"I have always considered Manchester United versus Liverpool to be the game of the season in English football," says Sir Alex Ferguson. "We are talking about the two most successful clubs in England historically, and a rivalry that goes back to how industry changed when they opened the Manchester Ship Canal."
You can't really argue with him - the fixtures between the two teams are always huge - but that's not going to stop the gloriously stubborn Kenny Dalglish trying. "If that is what he thinks then fine. That is up to Fergie. For me, I've always said the most important game is the next one. It's Manchester United this time and next week it will be Norwich City."
Kick off in the big Liverpool v Norwich City clash: 5.30pm, Saturday 22 October.
In the meantime: United are at Anfield today, match starting at 12.45pm.
Now, despite United starting the season strongly, and Liverpool stuttering a wee bit, the home side will fancy their chances today. They've won their last three home league games against United, their best run since a streak of nine in a row between 1970/71 and 1979/80. The last time the teams met, Dirk Kuyt scored a hat-trick in this fixture last season, a game in which Luis Suarez was sensational. But United are due one against Liverpool at Anfield, where they've not won since December 2007, Carlos Tevez scoring the winner. And here's a different way to analyse the recent form in this fixture: John O'Shea scored a last-minute winner the season before that, so suddenly United's record at the home of their bitter rivals is two wins from five matches, which doesn't look bad at all.
While we're waiting, you'll do well to read this piece on Steven Gerrard by the magnificent Barney Ronay: Steven Gerrard is a period piece out of kilter with modern mores. And what a headline. Only in the Guardian, eh.
Steven Gerrard starts his first match for Liverpool since this corresponding fixture last season: Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Jose Enrique, Kuyt, Lucas, Adam, Downing, Gerrard, Suarez.
Subs: Doni, Agger, Carroll, Henderson, Spearing, Bellamy, Robinson.
Wayne Rooney on the bench for Manchester United, with Phil Jones in midfield: De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Young, Jones, Fletcher, Park, Giggs, Welbeck.
Subs: Lindegaard, Anderson, Rooney, Hernandez, Carrick, Nani, Valencia.
The omens are good for a United win, you'd have to say, because doubts are being raised regarding Ferguson's slightly idiosyncratic selection, and we all know how these scenarios usually pan out for British football's most prolific trophy gatherer. "Massive, massive gamble by Sir Alex," writes Dr Manoj Joseph. "Looks like we are aiming for a draw here what with Rooney, Nani and Hernandez all on the bench. It'll be a proper miracle if we manage a win with that first team. And what's with the subs bench? Not one defender in that lot." Meanwhile Owen Cameron splutters: "Evans and a recovering Ferdinand in central defence? If you don't have money on Suarez to score, you've got a philosophical objection to gambling."
Shameless plug / charity appeal. "I was wondering if I could be really cheeky and ask for a plug for my new book, which is out on Monday?" asks Benjamin Hendy. Floor's yours, sir. "It's called How To Fill A Black Hole and it's a children's sci-fi adventure for 9-12 year olds (though I've found plenty of adults who've enjoyed it too). If people head over to my publisher's website, www.milliwaysbooks.com, they can download the first three chapters for free and if they order a copy from there, £1 of their purchase price will go to Southampton Hospital Charity's Children's Services Funds. So not only would they be getting a rip-roaring read, they'd be helping out sick children too. What's not to love?"
The teams are out! Liverpool take to the pitch in their trademark all-red strip, United are playing in a blue-and-black hooped affair. Both teams ticking aesthetic boxes in my book. As you'd imagine, there's a belter of an atmosphere at Anfield. Let's hope we get a game to match. Come along, now, everyone, play nicely.
And we're off! United set the ball rolling, and will be kicking towards the Kop in the first half. That suggests Steven Gerrard won the toss, as that's just how Liverpool like it. Incidentally, our man in Manchester, Danny Taylor, reports that Sir Alex Ferguson confirms he's taken Rooney out because 'he's devastated by his suspension'.
