I like Kenny Dalglish. Not that I’ve met him. Not that he’s called me. Not that I’ve given him my phone number and told him to give me a buzz when he can. After all, I’m far too busy to give him advice. Still I like the guy. He was manager of Liverpool when I first started to get excited about the game and supported the club back near the end of 1986.
I was not among those who was desperate for him to return to the club when things were going a bit awry for Roy Hodgson, but I’m glad that it’s worked out for him so far on his second coming.
I saw the clips of his press conference yesterday when he talked on the big game tomorrow. Ever since he’s been back in the manager’s seat he has been so canny. He is so tight as to give nothing away and see everything as a potentially divisive ploy, so he plays it safe all the time. So whereas one or two others may see the Liverpool-Manchester United match as a big deal, he says he sees it as another game. One or two people might have detected a rivalry between Sir Alex Ferguson and himself, but he only sees the teams on the pitch playing each other. It’s brilliant statesmanship. It’s a steady batsman ensuring each delivery is fended off duly.
It is also a good grounding to deal with any eventuality after the match. Be in no doubt in as much as Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea remain ahead of Liverpool in terms of Premier League success and as long as Tottenham are a credible competitor with Liverpool, this match remains the truest clash of the titans. Liverpool are the only other English club to have won a European trophy in the last six years … alongside Manchester United. Manchester United lead the way with 19 league titles one ahead of Liverpool. The others cannot compare in the trophy cabinet.
This season in particular is interesting. Manchester United are far and away the favourites to retain the Premier League trophy this season. Liverpool owner John W. Henry has admitted that United are still ahead of Liverpool and it will take years to catch up. In Ferguson, United have the most successful manager in British football history where trophies are concerned and there is nothing to suggest his powers are on the wane. United have made a blistering start to the season and in the from of Young, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck, Jones and Smalling they have players who are more than capable of dispatching teams either with consummate ease or with dogged determination. When you add this to the older veterans in the squad who have been around the block more times than there’s probably been a block, it is the making of a team only set to continue their success.
Liverpool on the other hand are still a work in progress. For all the optimism brought in with the new owners and new manager and for the millions spent in the summer early season form shows that this is not quite the time to be getting excited about Liverpool as serious title contenders. Yet in the match at Anfield last season Liverpool put United to the sword in a 3-1, and it was no fluke of a win. Although United have already played Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal and beaten them all relatively comfortably, this is a different test for the emerging team. This is a good measure of seeing how well they will progress away from home at one of their biggest rivals.
It’s no surprise then, that even though I’d like to think myself as a football realist and despite me entrusting a number of United players to my fantasy football team, I do believe Liverpool can win this match. Now by saying ‘they can’ that can sound as ambiguous as saying ‘you can win the lottery’. Obviously you can win it as long as you’ve bought the ticket. In this sense I’d put my opinion out and say Liverpool are not only capable of winning it, but probably will.
Why? United can be beaten if their service is starved. If the Liverpool midfield can make life awkward for a weak spot in United’s team – central midfield – and then can neuter the effect of Nani and Young (or Valencia if Ferguson so chooses), there’s every possibility that Liverpool can win this match. If the defence as well can be disciplined in their jobs and not lose their shape as they did against Tottenham, this will help in the quest to get the win. They have the personnel and in the form of Enrique the left back issue looks to have been resolved.
Add to that the menace of Luis Suarez who had an excellent game against United in that 3-1 win last season and there’s every reason to believe that we can pose a threat and score goals, whilst being strong enough to minimise the threat that United can cause. I don’t think it will be a 3-1 win like last season. I’d go for more of a 2-1 close battle. That is my prediction.
In the larger scale of the season, this match is more important to Liverpool than it is to United. The start that they’ve made, the reigning Champions can afford to lose a match – not that Ferguson will view it this way at all. Yet United can be in a position where they lose this match, have the pressure of an unbeaten start relieved and then tuck into a run of games where they’ll be battling back to winning form. They did it after losing to Liverpool last season and they are more than capable of doing it this season.
For Liverpool, however, it is very important that they stake a claim to picking up some sort of consistency in their season. Anything other than a defeat will be viewed as progress in the context of the season. A win would be superb for morale and for momentum after the win at Goodison before the international break. After this game in the league their scheduled to play Norwich, West Brom and Swansea, which are games you would expect Liverpool to win. So picking 12 out of a possible 12 points at this stage of the season would give everyone at the club an enormous boost in preparation for the next major test that sees a trip to Stamford Bridge on 20th November.