Look, everyone! A cute kitten! And a funny doggie.
Eventually, when we've all grown up, in the year 2525, there'll be no need for lame distraction techniques ahead of meetings between the two biggest clubs in the land. But as things stand, the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool whisks folk up into a proper froth. Even before the Suarez-Evra conflagration last October, which led to all this, the biggest fixture in English football regularly generated more heat than light. Barcelona and Real Madrid contest El Clásico, Internazionale and Juventus play the Derby d'Italia, Boca Juniors and River Plate fight out the Superclásico. But there's no fancy name for this anger-whipper. El Bullshitto? Superbullshitto? I haven't given this a great deal of thought, I've got to be honest. Though you've probably ascertained that already.
It kicks off at: 12.46pm.
The match starts at: 12.45pm.
Manchester United: Evra.
Supporting cast: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Welbeck.
Subs: Amos, Berbatov, Park, Hernandez, Fabio Da Silva, Cleverley, Pogba.
Supporting cast: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Spearing, Henderson, Kuyt, Gerrard, Downing.
Substitutes: Doni, Carroll, Carragher, Adam, Shelvey, Kelly, Bellamy.
This poor man will be unable to do anything right, even if he does everything right: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Musical notes. Suarez and Evra have both been pictured in super-slow motion coming off their respective team buses, Suarez wearing a massive pair of red cans, Evra a more discreet set of in-ear 'phones. I'd say Evra's are the more aesthetically pleasing set - Evra 1-0 Suarez - but if you were going to do half an hour on the treadmill, say, you'd probably find Suarez's gaudy equipment more practical. Less likely to fall off, see. Evra 1-1 Suarez.
Suarez has been out on the pitch warming up. He's been getting pelters from the crowd, as you'd expect. His captain Steven Gerrard puts a comforting arm around him as he walks off back down the tunnel. Like Evra at Anfield the other week, he looks pensive. Meanwhile Sir Alex Ferguson has been On The Talk. "The build-up to these games has not been right, and a lot of it has come from Liverpool, it has to be said," he has to say. He also tells Sky Sports that he didn't expect Suarez to start, so we can take it as read that he expected Suarez to start.
The teams are out! They take the stage to the strains of This Is The One by popular local beat combo The Stone Roses. United in their trademark red shirts and white shorts, Liverpool in not-so-trademark white and blue. They line up. Handshake time soon! "Why, when looking for a cat photo, did you not opt for Liverpool's own Anfield Cat, instead picking a feline with a suspiciously Paul Scholesian fur colour!?" splutters Ryan Dunne. "You Guardian hacks really are peddling anti-LFC bias! (Not really.) As for derby names, I think, given the manager's respective histories with the Glorious Glasgow Rangers and (boo!) Celtic, today's fixture can honestly be called The Second-Best Alex Ferguson or Kenny Daglish-affiliated Derby Game." Philippa Booth's effort - "El Crassico?" - trips off the tongue slightly easier, you have to say.
The handshake: Well, it didn't happen. Suarez refused to shake Evra's hand. Evra grabbed Suarez's forearm in anger. Suarez pulled it away and moved on down the line. Oh dear.
We kick off. Before Liverpool get the ball rolling - they're kicking towards the Stretford End in the first half - Rooney taps Suarez on the back in a friendly manner. A better sign; let's hope the lid remains on this. Though the pre-match signs obviously aren't ideal. "Does it say anywhere in the rulebook whether or not the referee can send off a player for the good of humanity?" asks Mike Newby. "If so, can Phil Dowd please please please send off both Suarez and Evra straight from the kick-off to spare us all this?"
20-odd seconds: Suarez goes for a loose ball down the inside-right channel and clatters into the back of Ferdinand, who in turn wallops Evra. Ferdinand requires a couple of minutes' worth of treatment.
2 min: Johnson cuts inside from the right and has a dig from the edge of the box. His low shot towards the near post is easily snaffled by De Gea. A lively opening by Liverpool. "I'd tuned in to watch United vs Liverpool in the Premier League," writes Fraser Thomas. "Looks like Sky have decided to show the Under 9's. Good grief." Preach on, brother. Preach on.
