definitely at the Old Trafford. Since Liverpool won 4-1 at Old Trafford on March 14, 2009, it’s been three consecutive losses for the club, each time by one goal, at a stadium United have won nine of their 10 matches in this season, while Liverpool have won only once in their last eight visits.
And it hasn’t been really going well for the Reds against United over the last couple of seasons. Luis Suarez was incredible on his first league match against Liverpool’s biggest rivals, a 3-1 win back in March 2011, but since then it’s been one home draw, a loss at Old Trafford in the post-Evra incident fallout and a home loss this season, which had more to do with the referee giving Manchester United a penalty that never existed.
And now Howard Webb gets to referee the match, which has Liverpool fans and players as well all anxious about the match. After a couple of rough years for Webb, it seems he has settled down this season, looking a lot more calmer and composed with his decision making. Still, the history of his with United and this fixture from a cup tie two years ago will rest like an overburdening shadow above the stadium with every call he makes.
When it comes to football, Manchester United have more tools to win this match, but everything rests on the ability of Robin van Persie. United’s top scorer, with 16 goals, has been clutch and clinical every step of the way. As Ferguson shifts from a winger-based style to a more centralized formation, Van Persie remains the only player who can jump out of his position to both create and finish.
For Liverpool, it’s Luis Suarez. Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing have looked good in recent weeks, winning two consecutive matches by three goals to none, but Luis Suarez and his ability to do everything for the team while staying oblivious to his own desires to dive and other nasty behaviors and to what the Old Trafford atmosphere will bring is crucial for a team that completely relies on his ability and focus.
Prediction – These matches don’t always follow the expected pattern and trend, and United have had their problems, despite their wins. They haven’t dropped points in all but one match since September 29 (losing to Tottenham), despite less than impressive ability. A draw wouldn’t be too surprising here, although Liverpool need more than just a great Luis Suarez for that to happen.