Fans unite as Suarez and Van Persie faceoff

Posted by Mark Payne

England's two grandest football clubs take the pitch Sunday to add another chapter to the long-running battle for local and domestic supremacy. Games between Manchester United and Liverpool have reached deafening levels of hostility in recent years, with fixtures last season inspiring an FA tribunal, sending offs and fan arrests as a new low point was reached.

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Thankfully, this season's fixture at Anfield was a step in the right direction for all concerned. Onlookers will be hoping things can continue in the right vein.

This weekend's match sees fans of both clubs united in purpose, for a change, as they battle a common cause. The erstwhile rivals will work together, with other trusts, to campaign for a maximum away ticket price in the Premier League.

Earlier this week, Manchester City returned 912 tickets for their fixture against Arsenal this weekend. The reason cited was the excessive cost, £62, and fan groups up and down the country have added their voices to the discontent.

Nonetheless, nobody expects to see many empty seats at Old Trafford, and much of the focus from attendees will be on Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker has been brilliant this season, in his movie villain way, and United's chances of success will rest largely on how they cope with the Uruguayan.

Suarez has been unfairly vilified for his recent goal against Mansfield in the FA Cup, and the hard time he is getting is hugely out of proportion. He seems to be a lightning rod for the moral outrage of some, but that doesn't seem to detract from his quality as a player. He is a slipper customer in the area and capable of fashioning chances that other players wouldn't even think of. The danger he presents is palpable, and United's centre-backs will need to be better than they have been on many occasions at Old Trafford.

United have kept clean sheets in their last two Premier League games but remain vulnerable to in-swinging crosses, as Joe Cole so prominently exposed last week at Upton Park. Liverpool can be expected to sit back and try to play on the break, so an energetic midfielder, who is comfortable tracking back, will be the Manchester club's best option. Sir Alex Ferguson has a history of starting Paul Scholes in these matches, but the veteran has not looked the quickest in recent fixtures. He has also been sent off against these opponents more than once.

One man who kept his calm at Anfield was Robin van Persie. In slotting home a penalty after a five-minute wait, he showed calm under enormous pressure. If the Dutchman continues playing at the high level fans have come to expect, nobody will be able to stop him. Ferguson has declared Wayne Rooney injured and unable to partner Van Persie -- an early and uncharacteristic move from the Scotsman last week -- meaning United may well play one up top with Shinji Kagawa in the hole.

Whatever the makeup of the attack, Liverpool's inconsistencies this season demand to be taken advantage of, and United will be looking for all three points. Although Liverpool have the players to damage United, if discipline is kept, the Red Devils' form and quality will drag them over the line.

The unity between the fans is a sign of the times in some ways. For all the jostling in recent history, this weekend will see a match between the league leaders and a mid-table side with potential. The battle on the pitch has less significance than it did in years gone by. Whatever the result, viewers hope that fans on both sides can maintain the level of class both showed in Liverpool in September.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkJPayne.

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