4 min: Suarez getting booed a lot. Is that news? Valencia, on the right, drops a shoulder and swans infield. His dink into the penalty area nearly finds Rooney free on the edge of the six-yard box, but Reina comes out and claims.
6 min: Valencia's in the mood. He absolutely skins Enrique down the right, reaches the byline, and makes for the box. Just before he reaches it, he's bundled over by the Liverpool left back from behind. That'll be a free kick in a a very dangerous position.
7 min: Giggs whips a delicious ball to the far post. Rooney is waiting to nut home, but Johnson eyebrows it away for a corner at the last. Rooney gets his head to the resulting set piece, coming in from the left, but there's no power on his header, guided towards the top-left corner, and Reina plucks it from the sky without fuss or ceremony.
9 min: Enrique is all over the shop early doors. He bundles Rafael over, as the United man contests a ball deep in Liverpool territory down the right. It should be another free kick in a tricky position for the visitors, but the referee waves play on. "I think I speak for a large section of LFC supporters who've quietly tolerated Kenny's bullish defiance of Suarez in saying if he doesn't distance himself from what just happened in the post-match interview, then he's doing the wrong thing for Suarez and the club," writes Owen Cameron.
10 min: A lively opening to this game. Liverpool are on the attack again. Suarez, to the regulation boos, sprays a gorgeous ball wide right to Johnson, who has space to romp down the wing. He drifts inside, and unleashes a magnificent low effort that only just flies wide left.
12 min: Evans boots Suarez up into the air. It's a popular move, the United defender playing to the crowd. He might not be much of a defender, but he knows his audience. Phil the Ref opts to dish out a lecture, but nothing more. Which is fair enough. "Oh please, no nine year old could be as crass and immature as the so-called adults who are supposed to show them how to behave," argues Jijin John.
15 min: United are seeing more of the ball, as you'd expect of the title-chasing home side, but they're not doing much with it at the moment. As a result, the game's dropped into something of a lull, certainly compared to the stirring opening ten minutes or so. "So as well as being abused for the colour of his skin, and abused for being abused for the colour of his skin, now Mike Newby wants Patrice Evra sent off immediately for being abused for the colour of his skin?" asks Adam Hirst. "Very humane, Mike."
18 min: Rafael zips inside from the right and makes for the box. When he gets there, he curls a testing shot towards the bottom left. Reina does well to get behind the effort, and keeps hold of the ball, which is just as well for Liverpool as the lively Welbeck is lurking to deal with any scraps.
20 min: Suarez attempts to twist and turn down the inside-right channel, and looks dangerous. Sort of. But he's never in proper control, and runs the ball out of play. Cue deep joy in the Old Trafford stands. "Suarez's story is that Evra made up his accusations against him," begins Teun de Vries. "Even if you don't believe Suarez on that, you have to admit him not shaking hands with Evra is at least consistent. I don't really see why anyone is so surprised. Did anyone ever thought they were going to shake hands and smile after the drama of the last months?"
22 min: It's all being played at 110mph, never a sign of top quality. Johnson whips in a dangerous cross from the right. De Gea plucks it from the sky and dispatches the ball upfield, where Rooney sets Valencia skittering free down the middle. There are options for United, but Valencia hesitates and eventually Gerrard wheechs into frame to break up the move. "Suarez is Liverpool's bad boy boyfriend," suggests Niall Mullen. "He's got an earring, he wears leather and you're totally infatuated with him. But he smokes, drinks, comes onto your friends and nicks your parents' cutlery. You stick by him and even post his bail when he gets nicked. But he'll leave eventually, leaving you heartbroken and friendless."
25 min: I missed this at the start, but by all accounts Ferdinand refused to shake Suarez's hand at pre-match kindergarten. "I think handshakes should be introduced into all forms of work," announces Phil Sawyer. "Imagine arriving at the office in the morning and having to walk along a line of co-workers shaking hands with each and every one of them. Imagine that, Scott." For the love of God will you be quiet, Sawyer, you'll be giving people ideas. "In more interesting news, I'm having sausages."
