No game in English football stirs the emotions like a clash between Liverpool and Manchester United, which makes the meeting of the two north-west giants at Anfield on Sunday one of the momentous league fixtures in the clubs’ illustrious histories.
With an increasingly nasty and vengeful rivalry soured over recent years in a number of ways, a match between the two sides is probably the last one that either side would pick given the circumstances on Sunday, and as Anfield hosts a match for the first time since the damning report into the true causes of the Hillsborough disaster, both clubs have attempted to stress to fans that this is no time for the puerile and distasteful chants that have unfortunately come to be a feature of this match over recent years.
Off the pitch, Sunday could represent a pivotal moment in the relationship between the fans of England’s most successful clubs. Songs mocking death and tragedy – be it about Hillsborough or the Munich Air Disaster – have no place in society, never mind football, and do great disservice to great men like Bill Shankly and Matt Busby, who must wonder what has happened to sections of their club’s support who think that singing songs about the dead is acceptable.
Performances have been erratic, but ‘Pool were unlucky not to turn draws against Man City and Sunderland into wins and things aren’t quite as bad as the point tally indicates, even if there are glaring deficiencies in the squad and goals remain a problem.
It is a minority, of course, but as Anfield remembers the 96 who died in Sheffield in 1989, and celebrates the truth finally emerging, both sets of fans have a chance, as Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers have both rightfully said, to show what makes both clubs so great. If respect all round can be shown, then it may usher in a new era of rivalry: if the opposite happens, there is probably no way back.
Because make no mistake, Anfield will be so emotionally charged on Sunday the match needs no extra inflammation. The issues of Hillsborough have defined Liverpool Football Club for 23 years, and with families and fans vindicated and the scale of the cover-up exposed in such shocking fashion, the atmosphere on Sunday will be like no other Anfield has ever experienced.
In among this, a football match will break out and once the whistle goes that will (hopefully) be the only focus. Liverpool are 17/10 to claim their first win of the season, with United priced at 3/2 and the draw at 23/10 and more than ever this is a tough one to call.
Rodgers is still looking for his first Premier League win, and there is a chance that if the Reds were to be beaten they could end up bottom of the table come Sunday evening, an unpalatable thought for all on Merseyside.
Performances have been erratic, but ‘Pool were unlucky not to turn draws against Manchester City and Sunderland into wins and things aren’t quite as bad as the point tally indicates, even if there are glaring deficiencies in the squad and goals remain a problem.
On paper, United are superior in most departments and having taken nine points from three games to sit second in the table they have started in winning, if not totally flamboyant, fashion. But Ferguson will be wary of the atmosphere of Sunday, not to mention the Red Devils’ recent record in L4, where they have lost four and drawn just one of the last five fixtures.
Liverpool always raise their game against United, and I think the first half could well be a furious, scrappy affair and I like the 23/20 that the teams are level after 45 minutes. That has happened in eight of the last 12 meetings between the two at Anfield, and with an early kick-off that can take time to get going to take into account as well, I think that is a solid bet.
Six of those eight occasions have been goalless at the break, which is a 19/10 chance.
Recommended bet: Draw at halftime @ 23/20
Outside punt: 0-0 at half time @ 19/10
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