Manchester United face Liverpool on Sunday in what will no doubt be a highly-emotional game at Anfield. The match will be Liverpool’s first home game since the Hillsborough Independent Panel revealed the full tragic truth of what happened 23 years ago at that FA Cup semi-final when 96 Liverpool fans sadly perished.
It has been said time and time again this week in every newspaper and sports outlet that you could possibly think of that this is a weekend where nothing else but respect will matter.
The time is now for England’s biggest clubs (who just so happen to be the most historic) to come together and pay the biggest tribute that they can for the 96. That of course is to stage a great match of football.
Over the last week a lot has been done by both clubs to ensure that Sunday’s game takes place without any trouble and that both sets of fans who as we know, have clashed so often in the past can after the weekend move on ensuring that the sick songs of hatred will be left in the past for good.
In all of the week’s events it’s almost been forgotten that even at this stage this is a must-win game for Brendan Rodgers, not that he would be sacked or that his job would come under pressure as a result if United were to win. Liverpool despite not playing that badly have struggled so far this season in the Premier League and are in desperate need of a win, only picking up 2 points from their first 4 games this season.
In many ways playing against their biggest rivals at home after a poor start to the year is the perfect game for them. It’s the perfect opportunity for their somewhat inexperienced young team to prove that they are deserving of the shirt and that they can do it against one of the best sides in the world.
Stewart Downing has certainly taken a lot of flak for his performances since joining from Aston Villa last year. Some of that has been unfair as it’s hardly his fault that he had Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll up front on the end of his crosses, which went some way to Liverpool having the lowest shot-to-goal conversation rate in the league.
He goes into this game on a similar path to the one that Lucas Leiva took going into this fixture in October 2009. Back then the Brazilian midfielder was being criticised left, right and centre for his performances. Rafael Benitez stuck by him and told the media time and time again what a good player he was.
On that day Lucas was outstanding and was a thorn in United’s side. In truth he has never looked back after that game and it was no surprise that when out injured last season with a cruciate ligament injury, that Liverpool struggled as a result.
Downing certainly is in need of a big performance and this is a game where unlikely heroes can emerge. Who can forget Diego Forlan’s two goals at The Kop back in 2002 or John O’Shea’s winner back in 2007. Few can.
With Wayne Rooney unlikely to figure, Robin van Persie will be leading the line for United. He has a great record against Liverpool and has fond memories the last time he played at Anfield where he scored twice in a 2-1 win for Arsenal including that stunning winner when he volleyed Alexander Song’s high-ball into the net.
United fans will not be looking for their new Dutch hero to bag a stunning winner like that, if it’s a tap-in they won’t care. They will just be thinking of a win and one which would certainly crank up the pressure on Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City who host Arsenal at the Ethiad later that afternoon, making a tough game on paper look like one which Arsene Wenger’s side may just be able to take something back to London with.
Both sides will be up for tomorrow’s game. Let’s hope it’s a game that will be looked on as one of the best of the season.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87