27 min: Rooney has a rasp from just outside the area, to the right of the D. He drags his hard, low effort well wide left of the target. Anyway, never mind that, here's some BREAKING CONTROVERSY courtesy of Dennis Johns: "It looks a lot like that puppy is refusing to shake the kitten's hand in your photo."
29 min: Suarez buzzes around the United D. He dinks a pass forward in the direction of Henderson, who can't get the ball under control and allows it to bounce off behind him. After Liverpool's early flurries, they're doing nothing up front now. "There goes all the good PR work of the Anfield Cat, singlehandedly undone by Luis Suarez," sighs Cecilia Marjakangas.
30 min: Scholes, Rooney and Welbeck ping it around in pretty triangles just outside the Liverpool area. Ping, ping, passity, ping. Eventually Scholes sand-wedges a pass out to Giggs on the left. Giggs drops a shoulder and chips it back into the six-yard box, where Scholes heads straight at Reina. He really should have scored. But what football by United.
32 min: Welbeck gets a yard on Johnson down the left and screams into the box. He could shoot, but selflessly attempts to find Rooney in the centre. Rooney is crowded out of it. United are turning up the gas here. In the stands, the away support sing of Rooney's preference for the more mature lady. Such abuse seems so quaint these days.
35 min: Space for Valencia down the right. His cross is met by the head of the inrushing Evra, making good from the left wing. His effort sails high over the bar, and wide to boot. "I said Evra should be sent of for being abused for the colour of his skin?" splutters Mike Newby. "Really? Here's me thinking I made a flippant comment in a show of solidarity for Phil Dowd, but it turns out my email was full of meaning and intent. That's a first." Right, everyone's said their piece. Time for us all to look once more at the cute kitten and his pal, the funny doggie.
38 min: Welbeck sashays and scampers down the inside-right channel, making himself space just to the right of the D and dragging a shot across the face of goal and out on the left. He could have gone down under a challenge from Spearing, but elected to stay on his feet and go for goal. "I had a dream last night where Evra and Suarez came face to face they suddenly took each other in their arms and began to waltz beautifully around the pitch while the crowd hummed the Blue Danube," trills Rick Harris. "Just imagine the effect on world peace if this had actually happened."
41 min: A bit of time in the United half for Liverpool, there's a thing. Suarez has a run down the middle, to the usual cacophany. Then Gerrard comes in from the right and has a wallop. His shot balloons off a United back and nearly loops over De Gea and under the bar. Only nearly, though; it's a corner instead. From which, another corner, and a wasteful shot from Skrtel. Still, some welcome relief for the away side, who have been under quite a bit of pressure here. "I think handshakes at work (25 min) are a great idea," begins Paddy MacLachlan. "One other suggestion to make everyday life just a little brighter: you know when you're getting off an aeroplane, the cabin crew all stand by the door and say thank you, good bye? Wouldn't it be great if bus drivers did that at your stop as well?"
43 min: Downing slides in on Rafael.
44 min: Downing reaches Rafael, and upends him. He's booked as a result.
45 min: Suarez nips past Evans and is this close to breaking clear on goal. Ferdinand slides in and gets the ball, but only just. Suarez is cleaned out on the follow through. He demands a free kick, and presumably a red for Ferdinand. He'll not be getting either, though. "Why is the dog eating Hale and Pace?" asks Phil Withall.
HALF TIME: Manchester United 0-0 Liverpool. Controversy at the end of the half, as on the whistle, a still irate Suarez boots the ball into the stand. Evans goes up to remonstrate. The ref gets in the way and ushers the players to the tunnel. Seconds before, Dalglish was on the touchline beseeching his player to calm down. He's been anything but calm during this first half. "The only support Phil Dowd needs (35 min) is some extra elastic in the waistband of his shorts," writes Ian Burch. "Perhaps the Premier League could pay Stewie Griffin to follow him around with a tuba."
There's been a rumble in the tunnel. Is this news? According to Sky Sports, Evra went off looking for Suarez to discuss headphone preferences, Skrtel got in the way, and then there was a big cartoon cloud with fists and boots poking out of it. GOD ALMIGHTY.
