Time for blood and thun­der

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

GARY NEVILLE once ran the length of the field to in­flame the Kop; Jose Mour­inho man­aged it by putting his fin­ger to his lips. The in­cen­di­ary pres­ence of the Spe­cial One in the Dev­ils’ dugout on Tues­day is one of many rea­sons for set­ting the alarm at an un­earthly 3am.

Liver­pool vs Manch­ester United is a fix­ture that still sets the pulse rac­ing. But only just. If we’re hon­est, sev­eral re­cent clashes have not been wor­thy of the name: tepid af­fairs lack­ing the blood and thun­der of Macca and Robbo, Carra and Keano, and Neville’s mem­o­rable salu­ta­tion.

Stevie G tried to in­ject a bit of the old bite a cou­ple of sea­sons ago when he came off the bench to stamp on An­der Her­rera’s foot – but got sent off af­ter 38 sec­onds. Yep, it’s a more namby-pamby af­fair now not helped by the pre­pon­der­ance of for­eign play­ers yet to grasp the full ex­tent of the tribal loathing.

Early kick­off times have also had an anaes­thetis­ing ef­fect: the juices aren’t in full flow, the fires not yet burn­ing. We saw what a dif­fer­ence an evening kick­off made when their most re­cent clash at An­field man­aged to bring the mori­bund Europa League to life in March.

Tues­day’s 225th meet­ing be­tween the old en­e­mies will also be a flood­lit oc­ca­sion and should have enough go­ing on to make up for the loss of sleep in this part of the world.

If some play­ers don’t “get” the ri­valry, the man­agers cer­tainly do.

Jur­gen Klopp has im­mersed him­self in Liver­pudlian lore for a year now and Mour­inho knows it only too well hav­ing first in­curred Scouser wrath while at Chelsea and dur­ing a League Cup fi­nal at Wem­b­ley.

He will be care­ful not to re­peat his in­fa­mous shush­ing ges­ture on his first ap­pear­ance at An­field as United man­ager but will for­ever be the prover­bial red rag to the Liver­pool bull. Sub­se­quent epics with Rafa Ben­itez’ Reds and whing­ing about the “ghost goal” en­sured him pariah status even be­fore he took the United reins. Typ­i­cally, he thrives on it – boast­ing an ex­cel­lent record on the ground.

The pres­ence of the two most charis­matic bosses in the game will en­sure their ev­ery twitch will be scru­ti­nised, but it is an in­trigu­ing clash be­tween two gi­ant works in progress and may well be a pointer to how they fare for the rest of the sea­son.

It’s fair to say that at the out­set, Liver­pool would be happy to fin­ish in the top four, United dev­as­tated not to.

Well, it is still early doors but Liver­pool are there and United are not, and no one would ar­gue that Klopp’s men have en­joyed the bet­ter sea­son so far.

They have played the bet­ter foot­ball and looked much more of a team. And un­like their op­po­nents, they’ve done it on a net spend of next to noth­ing.

In­deed, only lead­ers Manch­ester City have looked more lethal in attack while United, ham­strung by the Wayne Rooney is­sue, are some dis­tance from find­ing the right blend, let alone get­ting the best out of the world’s most ex­pen­sive player, Paul Pogba.

All this is why Liver­pool are favourites but the in­ter­na­tional break is the ul­ti­mate span­ner in the works of form and fit­ness, and why both man­agers will have been scan­ning the ar­rivals board at Heathrow with some trep­i­da­tion. Liver­pool had nine play­ers on in­ter­na­tional duty to United’s 14 but the Reds trav­elled half as far again.

At the start of the break, Mour­inho said of his de­par­tees: “We don’t know the way they train, the way they re­cover, the life they are go­ing to have with their na­tional teams.” He may take com­fort from the fact that most of his key men re­mained in Europe whereas Liver­pool’s Brazil­ians Coutinho and Firmino did the full Marco Polo – al­most 20,000km.

It was why, af­ter the last in­ter­na­tional break, Klopp left Coutinho out of the next match as he didn’t think he was ready. He will not want to do that for such a big game but the duo’s con­di­tion could have a ma­jor bear­ing on the out­come. In­deed, it is Liver­pool’s cut­ting edge with this pair and Sa­dio Mane op­er­at­ing in a tri­dent that poses the main threat to United’s de­fence. And why Mour­inho may – dare it be said - park the bus.

