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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Manchester United, 09.19.10

A match of some importance will unfold tomorrow.

A match so important that, in a show of loyalty that far outreaches the time he's been with the club, Roy Hodgson will refrain from texting Alex Ferguson until it's over. No chumming about. No slaps on the rear. And maybe just a bit of lustful gazing.

So with Hodgson breaking up the like-fest, it's clear that Liverpool will enter Old Trafford guns blazing, then, yes? No-holds barred? Taking no prisoners? Trying not to lose?

However they enter, we know what to expect from Fergie and United. Regardless of the fact that they've drawn two on the trot (gasp!), they'll seek to overwhelm Liverpool early and often with strength at the back, power through the midfield, pace to stretch them wide, and a fair bit of skill up top.

Their back line will be bolstered by the return of Rio Ferdinand from injury, and with Nemanja Vidic beside him, you'd have to say that United still have one of the sturdiest central defensive pairings in football. Even if the latter's prone to silly red-card offenses and getting beat like a rented mule by Fernando Torres. Before deputizing in defensive midfield against Everton, John O'Shea started the first three league matches at right back, and I'd guess he returns to defense with Patrice Evra on the other side.

The unfortunate loss of Antonio Valencia diminishes a bit of the pace on the flanks, but however inconsistent he might be, Nani poses plenty of threat on either side, and I'd guess that Ryan Giggs counters the Portuguese winger. Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher have been the most popular pick for Ferguson this season, and I suppose that's who we'll see tomorrow.

If there's anything relatively new about this United side, it's the increase in appearances and influence by Dimitar Berbatov. His pulse and level of interest have been dwelling in the gutter since arriving, but he looks to be a new man this season and has linked up well with Wayne Rooney in attack. I can't see any way Rooney doesn't play tomorrow---even with all the trouble he's brought upon himself off the pitch, he's always got the chance to be a terror.

For the Reds:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Johnson Carragher Agger Konchesky
Meireles Lucas
Cole Gerrard Jovanovic

---I've chosen with my heart, not my head.

---The chances that we see Meireles partner Lucas in central midfield are likely very small, The newly-signed midfield played 90+ against Steaua on Thursday, and Hodgson's shown a worrying preference to partner Lucas and Christian Poulsen. I fear the same happens Sunday.

---I think Maxi's got to be rested after two full matches in the past week. Add in the fact that he's only played one of half of football worth talking about and I think we could see Joe Cole on the right flank. The only other option there is Dani Pacheco, and he's still struggling to find significant minutes.

---The faces at the back are becoming increasingly familiar---Johnson, Carragher, ___________, Konchesky. There's a bit of a dogfight for the second center back role between Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, with the former partnering Carragher at Birmingham and the latter featuring alongside Sotirios Kyrgiakos against Steaua. I'm usually going to land on the side of Agger, although Skrtel's size could be of benefit against a Rooney-Berbatov strike duo.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

As I mentioned earlier, Liverpool will have to weather some sort of early barrage to keep themselves in it. The record's on repeat at this point---they absolutely have to try to maintain some sort of possession and impose themselves on the match somehow. United's a markedly different animal than West Brom or Birmingham, and if Liverpool's first-half displays this season are anything to go off of, it has the potential for lights out early.

But just because it has been that way doesn't mean it has to tomorrow---"form goes out the window" and other tired clichés. Liverpool will need to match United's confidence in some way, because the timidity and passivity we've seen isn't going to cut it. We know it's in this side somewhere it's just a matter of finding out where and actually doing it.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

By far the biggest test of my flailing clairvoyance this season, I find myself nervous at the prospect of suggesting anything beyond a 2-1 defeat. But fear not, it'll be 2-1 to the good, Torres and Cole to score, Vidic sent off again, byahhhhhh.

I usually mock the hyperbole we read in the build-up for matches, especially this early in the season, but if Liverpool are able to come away with a win, there really is potential for a massively positive impact. Granted, I probably said the same thing last season after the 2-0 win at Anfield. But I think I mean it this time.

This one's televised on Fox Soccer Plus(HD) in the States and Sky Sports 1(HD) in the UK. As usual, streams, links, and team sheets up about an hour before kickoff.

Enjoy your Saturday, folks.

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