That sound you could hear when the FA Cup fourth-round draw was made was the collective throwing of tea cups in the offices at Anfield and Old Trafford, not to mention the headquarters of the FA and Merseyside police.
Make no mistake, with the exception of some fans who will relish the chance to get one over on an old rival, Liverpool v Manchester United is the last draw anyone needed at this point as relations between the two clubs, strained at the best of times, are as damaged as they have been for some time.
The fall-out from the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra affair, which sees the Uruguayan still suspended for using racially aggravated language towards the United left-back in the league match in October, has made what would be a powder-keg match in any event even more explosive, to the point where United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has written to the travelling fans appealing for calm and good behaviour.
Yeah, nice one. Nearly 6,000 United supporters will travel from Surrey and Buckinghamshire to guarantee an electric atmosphere as the authorities pray both sets of fans behave nicely to each other. Oh look, there’s a flying pig.
On the pitch, this is a tough one to call and that is reflected in the odds. In bwin’s 3way odds market there is nothing to choose between the sides, with Liverpool the slightest of favourites at 8/5 and United priced up at 33/20, with the draw at 9/4 – and it is towards the latter result I will be looking.
The combination of an early start (12.45pm kick-offs tend to take a while to get going as the players’ body clocks adjust) and intense rivalry means I’m predicting another tight one and a draw is the best way to play this at 9/4.
Liverpool are undoubtedly on a high after Wednesday’s Carling Cup semi-final victory against Manchester City, a fully deserved Wembley final the reward for an excellent performance.
But can they do a treasured Manchester double in the space of four days? Kenny Dalglish has some decisions to make over team selection with Craig Bellamy, outstanding against his former club, unlikely to play having started two games in a row.
With Bellamy’s participation doubtful, Andy Carroll might get a start up front (no, he might, stop laughing) but that changes the dynamics of how Liverpool play and more often than not the standard, too.
In contrast to Liverpool’s energy-sapping and mentally draining week, United have had their feet up since Sunday’s impressive 2-1 win at Arsenal and will be hoping extra freshness eventually tells despite their injury worries.
Problems at the back have been exacerbated by an Injury to Phil Jones but going forward the Red Devils remain as potent as ever; Antonio Valencia in particular is enjoying another fine and strangely unsung season.
But even United will find it hard to score at Anfield, as before Wednesday the Reds had not conceded more than one goal in a home match all season. Dalglish’s men have conceded just eight goals in 11 league games in front of their own fans – only City have conceded less – and are unbeaten at Anfield all season.
Of course, too many of those games have been drawn (seven, to be precise) and the lack of cutting edge has been painful to watch at times. Only five teams have scored fewer than Liverpool’s 14 home league goals and the sight of Carroll lumbering around like a drunk horse is not going to faze a United defence who have let in just seven league goals on their travels.
But the combination of an early start (12.45pm kick-offs tend to take a while to get going as the players’ body clocks adjust) and intense rivalry means I’m predicting another tight one and a draw is the best way to play this at 9/4.
For several seasons now, Ferguson has treated domestic away games at the top clubs like European away trips, keeping it tight at first before looking to grow into the game after the break.
It’s exactly what he did in the 1-1 draw between the sides in October and it is the tactic he employed in the 3-2 third-round win at the Etihad, where Wayne Rooney scored with United’s first foray in City’s half before Vincent Kompany’s red card took the headlines. So in what will be a cagier match than some expect, the draw is the sensible option.
Liverpool took the lead in that previous meeting before being pegged back and it may be worth looking towards that happening again. Liverpool will want to start quick, something United will expect, as tiredness will become a factor late on so the 25/2 for a Liverpool half-time lead to be turned into a full-time draw is also worth a small play.
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