He has been on the re­ceiv­ing end of one thrash­ing at Klopp’s hands when the two were re­spec­tively at Real Madrid and Borus­sia Dort­mund, but that was when Robert Le­wandowski banged in four.

Al­though United have a good re­cent record on the ground, Klopp holds most of the cards hav­ing com­pleted a year in the job whereas Mour­inho is just start­ing and the Ger­man knows his best team whereas the Por­tuguese still seems a lit­tle un­sure of his.

Suf­fice to say, Mour­inho would be more pleased with a draw than Klopp which tells you where the two are in their re­build­ing. Liver­pool are still too un­steady at the back to look se­ri­ous ti­tle con­tenders but they are closer than United. Still, you feel if and when Mour­inho gets them to click, they will be a force to be reck­oned with.

Klopp will be hop­ing De­jan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne are fit again along with Emre Can, but the game may be too soon for Adam Lal­lana and Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum. Their ab­sence will weaken mid­field but Coutinho, drop­ping deeper, and Can, mov­ing for­ward, are good enough to com­pen­sate while he has sev­eral striker op­tions.

In front of the new­ly­ex­panded and louder An­field, Liver­pool may have too much for a still dys­func­tional United to han­dle on what we hope is a

red-blooded oc­ca­sion.

Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov’s hat­trick for United, in­clud­ing a spec­tac­u­lar over­head kick, in a per­sonal won­der show trumped Liver­pool cap­tain Steven Ger­rard’s brace as the hosts headed to­wards one of their more com­fort­able ti­tle suc­cesses.

A header from a cor­ner was fol­lowed by a stun­ning bi­cy­cle kick. But, as has be­come a fa­mil­iar pat­tern in th­ese clashes, it her­alded a stun­ning come­back as Ger­rard scored with a penalty and a free­kick.

An­other header made Ber­ba­tov the first United player for more than half a cen­tury to grab a hat­trick against Liver­pool, and earned a vi­tal three points on the way to their his­toric 19th ti­tle – sur­pass­ing the record jointly held with Liver­pool.

Liver­pool still har­boured hopes of a first Premier League ti­tle, but cham­pi­ons United were the team to beat, and when Cris­tiano Ron­aldo put the home side in front, it looked like an­other false dawn for Rafael Ben­itez’s side.

But Fer­nando Tor­res, en­joy­ing pos­si­bly his best game for Liver­pool, equalised and a Steven Ger­rard penalty then put the vis­i­tors ahead be­fore half­time, Old Traf­ford was in for a shock.

Late goals by Fabio Aure­lio and An­drea Dossena, fol­low­ing United de­fender Ne­manja Vidic’s red card, put the ic­ing on the cake for Liver­pool though United once again had the last laugh, pip­ping their ri­vals to the ti­tle.

Mem­o­rable less for on-field bril­liance than the fes­ter­ing of wounds opened up by Gary Neville’s goal celebration in front of the Kop in their Premier League clash a few weeks ear­lier. The bad feel­ing spilled over into the FA Cup fifth-round tie at An­field, with Liver­pool later apol­o­gis­ing af­ter sec­tions of the crowd threw coins at United sup­port­ers. “I ex­pected abuse, but I also got a ham­burger and about £4.50 in change,” Neville said af­ter United’s de­feat. But there was more un­pleas­ant­ness when United’s Alan Smith broke his leg, prompt­ing taunts from some Liver­pool fans, who also at­tacked the am­bu­lance in which he was taken to hospi­tal.

Not for the first, or last, time the fix­ture pro­duced a mem­o­rable come­back. United were 3-0 up in­side half an hour at An­field but Liver­pool’s Nigel Clough scored twice be­fore the break and de­fender Neil Rud­dock crowned a stun­ning fight back with the equaliser 10 min­utes from time. United still won the league.

Liver­pool’s Jamie Car­ragher (left) and Manch­ester United’s Gary Neville were not the best of friends when they were on the pitch to­gether. Septem­ber 2010: United 3 Liver­pool 2 March 2009: United 1 Liver­pool 4 Fe­bru­ary 2006: Liver­pool 1 United 0 Jan­uary 1994: Liver­pool 3 United 3

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