Preamble: Good afternoon and welcome to a match that promises sub-plots than late-period Salman Rushdie: Fernando Torres v Nemanja 'bunny' Vidic, who has been sent off in three of the last four matches between these sides; the question of where Joe Cole will play - assuming he does play; whether Sir Alex Ferguson will allow Dimitar Berbatov to start a big game; the possible return of Rio Ferdinand for Jonny Evans - and, last but by no means least, the intriguing managerial machinations. Both Roy Hodgson and Ferguson have a tendency to play one up front in big games - but will they change tack today?
Stats that may or may not be relevant for today's match:* Four of the last five Utd v Liverpool games have had at least three goals* United's league record last season after Champ Lge matches: W3 D2 L5* There have been six red cards in the last seven matches* United have yet to concede a goal at Old Trafford this season* Liverpool are yet to score a league goal away from home this season
Manchester United team (4-4-2) with no Rio Ferdinand and nine changes to the team that drew against Rangers Van Der Sar; O'Shea, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov, Rooney. According to our Manchester correspondent Daniel Taylor there are unconfirmed reports that Ferdinand is ill.
The Liverpool team (4-2-3-1) with Joe Cole and six changes to the team that beat Steaua Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky; Poulsen, Meireles; Maxi, Gerrard, Cole; Torres.
Latest odds: Manchester United 8-11, Liverpool 5-1, draw 11-4.
An email ... "This is the season that United will surpass Liverpool's record," predicts Harris Anyangu. "There's the motivation. All they have to do is keep the tabs on Joe Cole." Surely Chelsea's form is more of a concern?
The strains of Glory, Glory Man United die down ... And to the Stone Roses' This Is The One the teams leave the tunnel. Not long to go now. Meanwhile Rob Hisnay emails: "Please tell me what's a better value for the dollar: City spending £7m for Adam Johnson, Spurs £8m for Van der Vaart ... or Fergie £7m for Bebe?" Mmm.
1 min: We're off! United, kicking from left to right on my TV, get proceedings underway.
2 min: United immediately attack and Konchesky has to be both muscular and alert to stop Berbatov climbing above him at the back post.
4 min: "Not meaning to stir Liverpudlians, but after Kenny Dalglish's preposterous claims about 'winning the title' I think their expectations need to be seriously tempered," reckons Patrick Willis. "If Liverpool make Europe this season it will be a success, given Chelsea, United, Arsenal, City, Spurs are all quite simply better teams on paper. And a Champions League qualification would be like winning the title" Think it's a little early to be writing Liverpool off, Patrick - Torres needs to get fit and the new signings need to bed in. But I agree, they don't look top four material at the moment. Or even top six.
5 min: United's first corner is headed over by Vidic. It's all United.
6 min: Scholes ... Nani ... Konchesky's knee ... corner, which Gerrard clears.
7 min: Another Nani cross, another block, another corner. It's thumped away, but United immediately pump it back into the box before O'Shea impulsively swipes at a half-chance 15 yards out. Incidentally, Vidic was tugged by Carragher at that corner, but his dive afterwards was pure Superman.
10 min: It's all United.
11 min: It's pelting down at Old Trafford. There's a brief lull on the pitch, with United content to sit off while their fans taunt 'Premier League, you're having a laugh'.
13 min First significant touch for Joe Cole, who comes inside from an inside-left position to collect a Gerrard pass before dropping his shoulder ... and getting tackled by Evra.
15 min: Right now Liverpool are about as fluent as Pope Benedict's English; they've just had some possession but it so stumbling and slow.
17 min: Best move of the match from United, as Rooney breezily exchanges passes with Berbatov before sliding in Nani on the right. Nani's initial shot was deflected to Rooney, who returned it to United's winger only to watch his second attempt squirm wide.
18 min: "Just a thought: Skrtel, Konchesky, Meireles ... is this the baldest Liverpool side ever?" asks Philip Hucknall. Well is it?
20 min: Torres, for those of you asking, is still scratching around trying to get into the game. And to be honest, the same could be said for Liverpool. You'd never know they have an extra man in midfield.
21 min: Another United corner - their fourth - is Stammed over the bar by Paul Scholes from 20 yards. United have now had five attempts on goal to Liverpool's nil, although Reina is yet to make a save.
23 min: "King Kenny has nothing on my optimism," says Ian Copestake. "Given Roy's ability to make Liverpool play in the second half only, a half-time deficit of 3-0 shouldn't be a problem." On the pitch, Johnson balloons a cross into Van Der Sar's arms.
25 min: Rooney drifts into a decent position, 10 yards from the box, but his dinked chip - intended for Berbatov - goes straight to Reina.
27 min: Liverpool win their first corner after some clever trickery from Torres by the corner flag. It's played short to Johnson, who cuts menacingly inside before skidding his shot about 30 yards wide of Van der Sar's post. Still, that's Liverpool's best effort yet.