2 min: It's all nervous passes, hoofs, and aimless headers at the moment. Biggest fixture in the best league in the world! Still, plenty of time to get this baby moving on an upward curve. "As a fan of the Glorious Glasgow Rangers," begins - who else? - Ryan Dunne, "I was delighted when Fergie said yesterday that the Old Firm Rammy is superior to el Clasico! Do the boys in the press box agree?" I'm sure they will now Fergie's told them what to think. Mind you, they'd be right to do so, of course. Here's what the United manager said: "Are you saying [the Liverpool and United fixture] is not as good as Barcelona-Real Madrid? You know the difference? Barcelona is one end of the country, Madrid the other, and the fans don't travel. The only rivalry you could compare the Liverpool game to is Rangers-Celtic."
3 min: Downing sprays a tasty ball out right to Gerrard, who nearly breaks past Evra. His efforts look like winning a corner, but Evra slides in and kicks the ball off Gerrard's beak - a proper comedy basic, perfectly executed, it could only be bettered with the honk of a horn - and out for a goal kick.
4 min: A long ball down the middle by United. Welbeck flicks on, and so nearly finds Young, on the edge of the area, but Reina comes out to collect. It's very sunny at Anfield today, the keeper squinting into the distance.
6 min: Lucas breaks into acres of space in the United half, Adam having won the ball well in midfield. It's classic nosebleed stuff from Lucas, though, who freezes as he nears the area and opts to lay off to Kuyt, who wastes possession. That was a chance to at least get a shot on target, but nothing came of it.
8 min: Smalling slips down the Liverpool left to allow Jose Enrique to reach the byline. The resulting cross goes nowhere. "I hope Benjamin Hendy put more effort into his book than he did into his cheeky requests for a plug, as that's word-for-word what appeared in yesterday's OBO," writes Allan Hobbs. "Lazy. (What are the rules on plagiarising one's own work, I wonder?)" I have no idea, but I've just recycled exactly the same nose-honking riff I trotted out in this morning's rugby MBM, something that wasn't even worth using in the first place, never mind copying, so you'll not hear me picking up Mr Hendy about it.
10 min: United ping a few triangles together down the inside-right channel. Welbeck eventually gets a shot away, but it's weak, and deflected, and gathered by Reina. A little opening there for a minute, though. "Liverpool had an unbeaten streak of nine in a row between 1970/71 and 1979/80, but seven wins in a row from 72/73 to 79/80," corrects Mac Millings. "Sorry, but I have nothing better to do. Well, I suppose I could act like a competent parent by breaking up my children's current round of combat, but, well, y'know."
12 min: Ferdinand needlessly brings down Suarez under a high ball, 25 yards out, just to the left of goal. Gerrard floats a free kick into the area, but it's easily headed clear by Evra. This is a bright opening by both teams, without either keeper having to make a save.
13 min: Downing versus Evra down the right could become interesting. Downing nearly zips past his man into acres, but opts to go to ground instead, looking for a free kick. Evra is beside himself with rage, and demands the referee show the Liverpool winger a yellow card for diving. Now now, everyone, play nicely.
14 min: Kelly is penalised for, well, not very much down the United left. Level with the edge of the area, Young whips a dangerous ball towards the far post; Reina, peering cautiously into the sun, claims well. That was clever play by Young, fishing for a mistake, as Reina appears to be struggling to see what's going on at the moment.
16 min: Brilliance from Evra, who zips down the left after a ball he should never have a hope in hell of reaching. But reach it he does, whipping a cross to the far post for Jones, who heads into the side netting. Liverpool were all over the shop at the back there, ripped asunder by Evra and the increasingly impressive Jones, who set the whole move off in the first place.
18 min: Anfield has gone quiet, with United slowly gaining the ascendency. A lovely bit of crowd despair slipped through the net on Sky Sports; a terribly desperate Scouse cry of "this is shite". "Is it always the work experience who sets up the pitchside microphones for Sky?" asks Ronan Leonard. "Or some scamp who just loves people getting to swear on air? Bet he loved Black Grape on TFI Friday'."
