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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 14, 2007

Fergie demands courageous display at Anfield

Sir Alex Ferguson expects to see 11 lions and no lambs in his Manchester United side on Sunday for the match he regards as bigger than any other.

United make their annual visit to Liverpool knowing exactly what hostility awaits them as they enter the Anfield arena.

Sustained abuse from the Kop is not something Ferguson's team have had a problem combating down the years, given their impressive run of four wins and a draw in their previous five Premier League visits, culminating in last season's success, achieved by John O'Shea's injury-time winner after Paul Scholes had been sent off.

But the United manager is acutely aware if the Red Devils are to keep that run going, there must be no shrinking violets in his team.

'No matter what position the two clubs are in, this game is separate from anything else,' he said.

'You have the geography, the history of the clubs, the ability of the players, the competition, the passion and fervour of the fans.

'We both look upon the other as our main rival.

'Liverpool's support is a big component of that club, particularly against United.

'You have to be a man to handle that atmosphere. If you are a lamb, you are dead.'

Not only do United have the edge over Liverpool in terms of their recent head-to-head duels, they are also closing in on their record 18 championship wins.

Ferguson has won nine titles, taking the Old Trafford club's tally to 16, since Liverpool's last success in 1990.

The 17-year wait for a championship is just a season less than United had gone when Ferguson replaced Ron Atkinson as manager in 1986.

Despite the Scot's best efforts, United's wait had stretched to 26 years before he eventually guided them to the top of the English game.

'When I arrived, I remember saying we cannot let it get to a quarter of a century - but it did,' recalled Ferguson.

'You scratch your head and go back over the years to see why the club had failed. It was difficult to assess, although I know there had been a lot of managerial changes, which Liverpool have also had in recent times.

'It is hard to imagine that Liverpool have gone so long since they last won it.'

Although last weekend's shock defeat at Reading ended Liverpool's unbeaten record and saw them slip seven points adrift of leaders Arsenal and six behind United, many pundits still believe Benitez's side are more plausible contenders than any Anfield outfit since Kenny Dalglish guided them to their last success.

The arrival of Fernando Torres has given the Reds an extra dimension and Ferguson for one is not surprised that a player he would have liked to sign himself has adapted so quickly to the English game.

'He is a good player,' said the United boss.

'We would not have been interested in him if he wasn't.

'For years we tried to do a deal with him but we never quite managed it, either because Atletico did not want to sell or the player felt he was too young.

'We just lost interest after a while because you can get fed up of going back to the same venue all the time.

'The advantage Rafael Benitez had was that he was Spanish. His dealings with Atletico were better than ours.'

United's big edge this week is that while Liverpool have been scrapping for their Champions League lives in Marseille, Ferguson was able to leave nine of his intended starting line-up in Manchester after the Red Devils secured top spot in Group F with a game to spare.

Of that side that drew with AS Roma in midweek, only skipper Wayne Rooney and defender Wes Brown, who was a substitute anyway, are likely to play on Sunday, the first part of a blockbuster double bill that concludes with Chelsea's visit to Arsenal.

'If it was later in the season, the results would be significant in terms of winning the league,' said Ferguson.

'At the moment we are at the halfway stage, so there is time for anyone who would drop points to pull them back.

'As a manager, I hope the other game ends in a draw but I would imagine that is the bookies' favourite result in both of them.'