28 min: United immediately return fire - again down the right, but Skrtel clears. It's a huge surprise that this is still level.
30 min: Torres' meek effort from distance goes for a goal-kick. "Another thought - do the receding hairlines of Berbatov, Rooney, Giggs and O'Shea make it one of the baldest matches this season?" asks Robert Sansum.
32 min: Rooney's sloppy pass is intercepted by Johnson, who charges forward with intent. A difficult-to-control cross is eventually angled in towards Torres, who had O'Shea pushing at his back and never looked like reaching it.
34 min: Gerrard gallops five, 10, 15 yards before being brought down just inside United's half. Meireles' free-kick is headed clear by Vidic, who is under no pressure whatsoever.
35 min: Good defending by Konchesky, who keeps up with Nani in a lungs-fit-to-burst sprint before cleverly strong-arming him off the ball. Nani flew to the ground claiming he was hit in the face, but that challenge looked OK to me. Sir Alex Ferguson, you'll be surprised to hear, doesn't agree and harrangs the fourth official.
37 min: Much better from Torres, who holds off his marker and feeds Gerrard. Konchesky is then played in down the right, before being rudely tripped by Nani. Nothing comes of the free-kick.
38 min: [Minute-by-minute reporter dons beige anorak] Possession stats: Man Utd 47% - Liverpool 53%. Think that's slightly misleading. The visitors have come into this in the past 10 minutes but much of their play has been in their own half.
40 min: Oh dear. From a decent position near the left touchline Konchesky's sliced cross almost harpoons a fan. Still no saves from either keeper. It's not a classic ...
41 min: Yet another United corner is headed behind by Gerrard.
GOAL! Manchester 1-0 Liverpool (Berbatov 42) Superb header! From Giggs' corner Berbatov gets goal-side of Torres (who put in only token resistance) and heads into the bottom right-hand corner, past the diving Reina and the diving Konchesky, who handled the ball as it crossed the line.
44 min: More United pressure. First they have an appeal for a penalty turned down after the ball hits Carragher's hand, then Rooney drags his shot wide of Reina's far post. It's all United.
45 min: We'll have one minute of added time. Meanwhile Paul Turrall is on the warpath: "I look forward to Sky massacring Roy Hodgson for deploying man-to-man marking at a corner, they way they routinely did to Benitez and zonal marking," he writes.
HALF-TIME: United are ahead, and deservedly so. Liverpool are looking like a scratch team, put together at the last minute and still trying to understand everyone's rhythms and cadences. They don't look comfortable playing 4-5-1.
46 min: We're off again. Meanwhile smoked_meat writes: "The scoreless Palermo v Inter match had more action in the first ten minutes than this rubbish will have in 90. What happened to the Premier League?" It's a bit harsh to make sweeping conclusions based on one half of football - and Premier League apologists will point out that there have been more goals at this stage of the season than in any other previous seasons - but I agree, this isn't a classic. So far.
47 min: No changes at half-time. Meanwhile this from Morten Nutzein: "Following from Copenhagen. The number of tattooed men in the Liverpool defense makes them look like a walking Bayeaux Tapestry. I miss England all the time." Oh England, glorious England.
48 min: Oh dear. First Gerrard's pass shoots past Meireles, then - after United cede possession - Cole overhits a pass to the overlapping Johnson, who stops, starts and stops again before the ball trickles off for a goal kick. Sloppy play by Liverpool, who have started this half a little brighter.
50 min: Great save from Reina! After Fletcher's 30-yard rasper was blocked, everyone seemed to stop as if playing statues, as the ball looped goalbound towards Berbatov. The Bulgarian poked out a toe, got a touch, but Reina stood big and blocked.
53 min: Torres is annoyed as his deflected shot is skied behind - only for the referee gives a goal kick. This is marginally better from Liverpool, but they need more from Gerrard and Cole, both of whom have been marginal figures.
55 min: Liverpool are given time to string a dozen or so passes together, but when they lose it United fast break and nearly make it two when Giggs' cross evades Berbatov by this much.
57 min NANI CLANKS IT AGAINST THE BAR ... from a difficult angle, wide of the post and about 18 yards out. This is a much better game now.
58 min: An email. "Torres is such an easy target to go after," claims Michael Deery. "What has Steven Gerrard done for Liverpool this season? And, unless I'm mistaken he's not coming back from an injury."
WHAT A GOAL FROM BERBATOV! Manchester United 2-0 Liverpool (Berbatov 59) Fletcher's eye-candy pass quickly takes the ball from the centre of the pitch to the right touchline. Nani traps it expertly before crossing. The ball evades the head of Rooney, but Berbatov controls it with his thigh before, with his back to goal, scissor-kicking it off the bar and in! Fantastic goal.
60 min: More panic in the Liverpool box before Carragher thrashes clear. Liverpool sub: the ineffectual Maxi off, Ngog on.
