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Game of the Week

Whenever Liverpool play Manchester United there is always a lot at stake. And with points, pride and gloating rights are all up for grabs Sunday at Anfield will be no different.

For levels of sheer partisan hatred in English football there are few matches that can rival Liverpool against Manchester United, but unlike other such over-hyped meetings, these two sets of Reds often produce great football matches.

Twice in the last 10 years have games between these two at Anfield have finished 3-3 - once in 1994 and again in 1998.

Last season's match at Anfield will be forever remembered for Jerzy Dudek's gaffes which twice allowed Diego Forlan to score in a 2-1 victory. A season of humiliation against United was complete for Liverpool when in the return fixture in Manchester they were thumped 4-0.

If eighth place Liverpool are to rescue a place in next season's Champions League from what has been a terrible start to the season they need to continue their recent good form on Sunday where a win would take them to within five points of the visitors.

Third place United, who along with Arsenal and Chelsea comprise what already appears to be a three-team tussle for the title, need the points to stay in touch with their London rivals.

For both teams the match could provide two strikers with an opportunity to cement their burgeoning hero status with a goal against fierce rivals.

Forlan, United's lank-haired Uruguayan, has scored in his last three games, including a stunning volley against Rangers in the Champions League this week.

Although not without his critics, Forlan, who is held in high regard by many United fans because of his tireless running, is clearly thriving on the confidence that comes with regular starts in the United line-up and, with the backing of strike partner Ruud van Nistelrooy, will surely relish the opportunity to return to haunt Dudek.

Rumours persist that Forlan could be on his way out of Old Trafford in January, but his recent form, which has seen hitherto unseen quality in both scoring and overall play, could convince Ferguson that he is finally becoming the player he thought he was buying when he shelled out £7.5million last January.

For Liverpool, French teenager Florent Sinama-Pongolle has been a breath of fresh air in attack and has impressed in the three games in which he has played.

The 19-year-old, who joined the club this summer for an undisclosed fee thought to be around £3million, has made just three substitute appearances in the first team but thanks to exciting pace and a goal against Leeds United, he has quickly secured a cult following - and a goal against United couldn't hurt.

Another cult figure at Anfield is expected to make a return for the first 11 after being spared the rigours of trip to Romania for Liverpool's Thursday night UEFA Cup game against Steaua Bucharest.

The club's last meeting: Diego Forlan 'made the scousers cry'
The club's last meeting: Diego Forlan 'made the scousers cry'

Michael Owen, who is recovering from an ankle injury, should start against United, which would be a massive boost to Liverpool. Quite simply Owen makes Liverpool a far stronger team and a much more dangerous proposition.

While recent speculation linking Owen with a move to Real Madrid shouldn't affect his game, it will surely be on the minds of all Liverpool fans.

Owen's contract runs out in 18 months and he is highly unlikely to agree a new one unless Liverpool qualify for next season's Champions League.

A player of Owen's stature - remember he won the European Player of the Year award in 2001 - needs to be playing at the very highest level, which in club football means the Champions League. And although Liverpool have the heritage of great club, they can hardly claim to rival Real Madrid at the moment.

Unless Liverpool make strides towards true domestic and European greatness, supporters should start to steel themselves for what to some will be the unbearable sight of Owen in another club's colours.

Two weeks ago against Fulham, United failed to find any of their verve or vigour and as a result lost 3-1 to the Cottagers at Old Trafford. The home side's passing was sloppy and their play devoid of the guile and menace that we have come to expect.

While United were poor on the day, Fulham warranted the plaudits they received - the build-up and execution of Junichi Inamoto's goal in particular was worthy of the champions themselves.

Liverpool's victory last week against the same team at Loftus Road may only have been clinched in the 89th minute, but it was their work-rate against Chris Coleman's determined team that secured full points for Liverpool.

Had Manchester United displayed similar desire perhaps the result at Old Trafford would have been different.

But United's failure where Liverpool succeeded will have no bearing on the match at Anfield and will be of no psychological advantage to Liverpool.

Ferguson might be tempted to use the results to motivate his squad, but the leading players in Manchester United's squad, Giggs, Keane and the Nevilles will need no motivation ahead of the trip to Anfield.

And likewise players like Owen, Gerrard, Heskey and Hyypia are acutely aware of the intense rivalry that exists between the two clubs and the pain and humiliation which defeat brings for the fans.

Keep your eyes peeled for Soccernet's GameCast coverage of the match, including live commentary, which kicks off at 13.45 pm UK time on Sunday.


  • Any thoughts? Feel free to email Phil Holland.