It is a damning indictment of the current state of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United that, in the build up to the game this week, the spotlight has been firmly on the potential off the field actions rather than the mouth-watering prospect that is the match itself. It promises to be an emotional day on Merseyside, with it being the first home game since the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were made public last week, and a series of tributes will take place before and during the game to remember those who lost their lives at the disaster.
That it has taken the national media this long to really focus their attention on the ugly side of this otherwise fantastic rivalry is a shame, but, hopefully, the mass scrutiny over the behaviour of both sets of fans will not spur the contemptuous minority to disgrace the name of the club they support, but rather help heal wounds and restore some modicum of respect and decency to the rivalry. There can be no more tit for tat retaliations. Two wrongs definitely do not make a right. Nobody is asking for both sets of fans to skip hand-in-hand down the M62, but those who mock each club’s respective tragedies have no place anywhere near a football ground.
The efforts of both clubs to restore a certain level of tolerance between both sets of fans has been commendable, and hopefully the supporters will respond in kind. It comes to something when I find myself agreeing with Sir Alex Ferguson, but the open letter he wrote to United fans this week was superb, and this quote from him sums up my feelings of the rivalry: "Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top. It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred." I want to beat United because they have set the bar over the past two decades, and in order to be successful you need to finish ahead of them. I want to beat United because they are the biggest threat to our crown as the most decorated club in the country.
It promises to be an emotional day on Merseyside, with it being the first home game since the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were made public last week
Hopefully there will be no reoccurrence of the pre-match antics from the last time the two sides met, when Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez failed to shake hands. Whatever your opinion on the entire saga, or even the need for the handshake routine before the game, it would be in the best interests of both parties to draw a line under it and move on. There are far more pressing matters concerning the game, and the last thing either team need is another foolish, ignominious act drawing more negative attention towards them.
On to the game itself. Despite having a limited squad to work with, Rodgers took a calculated risk in the Europa League midweek by leaving the vast majority of his preferred starting line-up back on Merseyside – and it paid off handsomely. Of the 11 players who started against Sunderland last weekend, only Raheem Sterling, Fabio Borini and Jonjo Shelvey travelled with the squad to Switzerland, and the trio only featured as substitutes in the second half, so the Reds should be fit, sharp and raring to go. The last time Liverpool played in the league after a midweek game they looked lethargic against Arsenal, but there can be no excuses this time around as the side is fresh and healthy.
The only question mark surrounding team selection for Liverpool is regarding who will start in midfield alongside Gerrard and Allen in the Reds midfield. Jonjo Shelvey appears to be the logical after not starting against Young Boys on Thursday choice, plus Nuri Sahin is still not match fit. If there were any doubts over whether Shelvey deserves to retain his place in the side for league games, his two-goal cameo from the bench to secure the win for the Reds should also have secured him a starting berth against United.
United have not won at Anfield in five years, and hopefully that trend will continue. If Brendan Rodgers can secure his first league win as Reds boss, their indifferent start to the season will be all but forgotten. Let us hope, though, that football prevails as the true victor, and the occasion is remembered for all the right reasons.
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