PENALTY TO LIVERPOOL! Torres cuts inside and is scythed down by Evans, who is given a yellow card. That was definitely a penalty and, from nowhere, Liverpool have a chance to get back in this. Gerard steps up ...
... AND SENDS VAN DER SAR THE WRONG WAY! Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (Gerrard 64) Lovely penalty to the right-hand corner, as United's keeper dived to the left. Game on!
65 min: United immediately attack again and there are more palpatations in the Liverpool box before Reina saves a lobbed header. Meanwhile Ngog has been booked for a foul on Fletcher.
66 min: With Liverpool racing forward, referee Howard Webb calls play back to speak to Poulsen, who had cynically blocked off Nani. No yellow card though, just some angry gestures from both sets of players.
68 min: More drama! Torres is trying to run on to Meireles' pass when he's blocked off by O'Shea just outside the box. The referee, perhaps assuming that Torres wouldn't have got the ball, gives yellow. But this is a real chance, 20 yards from goal and central ...
... INCREDIBLE! IT'S MANCHESTER UNITED 2-2 LIVERPOOL (Gerrard 70) After Webb spends an age sorting out a minor kerfuffle in the wall, Gerrard steps up and hits a not-that-well-hit-free-kick that goes between O'Shea and the jumping, swiveling Fletcher, takes one bounce, and goes in.
71 min: Another half-chance for Liverpool! Poulsen's long punt skids off the Meireles' bald head and goes wide. Liverpool have looked so much better since taking off Maxi and switching from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2. Who said 4-4-2 was dead?
73 min: More emails re is this the baldest game ever. Morten Nutzein writes: "Has anyone mentioned that Reina is a bald man too? It is definitely Liverpool's most bald team ever. Maybe we should get back Danny Murphy?"
75 min: Question: why have United given up leads in three of their opening five Premier League teams? Is it too simplistic to blame Evans, who has looked jelly-in-a-storm wobbly this season? Or does playing a couple of 35-year-olds in Giggs and Scholes inevitable mean your team will tire late on? Thoughts welcome ...
77 min: Ngog sees the bright lights and goes for glory ... but his 25-yard effort is still going skyward as I type. Meanwhile Gary Naylor writes: "It's the way these days to turn one's back in a wall (letting the ball through and opening up the handball possibility too). If you're going to flinch, don't volunteer for duty."
78 min: Liverpool sub: Meireles off, Jovanovic. I imagine he'll go on the left, with Joe Cole switching to the right.
80 min: This is fast, frenetic, breathless. And it could still go either way. Nani, who has impressed throughout, cuts inside but his cross is gathered by Reina. Then Rooney's cross is headed clear. United are pressing again here.
82 min: More subs: Liverpool bring on Agger for Konchesky, while Giggs makes way for Federico Macheda.
83 min: More from Gary Naylor. "Evans isn't good enough and Vidic is too slow to cover for him, but the biggest problem for Manchester United is that they have three forwards on the pitch instead of the usual one. Berbatov does no defending at all, Rooney huffs and puffs, but is no defender and Scholes is by-passed or gives away fouls. Evans simply has too many opponents - this was crystal clear in the Everton match."
83:30 min: Agger is furious at Nani, who has a touch of the Cristianos and goes down too easily in the box. Referee Webb has a word but decides not to award any cards.
THAT'S BERBATOV'S HAT-TRICK! Manchester United 3-2 (Berbatov 84) From O'Shea's touchline cross, Berbatov climbs above Carragher to head home his third from eight yards. Surely United can't blow this now, can they?
86 min: Nani is being treated for cramp. Wonder how much injury-time we'll get today?
87 min: Double Man Utd substitution: Nani and Berbatov off, Anderson and Gibson on.
89 min: United fans are in full voice, while on the touchline Roy Hodgson has a face redder than Lady Gaga's flesh-dress. He looks furious.
90 min: We'll have four minutes of injury time. Meanwhile my co-commentator Gary Naylor writes: "It's exciting stuff, but if Manchester United fans think they can win the Premier League by conceding two to Fulham, three to Everton and two to Liverpool, they're mistaken."
91 min: Gerrard pumps two unsubtle balls into the United box, both times the impressive Vidic heads clear.
92 min: United are playing keep-ball. "Is this the key to United challenging for the title this season?" asks Adam Hirst. "They have to learn to lose their lead earlier in the match to give them enough time to get a winner? And after two years waiting for a genuine, £30m match-winning performance from Berbatov perhaps he's finally arrived?"
93 min: Skrtel stupidly pushes Macheda in the back, giving United another chance to keep possession. Liverpool can't get hold of it at all, and Gerard eventually takes down Anderson to concede another free-kick.
FULL-TIME: Peep! Peep! That's it. United hold off Liverpool's fightback thanks to Berbatov's late winner and move up to third, while Liverpool remain within sniffing distance of the relegation zone. Still they should be heartened by their second-half fightback. Thanks for your many emails. Best, Sean.
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