Welcome to yet another episode of the East Lancs Road Stramash. And we all know the subtext. And that, as a result of that subtext, this match has the potential to be a grim old affair (though let's hope not). But, here, if the man who built modern Manchester United, and the most successful manager in Liverpool's history, can share a glass and a laugh, can't everyone else try to love each other today? Eh?
So we'll try to keep it civil round here. Fans and supporters of Liverpool and Manchester United are therefore cordially invited to email in saying nice things about each other. Worst-case scenario if humanity doesn't shine through: I have no emails to publish and a nice easy afternoon of it. But I have hope: just look at Matt and Bob sharing a moment there at the 1983 Milk Cup final, the romantic old devils!
Kick off: 12.45pm for a 12.46pm brouhaha.
Liverpool, who are either playing five at the back, or Jamie Carragher in midfield: Reina, Skrtel, Carragher, Agger, Kelly, Henderson, Gerrard, Jose Enrique, Downing, Carroll, Maxi.
Subs: Doni, Johnson, Coates, Kuyt, Adam, Shelvey, Bellamy.
Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Valencia, Welbeck, Park.
Subs: Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Berbatov, Hernandez, Fabio Da Silva, Michael Keane, Pogba
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
Our first friendly message of the day comes courtesy of my learned colleague Jacob Steinberg, via the medium of That Twitter: "As a goodwill gesture towards Manchester United, Liverpool start with Andy Carroll."
The teams are in the tunnel. Evra, wearing United's blue-and-black change strip and a determined (if understandably slightly pensive) look, leads his team out. Gerrard escorts his men alongside him, in Liverpool red. A magnificent atmosphere at Anfield, as much as I can tell through the ITV microphones anyway. "An inspiring, Ebony & Ivory-esque appeal for calm and sanity, Scott," simpers Ryan Dunne, and who am I to argue. "It's surely also worth noting that if the Glorious Glasgow Rangers-affiliated Sir Alex and Cellic's King Kenny can get on (which they kinda do) then surely so can Man U and Liverpool fans. Jamie Carragher in midfield sounds an, er, intriguing move. I realise he's renowned for a having a knowledge of tactics etc that most players don't, but surely this is a bit Kevin Keegan playing Gareth Southgate as a midfield enforcer?"
And we're off! Luis Suarez is in the stands with his wee daughter. Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson shake hands warmly on the touchline. Evra crosses himself, and his team-mates get the ball rolling. They'll be kicking towards the Kop in the first half, which means Liverpool play that way in the second, of course. Which is just how they want it. "Is United's decision to play de Gea a response to Liverpool's kindly gesture to play Andy Carroll?" wonders John White. "Surely a goalkeeper with vision problems and a striker with goal problems leads to a perfect harmonious balance."
23 seconds: Evra touches the ball for the first time. He gets pelters, as you'd expect.
2 min: A strong-ish start by United, who are seeing plenty of the ball in these early exchanges. Liverpool haven't really arrived yet, but no matter, as the home crowd aren't really concentrating on the match, discussing via the medium of song the veracity of Evra's testimony to that FA committee.
4 min: All that United possession, and yet it's De Gea who warms his hands first. Downing gets a bit of space 30 yards from goal, and he cuts inside from the right to unleash a low swerving shot towards the bottom-left corner. It's a hot effort, and one the keeper does well to push round the post. The corner is a load of rubbish. "Actually Carragher started out as a defensive midfielder in Liverpool's first team, so I was a bit surprised he hadn't been considered there after the Lucas injury and suspension to Spearing," writes Steve Armson. "Mind you that was several aeons ago and he didn't exactly cement his position, so... bit of a pointless email, really, but at least it's about the football."
6 min: Park is suddenly in a lot of space 35 yards from goal, with options to his left. But he dawdles, and Kelly, then Carragher, crunches in. This is being played at 110mph, although that's not stopping Carroll jogging around in his trademark trot.