And we're off again! United get the ball rolling for the second period of the latest instalment of El Bullshitto. They're right off down the Stretford End, which Liverpool are now defending, and win a corner. From which...
46 min: GOAL!!! Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool. Giggs takes from the right. The ball skims off the top of Henderson's nut at the near post, and flies through to Rooney, on the edge of the six-yard box, right in the centre. He can't miss, and doesn't, volleying powerfully into the net past a helpless Reina. What a start to the half from the home side, who deserve to be ahead on the balance of play. Liverpool will have to step it up now.
49 min: GOAL!!! Manchester United 2-0 Liverpool. The away team are hit with a double whammy. Spearing is caught fannying around in the middle of his own half. Valencia nicks the ball off his toe and slides an instant pass down the middle to Rooney, who steps into the area and calmly slips the ball under [cuts, pastes] the helpless Reina.
51 min: Liverpool look absolutely shellshocked. And no wonder. That was a magnificent start to the half from the champions - who despite all the shenanigans, look very calm indeed. Fergie's earned today's pay packet during half time, that's fairly clear. "Paddy MacLachlan is right about courtesy on buses," says Chris Stalker. "Of course that's exactly what used to happen when we had bus conductors, but the Tories put an end to that when they privatised the bus service."
54 min: Liverpool are trying to string a few passes together, but can't clear their heads. They're going nowhere. Suarez attempts to get something going with a dribble down the inside-right channel. Carrick upends him, 30 yards from goal. Downing takes the free kick, but Jesus Christ, it doesn't even clear the first man on the edge of the area. Andy Carroll gets a lot of stick, but this guy has been, pound for pound, a greater waste of money. He's done absolutely nothing since signing for £20m. "Welcome to France," begins Stephen Gibb of this Being Polite To People At Work nonsense, "where the first hour of every working day in a sizeable office is taken up with handshakes, kisses, and such. Just as well they don't apply this verbatim to their footie (backroom, tea ladies, etc.), severe risk of hand/lip cramp in the warm-up, not to mention scheduling implications.
58 min: After a long lull, United suddenly spring to life. Rooney is fed the ball as he rushes into the Liverpool area, straight down the middle. He must complete his hat-trick, but screws a useless toe-poke wide right of goal. What a chance to put this game to bed. Although with Liverpool insipid up front, you have to say it's pretty much done already unless Dalglish makes changes and quick.
60 min: Dalglish makes some changes! Spearing and Downing are replaced by Bellamy and Carroll.
61 min: Anyway, handshake, schmandshake, here's something else that happened before the match: the polis confiscated thousands of copies of Red Issue, suggesting a gag within about Suarez would stir up racial hatred. Hmm. An excellent fanzine, Red Issue. And for the interests of balance, may I direct those of another persuasion to the equally superb Anfield Wrap.
63 min: Rafael streams down the right and wallops a low ball into the box. Is it a shot, or a cross for Rooney and Welbeck? No idea, but Reina snatches it up anyway. "Is Steven Gerrard any good?" wonders Gary Naylor. Now that's a can of worms that'll be remaining sealed shut on my watch this afternoon, easy life, and all that.
66 min: United are in total control of this. Evra dances around down the left, and nearly carves out a chance for his buddies in the centre. Gerrard - not for the first time in this match, Naylor - is the man powering back to help out his defence and hack clear. "Courtesy On The Buses?" asks LWT's Phil Sawyer. "Was that the one where Stan and Jack nick a double decker and use it to host corporate entertainment events?"
69 min: The home crowd are only booing Suarez in a half-arsed fashion now, so ineffectual have Liverpool been up front. "Why is it that, every time Liverpool is losing badly, and Andy Carroll comes in from the bench, my mind conjures images of Wile E. Coyote using a tiny umbrella trying to protect himself from a falling slab of rock?" asks Vincenzo Auteri, wrapping up 2012's email of the year award early doors.
71 min: A real sense that this is just an exhibition for United, who are stroking it around to cheers as Suarez runs around in circles in a desperate attempt to get the ball back. At least he's putting his shoulder to the wheel, because his team-mates appear to have totally given up.
