Rafa Benitez picks just about the strongest team he can for today’s visit of Manchester United.
Fernando Torres is back, as is Glen Johnson, but it’s not clear exactly how fit the pair are and whether their appearance today is a risk. Steven Gerrard isn’t available today, he’s not recovered from the injury he’d tried to come back from in midweek, sustained on international duty.
Joining Johnson in the back-four are captain for the day Jamie Carragher, along with Danier Agger and Emiliano Insua. In the centre of the midfield are Lucas and Mascherano, but it’s not clear yet what the formation will be. Fabio Aurelio starts the game, along with Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt.
This is of course a game that is always full of tension and played in an atmosphere of ill-feeling. This season’s game is in danger of far too much of the ill-feeling being purely within the Liverpool camp, with both owners expected to put on a show of unity despite George Gillett’s recent comments blaming Tom Hicks for comments he’d been filmed making himself.
Whether they get on with each other or not, there’s still a lot of resentment towards them from fans and protests were planned before the game from members of the Spirit of Shankly supporters’ union.
It’s not just the owners that are subject to the ill-feeling – with a run of four defeats fans are looking for someone to blame, and the fans that aren’t blaming Rafa are picking out individual players they see as being the overall cause of the problems.
In reality it’s not so simple as changing one person to fix the problems at the club, the bad run will come to an end at some point, even if not today, and it won’t end any sooner by throwing the blame around and everyone under the Liverpool umbrella arguing with each other.
Kenny Dalglish called earlier in the week for Reds to show some unity, and it’s time to turn that ill-feeling to today’s opponents.
One of the most likely candidates to be on the receiving end of that is former Liverpool striker Michael Owen. He got sympathy from a decreasing number of supporters as his career nosedived more and more each season following his Anfield exit, but that came to an abrupt end when he joined United. Fans kept some respect for him for his role in some memorable games before his decision to run down his contract and leave for Madrid, but that respect is now gone. It wasn’t just his decision to join United that disappointed those fans, it was the complete lack of recognition from him about what it might mean to those supporters.
However Owen starts on the bench, as he has done most of the time since moving to Old Trafford, alongside the scouse-hating Gary Neville, so the early resentment will be aimed at United’s scouse hero, Wayne Rooney.
Today was always going to be a tough game, but Liverpool have to fight and stay focussed for 98 minutes if they’re to get something out of it.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Benayoun, Lucas, Mascherano, Aurelio, Kuyt, Torres.
Subs: Cavalieri, Voronin, Babel, Ngog, Spearing, Degen, Skrtel.
Manchester United: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney.
Subs: Foster, Neville, Owen, Anderson, Nani, Fabio Da Silva, Jonathan Evans.
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)