8 min: Valencia gets a yard on Enrique down the right. His cross is chested down by Park, who lays off to Giggs on the edge of the area. Giggs' shot is powerful, but straight at Reina, who snaffles without fuss. "So Sir Matt Busby and (not Sir) Bob Paisley favoured ground black pepper at a time when the height of exotic British food was a Vesta boil-in-the-bag chicken madras and rice?" notes Gary Naylor. "Who'd have thunk it?"
9 min: Henderson makes a yard or two down the left. His cross finds Gerrard in the centre. The Liverpool captain connects, 12 yards out, but gets next to nothing on his shot, which wafts into De Gea's arms.
12 min: It's all become a bit scrappy. Carroll loops a header towards goal, but it's very much off his eyebrows, and not a problem for De Gea. "As a Liverpool fan, I once detested Man U," begins Tim Blangger. "Hated the team, the coach, even the fans. But, I have mellowed quite a bit, actually met some fans, who turned out to be nice and even have warmed to that hairdryer blowhard, Sir Alex. I suspect the best thing that happened to ManU was that really despicable teams such as Chelsea and Man City, who are actively trying to buy championships and trophies with their owners' natural resource billions, have come along and offered a contrast to what Man U is trying to do. Don't misunderstand me, Scott. I still want Liverpool to win today, but it's not the knife-edge affair if Liverpool were playing Chelsea, Man City or really, really despicable teams like Real Madrid."
13 min: Carragher launches into a tackle on Park.
15 min: Carragher arrives for the tackle. Park is upended. It's in the centre circle, so referee Mark Halsey calmly blows for a free kick, and nothing else.
17 min: Downing cleans Evra out by the corner flag on the left. Free kick. That didn't go down well with the Kop, as you'd imagine. "One lying bastard," they chorus. The free kick is rubbish, and cleared. But United come straight back at Liverpool, Valencia cutting in from the right, skating past a desparing lunge from Maxi, and unleashing a superlative low curling shot that beats Reina all ends up, only to crash off the left-hand upright and away from danger. What a magnificent shot. And, on the balance of play, United would have deserved to take the lead.
20 min: A decent meander in from the right past three men by Downing. Space opens up for him to shoot, but after all that good work he hesitates, and is blocked out of it. The ball's reclaimed by Liverpool, Enrique aiming for the top-right corner. It's headed out for a corner by Smalling. And from the set piece...
21 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United. Gerrard takes from the left, swinging the ball to the far post. De Gea comes to claim, but can't make his way through a thicket of players. Agger gets a head to the ball, and sends it into the right-hand side of the net. Humilatingly, it bounces off the top of the unsighted De Gea's head as it makes its way into the goal.
22 min: That goal was celebrated with some ferocity by Suarez in the stand. On the touchline, United reserve keeper Lindegaard warms up; there's something wrong with his side, by all accounts. Here's Mac Millings, re Evra's reception on 23 seconds: "I remember when I touched the ball (singular; medical reasons) for the first time. I got pelters, too, but it was in the middle of a Maths lesson, so fair enough."
24 min: Another corner for Liverpool, this time on the right. De Gea comes out to punch with confidence this time. United, suddenly shaken, attempt to launch an attack of their own, but Liverpool are soon coming back at them. Gerrard picks up the ball in the centre circle and drifts wide right, before unleashing a useless shot miles into the stand behind. There's a sense that Liverpool are after De Gea, who is looking shaky and under some pressure.
27 min: United haven't taken long to regroup. They push Liverpool back for a minute or two, stroking the ball hither and yon. They can't break into the box, though, or find the killer ball, and the period of pressure eventually fizzles out. "The problem with your picture of Bob and Matt is that it's from 1983," sighs Rob Marriott. "That's before Sky. The Murdoch empire has done a lot of detrimental things to the game, but I'm not sure any are worse than the desperation to make relationships between fans into something unneccessarily and pointlessly vile. There is a profound difference between rivalry and hatred, it's a difference that Sky understand, and ever since 1992 they've had a commitment to promote the latter and minimalise the traditional, sensible, reasonable former. Shame on them. And shame, too, on the BBC for slavishly following their lead."
30 min: It's all a bit scrappy at the moment. Agger slides in late on Welbeck. There's a case for a booking there, but Welbeck doesn't make a meal of it, and the referee takes the sensible course and has a quick chat to the defender before moving on. There have been some meaty challenges in this game, but nothing sinister; the referee's having a good game so far.