21 min: Downing finally gets the crowd going, taking a shot from the edge of the area. It's deflected out of play, to the left of the goal, for a corner. Adam takes it quickly, allowing Gerrard to whip a delightful ball right through the United six-yard box. De Gea having been attracted to his near post, the goal is unguarded and gaping, but Suarez and Kuyt are, respectively, nowhere near the ball and facing the wrong way, and the ball flies out on the right.
24 min: It's very quiet at Anfield now. Unsurprising, really, as nothing much is going on. But United will be happy enough with this.
25 min: Suarez has a dig from the halfway line, but his shot curls wide right and high. De Gea wasn't in prime position there, so it wasn't too daft a thing to do.
27 min: A couple of decent crosses into the United area, first by Kelly down the right, then by Jose Enrique down the left. Both times, Ferdinand heads clear strongly. Decent play all round. "So in Rooney and Carroll, you've got two strikers on the bench with a combined total value of over £60m," notes Mark Scott. "That is of course of course if like me, you value Rooney at £55m and Carroll at £5m."
28 min: A booking for Liverpool. I'm not sure who it's to: either for Skrtel on Welbeck, or Lucas on Park. I'll get back to you about that, perhaps when one of them gets sent off. One thing I will say; neither challenge was particularly meaty, late and clumsy clips but nothing else.
30 min: Suarez turns Ferdinand inside and out like an old sock. He wins a corner down the left. Liverpool load the United box for the corner, but it's scrambled clear. United break upfield through Giggs, who sends a long ball up to Welbeck, the United striker nearly breaking free down the right. He's eventually relieved of the ball by Lucas. After a quiet few minutes, the pace of the game is picking up a wee bit again.
31 min: The booking was for Lucas. He'll miss Dalglish's game of the season against Norwich next week.
32 min: Gerrard is found in acres of space down the right, but as he shapes to cross, he slips, and balloons the ball into the Anfield Road end. "That's why I have missed Gerrard," writes Graeme Neill. "Those aimless, chance squandering shanks into Row Z. Welcome back Stevie!"
35 min: The first real chance of the match falls to Liverpool. Adam takes a shot, which deflects off Evans and breaks to Suarez on the edge of the area. He drops a shoulder, sending Evans sliding out of the way, but can't squeeze the ball into the bottom-right corner past De Gea, who clears with his shins. A real chance, hit straight at the keeper (who nevertheless did very well indeed).
37 min: Lucas gives the ball away in midfield. Young bombs forward, eventually finding Welbeck. The ball's fed out to Giggs on the left, then back inside to Jones, who slips an inviting pass down the inside-right channel for Fletcher. The Scotland captain takes a shot, but it squirms well wide left of the target.
40 min: Skrtel turns into Frnz Bcknbr for a minute, rampaging all the way up the field and into the United box. He's ushered out of play on the left by Ferdinand. Wonderful play all round.
41 min: Park robs Adam down the right and hares off down the pitch, cutting inside, then launching a shot wide left of goal. Fantastic play from the United midfielder. "Does anyone know what compels a manager to wear a suit for one match and then a tracksuit for the next?" wonders
Owen Coyle Patrick Armitage. "This is a big match, Kenny. Try and class it up a bit."
43 min: Young is booked for upending Gerrard down the right as the Liverpool captain tries to nip between the United man and his team-mate Evra. A dangerous free kick for Liverpool, just to the right of the United area. Adam whips it in; De Gea punches it out.
44 min: A clash of heads between Jones and Lucas, both men requiring treatment. It was accidental, the Manchester United player coming off worse, falling to the ground immediately. Lucas took a while before hitting the turf, but hit it he did, perhaps worried that he'd pick up a second yellow.
45 min: Jones is still off the pitch getting treatment, though not for the clash of heads; he's got a bit of knee knack. There will be two minutes of injury time at the end of this half.
HALF TIME: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United. Jones comes back on the pitch to complete the half, but he's moving around very gingerly. United will want a good look at him during the half-time break. And that's that for the half. Not much to report there, to be honest, De Gea making the only save from Suarez. "Kenny's probably saving the suit for the Norwich game," suggests Sophie Pearson.
"To Yosser Hughes,
Better looking by far.
