With everything that comes with a fixture between Manchester United and Liverpool, it can often be difficult to concentrate on the fact that there is a football match between the teams about to commence.
Everybody knows about the history, the rivalry and the hatred and if it ever needs reiterating, Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes and basically everybody else involved in the match will tell you until you start crying tears of boredom.
But you’ve read all about that ad nauseum, yawn yawn yawn. This time, let’s just talk about the football on the pitch, and Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford is particularly notable for the fact that it pits the two outstanding individual performers in this season’s Premier League against each other in a high-profile shoot-out.
It has been four years since Liverpool went to Old Trafford with the two clubs boasting the top scorers in the division, but when Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez line up against each other on Sunday lunchtime that is the scenario and I’m sure you will allow me a moment to eulogise about the division’s best players.
It is something of an understatement that Suarez is not everybody’s cup of tea, but let’s put his antics aside for one moment, because the Uruguayan is a wonderful, wonderful footballer and this year he has been sensational as he has carried Liverpool almost single-handedly.
In all my years watching football, I have never seen a player who plays like he does: basically like a kid playing ‘knock-out’ with his mates in the playground. He is on a different plane to every other Liverpool player bar Steve Gerrard on every level, and God knows where the Reds would be without his 15 league goals.
United’s reliance on van Persie is less desperate, but it does look as though the former Arsenal man is going to be the difference in the title race come May. A fee of £24 million for a near 29-year-old seemed to go against the grain of Sir Alex Ferguson’s policy of not paying big fees for older players, but the Dutchman has justified the decision to sign him and Michu apart, he has no competition when it comes to buy of the season.
With a brilliant all round game, Van Perise is continuing where he left off for Arsenal in his last 18 months at the club by scoring for fun, and his 16 league goals (20 in all competitions) have shown the full range of his prowess, and he couldn’t be playing any better.
But will both get the chance to shine when the two north-west giants meet in what is sure to be a blood and thunder encounter? You wouldn’t back against either finding the net (and Suarez at 9/5 to score looks far, far too big to me considering he scored in the same fixture last season) but I think United are too strong for Liverpool and a home win is on the cards.
That eventuality is 4/5, and even if that is a tad short, I think Liverpool are short, too, at 3/1 and given that there has been just one draw in the last 17 meetings, I don’t fancy the 11/4 on a stalemate.
Not given the way United play, anyhow, where it is all or nothing. Ferguson’s side have drawn just one of their 21 league games (at Swansea) and won 17, and such is the win at all costs attitude the Scot instils in his players they will always push for a winner, knowing that for every odd game they lose they will emerge victorious from the majority: a record of 13 wins from the last 15 league matches proves as much.
This United team is not infallible, and I think a lead of seven points at the top of the Premier League flatters them, especially when you see they have conceded 28 goals already, more than everybody else in the top 11.
But when you have scored 54 more often than not that won’t matter, and they have the firepower to outscore Liverpool. The Reds are on a decent run of their own, winning seven of their last nine games in all competitions, but they are yet to beat a team who are currently in the top half of the Premier League table and it is one thing seeing off Sunderland at home, but another matter entirely going to Old Trafford.
Of course, Old Trafford would be the best place for Brendan Rodgers to change that statistic, but until I see some more evidence of Liverpool getting the better of the division’s more talented teams I don’t want to be betting that they can beat Manchester United, especially when the Reds have lost on seven of their last eight visits.
But instead of the odds-on, take the 29/20 that there are over 2.5 goals in a home win. Like I said, United’s dodgy defence – three clean sheets in 20 games – means that Liverpool are capable of scoring (they have hit the net in all but one of their last 14 league games), especially with Suarez in such form (9/5, remember).
But United just score so many goals, and on 19 occasions this season the Red Devils have won a match that has seen at least three goals. I like the look of the 29/20 that, just like top flight titles come the end of the season, they make it 20 on Sunday.