33 min: Evra, nearing the area, so nearly breaks through down the left. It's kind of in the script, isn't it? All the reactions on both sides would be something to behold, that's for sure. "Man City despicable?" splutters Ian Burch. "There's a club who have been a comedy act since the late 70's, living in the shadow of the biggest club in the land and even dropping to the third tier of English football. Good luck to them, we will all dislike them in a few years, but let them have a moment or two of glory before then."
34 min: Great defending by Rafael, who gets his head to a long high Agger pass down the inside-left channel. It was real last-ditch stuff, with Gerrard lurking and looking to break into the area for a one-on-one with De Gea.
36 min: United seeing a lot of the ball in the Liverpool half. Giggs rolls a pass down the inside-right channel and nearly releases Welbeck, but the striker miscontrols and the ball runs through to Reina. But that nearly split the Liverpool back line in two. "De Gea's fragility is encouraging Gerrard to shoot from distance?" writes Mac Millings. "Time, then, to reintroduce the GUARDIAN.CO.UK PATENTED STEVEN GERRARD WAYWARD FLAY-O-METER." Ha! Back by public demand. Fair enough, I'm here to serve. For the record, that last effort of his: C.
38 min: Gerrard swings a cross in from the right towards Carroll, who glances a weak effort straight at De Gea.
39 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United. This had been coming. Valencia slides the ball out right to Rafael, who brushes past a terrible challenge by Enrique to reach the byline, at which point he pulls the ball back to Park, eight yards out by the near post. Park hits the ball first time, arrowing it into the bottom-right corner. Crisp and clean as you like.
42 min: United continue to dominate possession. Liverpool have been second best for the majority of the half, that little period surrounding their goal apart. Valencia loops a cross in from the right, which Reina does well to pluck from the sky under pressure. "There has been suggestions in France that the PSG/Marseille traditional rivalry was suddenly manufactured into the current hateful little war by Canal Plus (who owned the broadcasting rights and sponsored the Parisians) in the 80s," writes Loig Thivend. Où est l'amour?
44 min: Liverpool could do with the half-time whistle here. United are dominant, without quite being rampant. Giggs threatens on the left, then dinks a cross towards Welbeck at the far post. Enrique, defensively dodgy so far, does well to win a header and clear. Still a hot atmosphere here, by the way, both sets of fans giving it plenty.
HALF TIME: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United. Welbeck is this close from turning Skrtel down the inside-left channel, but the defender does well to hold him off. And that's the end of the action. United will wonder how they're not leading this game at the break; they've been the better side by some distance. Liverpool's midfield may need some tweaking. Carroll and Maxi have been worse than anonymous.
HALF-TIME ENTERTAINMENT: A lovely gallery from this game.
HALF-TIME LFC-UNITED LOVE-IN: "You want friendship?" asks Jim Bach. "Here's two friends watching the match at a bar in Columbus, Ohio." A sweet moment, Jim, and one worth sharing with our loyal reader. Although by the looks of it the bloke in the United shirt is about to instigate a Hegelian dialectic with the chap in the Liverpool top. Has it kicked off yet? Are they rolling around in the spit and sawdust, like that scene from Women In Love only with less homo-eroticism and more polyester chafing?
And we're off again! Liverpool - no changes - set the ball rolling, attacking the Kop in the second half. United are also as they were, less surprisingly. "Any truth in the rumour that De Gea got as far as T-H-I-S-I-S-A-N-F, but then asked the physio for a stronger lens for the last few letters?" Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Justin Kavanagh.
46 min: Liverpool start the half on the front foot. Evra is put a bit of pressure down the Liverpool right. His poor clearance gives Downing a chance to cross, but the low delivery is appalling and easily cleared by Evans.
49 min: But on the whole United have started the second half as they finished the first. Giggs streams down the left and sends a peach of a ball down the corridor of uncertainty. It was almost a carbon copy of Kolarov's ball for Dzeko in the Liverpool-City game on Wednesday. Welbeck can't get on the end of it, though, and Agger hacks clear.