And let's not forget, a bravura performance by Sammy Lee.
And we're off again! Liverpool set the ball rolling, launching it long, and losing it almost immediately. Jones is fit to continue for United, at least for the moment. Meanwhile we might be on our way to the first MBM divorce. "Bloody hell, this is Sophie Pearson's husband who thought of that brilliant bit of humour about Kenny's suit, but sent it from the wifey's iPad," writes Matt Pearson. "Credit where credit's due etc etc." Make sure you tell us when the decree absolute arrives, now.
47 min: Young has a thrash from distance, but his shot is dragged miles wide left. "This break-away-from-the-TV-deal plan of Liverpool's must be taking a further blow today," writes Oliver Lewis. "Why would Liverpool and Man U deserve more TV money after this? Norwich next week of course would be in for a windfall."
48 min: A free kick for United, 25 yards out, just to the left. Reina parries Young's effort, but lets the ball clatter off his shins. He's very fortunate that the ball rolls past the nearby Welbeck, instead of to the striker's feet, allowing the keeper to scamper after it and claim.
50 min: To the left of the United goal, Suarez twists through 360 degrees to flummox Smalling. He's momentarily clear, but the ball's eventually bundled out of play. From the corner on the left, Kuyt heads goalwards from the penalty spot, the ball striking Evans on the top of his left arm. Seen them given, and all that, but that would have been extremely harsh.
51 min: Down the right, Young cuts inside and unleashes a low shot that crosses the face of goal and flies out to the left. The referee decides Reina fingertipped the ball out of play. Not sure about that. The corner's given, nevertheless, but nothing comes of it, so there'll be no controversy here.
53 min: Ferdinand is booked for coming through the back of Suarez. There hasn't been much in any of these bookings, you know. It's not been that sort of game, played in a good spirit so far. The resulting free kick, from out on the left, nearly finds Suarez in the area, but the striker can't time his leap, bustled out of it by a couple of determined United challenges.
56 min: Gerrard bombs down the left. He has a shot from a tight angle, but it's easily claimed by De Gea. Here's Jonathan Holland on Sir Alex's comment about the Manchester Ship Canal: "You can bet that if they'd called it the Liverpool Ship Canal, he wouldn't have mentioned it."
57 min: A change for Liverpool: Lucas off, Jordan Henderson on. "Am I hearing things or does someone have an old fashioned footie rattle at the game?" wonders Simon McMahon. You could be right, you know. "Well done. I hope they're wearing a flat cap too."
58 min: Corner for Liverpool, down the left. It's swung to the far post, where Skrtel contests, but Smllng clears. Suarez and Evra tussle down the right. Suarez catches Evra on the knee as the two battle for the ball at high pace. Evra twists and turns in agony, winning a free kick. No punishment for Suarez - correctly - but Evra doesn't see it that way. He's got that look in his eye, suggesting this isn't over.
60 min: Suarez has a shot from 35 yards. It nearly clears the Kop. "Rio Ferdinand has the air of Brian Glover in Kes," writes Gary Naylor. "He's full of bluster and a sense of entitlement, but he's too old and too slow."
63 min: Suarez pickpockets Fletcher on the edge of the area. He really is a bustling menace. He skitters into the area and takes a shot that's deflected wide left. Corner. Which is coming in a minute, as play stops awhile for Suarez and Evra to get on each other's nerves in the box. The referee has a word. As the pair walk off from their lecture, Suarez pats Evra on the head, ostensibly in a friendly manner, sending the United full back into a blistering rage. The corner is dealt with by United, but Evra begins a new argument with Kuyt, and picks up a preposterous booking. He was played there, totally grifted.
66 min: Adam sashays, as much as Adam can sashay, down the inside right channel. His little toe is clipped by Ferdinand as he goes past; free kick. No booking, though, which is something of an escape for the defender, and for United, as he's already been booked.
68 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United. Not that much of an escape, though. Gerrard takes the free kick, just to the right of the D. He hits the ball straight at the wall - but Giggs peels away from Welbeck, allowing the ball to sail through and fly into the right-hand side of De Gea's unguarded net. That almost qualifies as an assist for Giggs, so elementary was the mistake.
