Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has chosen an unchanged side for one of the most important games against Manchester United in years. In real terms it should be no more important than any other league match against our rivals from down the East Lancs, but it’s become bigger than that due to the unneccessary threat Rafa is under from the club’s current owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. After the game, either later today or early in the week, Rafa is due to meet the duo to find out the truth.
It’s still an important league game even without the threat of the owners using a defeat as an excuse to sack the manager Tom Hicks doesn’t like. Liverpool are seven points off the top – with a game in hand on leaders Arsenal who play Chelsea today, who themselves are four points above Liverpool, also having played a game more than the Reds. Today’s opponents Manchester United are desperate to catch up to Liverpool’s haul of 18 league titles, and being currently in possession of their 16th they are getting closer. They’re six points above the Reds, with a game in hand. So a win today would see Liverpool three points behind United with a game in hand they could use to draw level, but a defeat could leave them a long way off the pace, especially if Arsenal won. That would make life difficult, but not impossible.
The side includes Arbeloa and Riise as full-backs with Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher the only experienced centre-backs available. Fabio Aurelio is the only defender on the bench. In midfield Javier Mascherano partners Steven Gerrard, with Lucas on the bench. Kewell and Torres start out wide, with Ryan Babel on the bench. Up front are £18m Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt, with Peter Crouch on the bench.
Pepe Reina is in goal of course, with Charles Itandje as back-up.
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 4 Hyypia, 23 Carragher, 6 Riise, 11 Benayoun, 8 Gerrard, 20 Mascherano, 7 Kewell, 9 Torres, 18 Kuyt
Subs: 30 Itandje, 12 Aurelio, 15 Crouch, 19 Babel, 21 Lucas
Manchester United: 1 Van der Sar, 6 Brown, 5 Ferdinand, 15 Vidic, 3 Evra, 7 Ronaldo, 4 Hargreaves, 8 Anderson, 11 Giggs, 10 Rooney, 32 Tevez
Subs: 29 Kuszczak, 9 Saha, 16 Carrick, 22 O’Shea, 24 Fletcher
Referee: Mark Halsey