52 min: Liverpool can't get hold of the ball at all. They are being totally over-run in midfield. Carrick slides the ball down the inside-left channel, giving Park and Giggs the opportunity to wreak havoc. Corner. Liverpool clear, but there's nobody upfield, and the ball's soon coming straight back at them. This is both very impressive by Manchester United, and increasingly witless by Liverpool. The home side could do with a shake-up, because as things are currently going, there is only one winner of this match.
54 min: On the touchline, Craig Bellamy warms up. "Oh the Eighties," sighs Mark Elliott, "those halcyon days when rival fans would serenade each other with such witty repartee as: 'You're gonna get your fucking heads kicked in', You're going home by St John's ambulance' and 'West stand west stand do your job'."
55 min: To the left of his goal, De Gea ineptly passes the ball straight to Downing, who is six feet away from him. Dear Lord, the man is a bag of nerves. Downing can't make anything of the gift, though, taking an age to turn, then firing a low ball towards the near post, one that's easily cleared.
57 min: The ball's slid down the inside-left channel and into the area for Carroll, who clunks around for a bit. The ball strokes Smalling's hand - the defender is prone on the ground, with his back to the play - and Carroll appeals for a penalty he's never going to get. Good decision by the referee. Instead of waving his arms in the air like an ersatz George Graham's Arsenal tribute act, Carroll should have concentrated on getting a shot away.
59 min: A ball down the inside-left channel for United now. Welbeck is beyond the Liverpool back line, 40 yards out. Reina comes out but is beaten to the ball, Welbeck knocking it round him on the right and looking to meet up with it again after circumventing the keeper on the left. But before he can reacquaint himself with the ball, Skrtel bombs over from the centre to clear. Clever play by Welbeck, brilliant defending by Skrtel.
61 min: The Anfield crowd are getting a bit testy with their side now, who are giving the ball away in midfield with depressing regularity. United are stroking the ball around confidently, Scholes keeping things ticking over metronomically in the middle.
63 min: A double change for Liverpool: Carragher is replaced by Kuyt, while Maxi is replaced by Adam. Maxi could easily have been going off the pitch in different circumstances: seconds before being replaced, he went in studs up, both feet off the ground, on Giggs. Could easily have been a red, although he will claim both boots had returned to ground by the time he actually reached Giggs and the ball.
65 min: Adam, on the left, sends a deep and high cross into the United six-yard box. De Gea goes up for an easy catch, but fumbles the ball behind for a corner. That is abysmal goalkeeping. The young man needs a confidence builder, perhaps away on loan somewhere. The corner is wasted by Liverpool.
66 min: Rafael is booked for a body check on Downing, 25 yards out, just to the left of centre. That'll be a free kick in a dangerous position.
67 min: Gerrard's free kick, aimed for the bottom left, is handled confidently by De Gea. Up the other end, Carrick has a swipe from distance, his low effort sailing just wide right of goal.
68 min: A cross from Kuyt down the right. De Gea fumbles under pressure from Carroll, but flops on the loose ball to claim. He has a shout and a moan at the Liverpool striker, though there wasn't much in the challenge. "Watching another nervy performance by De Gea i can't help but feel there's a top class keeper in him just waiting to get out," writes David Flynn. "He hasn't been helped all season by an unsettled and constantly changing back four made up of inexperienced youth or slightly past it veterans. Or in the case of Johnny Evans, complete crap. He could have done with a season as understudy to van der sar. If we could all take our rose tinted nostalgia glasses off for a minute we might remember that a certain Peter Schmeichel flapped at a fair number of crosses in his day."
71 min: Cutting in from the left, Gerrard tries to beat De Gea with a curling effort towards the top right. The shot - it could be an overhit cross, mind - is a real looper, and proves a test for the keeper, who backtracks but manages to pluck from the air.
72 min: Liverpool's last throw of the dice: Bellamy comes on - to loud applause - for Gerrard.
