Despite Liverpool's lowly league position this is never a fixture to be taken lightly. The consequences of defeat in this match are dreadful for fans, players and staff. As such, the teams fielded by the respective managers can be assumed to be the best that they have, the team that they trust. Given that is the case, this mismatch must be dispiriting for Liverpool fans. Rarely has one of these games been so one-sided.
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Jose Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford expecting to see Sir Alex Ferguson's 'big game XI' put through their paces before the European tie with Real Madrid next month. For the first hour, United ruled the roost without being troubled and Robin van Persie's inevitable goal arrived after 19 minutes. It was a characteristically clinical finish that brought the end to a move containing 24 passes and a two-minute period in which Liverpool did not touch the ball. The likes of Tommy Smith and Steve McMahon would never have tolerated this.
Wayne Rooney is expected to return to the starting line-up when his injury clears, most likely at the expense of Danny Welbeck or Shinji Kagawa. On this showing, both players are good value for their places and things might not be so simple for Rooney when he is back. In particular Kagawa gives United something different. He is happy to put his foot on the ball and look up. He can slow down the game if that's what it needs, but is also capable of the cheeky pass that can bamboozle the opposition. There is much more to come from him.
Danny Welbeck's form has been disappointing of late but he gave his followers some ammunition here. His energetic performance was a cause of discomfort for Liverpool all afternoon and, with a little more luck, he could have scored himself. Rumours that he is to go out on loan until the end of the season should be ignored. He will have an important role to play in the rest of this campaign.
Nobody needs reminding how dubious United's defending has been this campaign. Rio and Vidic were paired in the defence for the first time in some months. There can be no doubt this remains Fergie's preferred pairing and, when these two play together, it toughens the whole team from the base upwards. Then Vidic landed badly from a header and clutched his knee. He played on for another twenty minutes but left Old Trafford on crutches. This is extremely worrying and the temptation to buy a centre-half must be growing in the manager's office. United just aren't the same side without the Serb.
Goal machine Patrice Evra had headed a goal in off the captain minutes before but that was his last meaningful contribution. Liverpool's new boy Daniel Sturridge scored to set up the obligatory nervy finish, but it should never have happened. Brendan Rodgers will try to tell you that his tactical changes took the game to United. They didn't, Vidic got injured and United became vulnerable. It is one of the themes of their season.
With an FA Cup replay on Wednesday and a spiky trip to Tottenham next weekend beckoning there is no let up for United. Fergie will be delighted to have another tricky game out of the way but his preferred line-up will need to be adjusted again. Both Vidic and Young went home on crutches and if United are to win trophies this season it will be a squad achievement, not the work of an immense first team. For fans and players alike though, this is progress on last season.
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