73 min: Nope, not much going on here at all. Science fiction story, anyone? "Laughing at the UN marine force, Suarez swept his bionic hand through his dark hair and turned to face Evra, who returned his gaze with a steady glare of his laser eyes," begins Arina Nezvanova. "On the video screen Ferguson 3000 beamed, his chrome jaw chewing relentlessly on Martian Gum. Kenzo Dalglish, synthetic arms wizard, wheeled around the mothership hovering in the exosphere. Suarez, without warning, whipped out his torpedo launcher and fired. Evra countered with a photon blast that destroyed Taipei and vapourised the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile the torpedoes, narrowly missing their target, set Antarctica on fire, melting the skyscrapers of the Falkands. World War Terminus had commenced."
74 min: United triangulate down the right. Eventually the ball's sent into the box, allowing Welbeck to waft a poor attempt straight into Reina's arms.
75 min: Agger takes a shot from the best part of 35 yards. Desperate, but better than anything his forwards have conjured up this afternoon. Kuyt, who has been anonymous today, is replaced by Adam.
78 min: United are in complete control here. Ignore all the extraneous nonsense; it's been a very impressive display by the home side. "Having taken a closer look at the cute cat and the funny doggie, the cat seems to be ready to take a swipe at the dog, and the dog looks fearful," opines Cecilia Marjakangas. "With his left paw, the cat's keeping the doggie in place, and the right one is ready to swing at the canine's face. Look into the dog's eyes; he's scared. Rather like Liverpool."
79 min: Carrick is booked for a nick on Suarez's ankles. That'll be a free kick, 40 yards out, right in the middle of the United half. From which...
80 min: GOAL!!! Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool. Gerrard hoicks the ball into the United box. It sails over everyone's head, and drops to Ferdinand, level with the right-hand post. He's clearly not expected the ball to make it to him, as it slaps off his thigh and drops to - yes - Suarez, six yards out. Suarez pokes the ball under De Gea, and runs back up the pitch quietly, kissing the ring on his finger as he does so.
83 min: That's changed this game a wee bit. Welbeck romps down the inside-left channel but slices a poor shot high into the stands. Down the other end, Carroll wins a good header on the edge of the United box, cushioning it down to Suarez, who volleys for goal. Old Trafford holds its breath, but the effort smacks straight into the prone Carroll and balloons out of play for a goal kick.
85 min: United don't look quite as comfortable now, understandably. But Liverpool aren't clicking up front. Suarez and Carroll attempt to combine down the inside-right, but their timing is all out of whack, and the latter is caught offside, a wasted opportunity with United on the back foot.
88 min: Neither team can string more than two passes together at the moment. United are looking edgy, Liverpool desperate.
90 min: There will be three added minutes of this.
90 min +1: A free kick to Liverpool down the left, level with the front edge of the area. Rafael heads Bellamy's delivery clear, but Johnson sends a screamer goalwards. De Gea fingertips the rising shot over the bar brilliantly. For the second week running, he's earned his team points with a late wonder save.
90 min +2: Adam sashays down the right and dinks a magnificent cross into the centre. Suarez beats De Gea to the ball, but heads over from eight yards. No matter, because he was offside anyway. You could hear the sharp intakes of breath as he rose to connect, though.
FULL TIME: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool. And that's that. United wrap up a fully deserved victory - and go top of the Premier League table, clambering above their neighbours City. Evra goes on a huge sprint right around the stadium, grinning broadly, waving his arms in the air, extracting huge cheers from the crowd, and thumping the badge on his chest.
Evra continues his celebrations, leaping around in front of his own fans. As Suarez passes to walk down the tunnel, referee Phil Dowd makes sure to get in between the two, ushering Evra away from the scene. Not sure anything was going to happen between the pair - the camera didn't catch any intent from either - but Dowd was taking no chances. However, it then kicks off a wee bit as several Liverpool players, led by Agger and Adam, move towards Evra, presumably suggesting that the United full back is celebrating victory a wee bit too much. A lot of hot air and nothing, this scene, one would suggest, but a lot of hot air and nothing you'll probably be hearing about for the next 50 weeks. Ach. Why can't everyone love each other? Having said that, I wonder what's going on in the tunnel?