74 min: United aren't quite the smooth force they were of a few minutes ago. Liverpool have seen a bit more of the ball since Adam and Kuyt arrived on the scene, but they've still not really threatened United much. The visitors, on the whole, look extremely comfortable - and are preparing for the introduction of Hernandez.
75 min: Evra sashays down the left and fizzes a low cross into the area, with a view to finding the feet of Welbeck. He nearly does so, but Skrtel is tight on the striker and bustles him out of it.
76 min: A first change for United: Scholes goes off, Hernandez comes on.
77 min: Anfield is pretty damn quiet now, though the visiting fans seem the happier, belting out their Cantona songbook, and no wonder with the way things have panned out.
79 min: Agger gets himself in all sorts of trouble under a high ball sent down United's inside-right channel, and eventually bundles Hernandez to the floor, by the right-hand touchline. The ball's sent into the box and cleared. Carrick perhaps subconsciously tries to replicate De Jong's goal for Manchester City back on Wednesday night, falling back as he hits a shot from the edge of the area, but the effort screws well wide left.
80 min: Adam sends in a low drive from distance, but it's wide right of goal and well covered by De Gea anyway.
81 min: The ball falls to Kuyt on the edge of the United area.
82 min: Kuyt eventually decides to take a shot. It's blocked, and trundles through to the keeper. What a waste of a half-chance. A wee bit later, Downing skips down the left and sends a cross into the centre, where Kuyt heads weakly wide right.
83 min: A snapshot by Welbeck. It's not really any good, corkscrewing wide right. The quality of football in this half has been pretty dismal, on the whole.
85 min: Reina is forced to play sweeper, racing from his area to head clear from Hernandez, who is clear of the last man. A lot of teeth sucking and lip smacking around Anfield, a combination of tension and Liverpool's poor play. "Watching here in China I've had to turn up the commentary to drown out day seven of the New Year fireworks and have been struck by the pronunciation of the names, which irrespective of how they sound in English, have to be spoken in the best fitting Chinese syllables," reports Richard Greaves. "Interestingly Giggs becomes ji-ge-si, Gerrard zhe-la-de and I've just been introduced to the new English town of sun-de-lan. Interestingly Charlie Adam remains simply Charlie Adam, although in a vaguely Welsh sounding accent."
87 min: Valencia shows great skill and no little speed to steal a march down the right. His cross to the far post is met by Welbeck, who checks back and blasts over.
88 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United. So simple, and out of nothing. Reina hoicks the ball forward, straight down the middle. Carroll flicks on, straight down the inside-right channel. Evra - of all people - is caught out of position, allowing Kuyt to run through and blast the ball straight through De Gea and into the net. The Kop explodes.
89 min: This should have been three for Liverpool. Downing digs a cross in from the left. Carroll meets the ball at the far post, heading the ball past a flailing De Gea and off the crossbar. The rebound falls to Kuyt on the penalty spot. Kuyt prods the ball outside the right-hand post.
90 min: Berbatov comes on to replace Giggs. There will be three added minutes of this game.
90 min +1: Liverpool press United down the right. The away side look shocked, messing up a throw-in to concede possession. That should allow Liverpool to eat up a few more seconds.
90 min +2: Liverpool spend the entire minute pinning United back in the right-hand corner. A lot of faffing around with throw-ins.
FULL TIME: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United. And that's it. Anfield erupts. Liverpool join Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the hat for the fifth round. United - who didn't deserve to lose - are out. Evra leaves the pitch quietly and sadly, De Gea - arguably at fault for both goals - shakes hands with Henderson and sportingly mutters "well played". Liverpool quite rightly care not a jot about the balance of play, having regrouped well towards the end, and launched the killer attack. Carroll had a poor all-round game - despite hitting the woodwork - but should take heart from his role in the winning goal against bitter rivals. A turning point for a young player stripped of confidence? In the post-match interviews, both Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt have the good grace to admit that United were possibly the better team, certainly in terms of possession. The final word to Dr Manoj Joseph: "Liverpool stole a page from the Newcastle playbook of how to defeat Man Utd. The second goal was a Pool version of the Ameobi/ Ba goal.. Simple flick on and goal. Like I said during that game Utd lost the game because nobody in the team can win headers."