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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Manchester United, 01.09.10

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Time for the FA Cup as Liverpool make their second trip to Old Trafford of the season to face Manchester United.

**Note: this was written prior to Kenny Dalglish's appointment, and I don't have the time today to make any major alterations, so take the pessimism that's present and turn it down just a bit. Not sure this changes my thoughts about the result, but for once we can look to a match and feel that the club aren't heading into it waiting to be run over by a bus. Kind of nice, isn't it?**

Funny time to be a Liverpool supporter. Not funny in the sense of what's actually happening, of course, but funny in a Murphy's Law sort of way.

The match at Ewood on Wednesday pretty much confirmed it---whenever we think Liverpool have reached the nadir, they find a way to dig a little deeper. Not only are the results are shit, there's no relief on the immediate horizon, and the fixture list is only going to get busier. Needless to say, a pretty easy time to become completely disillusioned with the club and its direction.

But here we are anyway, looking forward to Sunday's match just as we do any other, even if it's colored with the knowledge that Roy Hodgson and Liverpool have made a habit of lowering your expectations as often as possible. And, you know, the knowledge that if we see a Liverpool performance anything close to what we witnessed against Blackburn, the exit from the FA Cup will be both swift and humiliating.

It's required by British law that I mention the magic of the FA Cup, so...this is me mentioning that it's positively magical for Liverpool to face Manchester United in their FA Cup bow. The draw could have been kinder to Liverpool, particularly given their current form, but in the end it's United, it's Fergie, it's Rooney, it's the mustachioed Gary Neville, and it's one of the fiercest rivalries in English football. They don't create secret travel routes for just anyone.

I don't feel any great need or want to go into depth about what Liverpool could run into tomorrow---you can visit the United Offside for your fix. Aside from that setback against West Ham in the League Cup, United are unbeaten and, as of yesterday, will potentially buoyed by the availability of Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, and Wayne Rooney. There's no great shortage of talent in the rest of the squad though, and it's going to be a stern test for Roy Hodgson and Liverpool. As if you didn't know that.

So, Liverpool:

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?

Reina
Johnson Kyrgiakos Agger Aurelio
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi
Torres

---Couple of quasi-injuries apparently, as both Martin Skrtel and Paul Konchesky picked up slight knocks in training that could jeopardize their places in the squad. After Skrtel's performance Wednesday and Konchesky's performance any time he's upright, not entirely terrible news. If they're not fit, they join Jamie Carragher in the stands, as Jay Spearing is now back after a lengthy spell out.

---I think that's probably the best eleven given the current personnel, and certainly a squad that's a hell of a lot better than being only four points above the relegation zone. Inherited save for Raul Meireles, this starting eleven most likely gives Liverpool their best chance at winning match-to-match. There's maybe an argument for displacing Dirk Kuyt, but missing out on a start midweek seems like penance served.

---In terms of formation there's little sense in trying to guess what Hodgson has in store, so for now I'm content to say 4-2-3-1 fully aware that we'll probably get a passive 4-4-2 with different personnel that relies on defending with a side of sitting back and hoofing, and for the encore additional sitting back and hoofing.

---Who'd have thought at the beginning of the season we'd be lamenting the lack of quality depth in central defense? It's fair to say that Liverpool haven't exactly excelled at any position this season, but besides the always perfect Daniel Agger, Liverpool's central defenders have been a calamity. The Greek has been second-best of late, but I find myself almost counting down the days until Jamie Carragher's return. Yikes. Tomorrow's not the day for it, but a run for one of the younger defenders might be in the cards soon if the struggles continue.

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

If there's any self-belief left in the squad, I'd say that's likely the most important factor. Nobody's really expecting Liverpool to move on past today, and if they show up the way everyone's expecting them to, it's going to be ugly. Doesn't have to be that way, and despite the ongoing catastrophes, Liverpool are more than capable of progressing. Show up with tail between legs and waiting for Hodgson's exit, though, and things could spiral quite quickly.

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

Ugh. I think I've been blowing enough sunshine up everyone's ass this season, and I don't think it can continue. I think 2-1 United---not because I want it to serve some higher purpose, but because I really don't know that Liverpool are in any sort of condition to be winning this type of match. I want more than anything for them to be able to come in on the front foot, but it's a safe bet that "mindf*cked" is the best descriptor for the club at current.

For the first time in a couple weeks, Liverpool's match is televised in both the UK and the US---ITV1 is carrying the match for those in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel has it in the States. It's an earlyish kickoff stateside, so I'll likely schedule the matchday thread to go up late tonight so folks without TV access can scramble around for streams. Any news and the like will be included as well, but I'm guessing things will pretty quiet until the post-match, when we'll all be clamoring for an announcement about the direction of the club but be left with abusing those who create rumors about TalkSport and the BBC.

Hope you all enjoy your Saturday, and let's hope for a good one tomorrow.