69 min: An immediate double change for United: Nani and Wayne Rooney come on for Young and Park. Meanwhile the tumult in the Pearson household continues apace. "Actually I thought of it but my parents are trying to grab all the glory," writes Zak Pearson (age 11.5). Eleven point five?
71 min: The tempo's suddenly super-high, the atmosphere buzzing. Balls are flung into the area at each end of the pitch; all pretty aimless, though. "Evra does get a good righteous funk on, doesn't he?" observes Joe Pearson. "He kissed his badge at the Anfield crowd, telling them perhaps to 'funk off'. As far as I know, I'm not related to Matt and Sophie."
73 min: Liverpool are suddenly sitting back a bit, which might not be such a good idea against free-scoring United, especially now Rooney and Nani are on. Ferdinand sends a beautiful raking ball down the right; Smalling lets the ball go under his foot, just as it looked like he would break into space.
75 min: Adam tenaciously wins the ball down the left, but his chipped ball forward to release Suarez is too strong, and De Gea is out to claim.
76 min: Nani spins in a central position, 25 yards out centrally, and earns himself a shooting opportunity. He hoicks it miles over the bar, though.
77 min: A final change for United, who you suspect will be in Kitchen Sink mode for the next quarter of an hour or so. Hernandez comes on for Jones. Since the goal, United have enjoyed 70% of possession.
79 min: Nani and Evans struggle to get the ball under control down the United right, just inside the Liverpool area. Jose Enrique comes in to clear, although the ball hits the top of his arm, then clanks off his hand, while he does so. Similar to the Evans incident earlier, in that the ball was played off him at such close range, it would have been a very harsh decision. But again, they've been given.
81 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United. A corner for United down the left. It's zipped towards the near post, where Welbeck glances a header on. Welbeck's intervention has Liverpool's back line all over the shop, and Hernandez zips in to hammer a header home from close range. That's a magnificently worked corner.
82 min: What a save by De Gea! Downing curls in a low cross from the left. Kuyt sticks a leg up at the far post, directing the ball towards the bottom-right corner. But the keeper is across to parry out for a corner. Wonderful goalkeeping. From the resulting set piece, there's a scramble at the far post after a not-so-wonderful flap from De Gea, but neither Downing nor Kuyt can get a shot away. United clear.
84 min: Both teams are going for the winner. United press Liverpool back awhile, but can't find a pass in the final third. Downing goes at Smalling down the left, but the United full back keeps tight to his man. There's some tension within Anfield now.
85 min: For a second, it looks like Suarez is clear down the inside-right channel, but he fails to control, and he's offside anyway. This is pelting along at some pace now. If only the whole game had been like this.
87 min: Kelly and Giggs collide down the right. Both men stay on their feet, and keep running. Neither look for a free kick. That's the first time that has happened in the Premier League since 1997.
88 min: Cutting in from the left, Downing looks for the top-right corner from 25 yards. His rising screamer isn't too far off, but clears the bar and sails into the Kop. A decent attempt from a player yet to open his account for his new club.
89 min: Fletcher upends Suarez, who had controlled a long ball down the inside-right channel, 30 yards out. Gerrard dinks the most aimless free kick you'll ever see into the United area; it's cleared with ease.
90 min: Henderson races after a ball bouncing down the inside-right channel. He loops a first-time effort towards the top-left. It's heading in, but De Gea scampers back to claw the ball out for a corner. Magnificent play all round. From the corner, another corner. And from that, Suarez and Rooney compete for a header six yards out; Rooney wins the battle, and Skrtel slashes a wild shot into the Kop.
90 min +2: In the second of three minutes of injury time, Henderson heads a cross from the left over the bar from eight yards. That was a magnificent chance to win this game.
FULL TIME: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United. And that's that. United end their losing streak here; Liverpool extend their unbeaten run. Henderson had chances at the end to win the game, but a draw is a fair result. No controversies, unless you're spoiling for a fight, which is nice. Warm handshakes all round, the game having been played in a fine spirit for once. There's nice.