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    Man Utd


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Anfield, England

Attendance: 44263

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  • Steven Gerrard 46'

1 - 2


Manchester United

  • Rafael 51'
  • Robin Van Persie 81' PEN

Poignancy preludes resumed rivalry

Mark Lomas

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has scored three in his past five games against Man Utd

The biggest rivalry in English football is set for its latest instalment on Sunday but Manchester United's visit to Liverpool will take place against an unusual backdrop of sodality. A long-standing mutual enmity will elapse, temporarily at least, as both clubs pay tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster in the first match at Anfield since Liverpool supporters were fully exonerated by last week's report.

The suggestion by Reds legend Robbie Fowler that Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez lay floral tributes ahead of the game may be a touch idealistic, but tragedy does transcend football and while the feuding players, their clubs, and their fans have been guilty of flouting the campaign of the same name in recent history, 'Respect' should prevail on Merseyside.

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United captain Nemanja Vidic shared that sentiment, saying: "Football is important, but it is never more important than life, any life. Over the years, English fans have come across well in terms of their respect towards many tragedies... There is a lot of history with these two clubs. We have some history, some tragedies. They have as well. I think we should respect each other because we are big clubs who are respected around the world."

The circumstances surrounding the game - the Hillsborough report and Liverpool's failure to win a Premier League game this season - ensure there is huge pressure on the shoulders of Brendan Rodgers' players. How they handle the emotion surrounding the match will prove as important as how they handle Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. United experienced how difficult the sense of occasion can be when, on their way to winning a Premier League and Champions League double in 2008, they lost at home to Manchester City on the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash. Seven of the players who featured that day are still at Old Trafford.

A display of unity may serve as a poignant prelude to Sunday's game but when Mark Halsey blows his whistle at 1.30pm, it will be replaced by the resumption of a ferocious rivalry. Though Liverpool have not been genuine title challengers since Rafa Benitez's 2008-09 vintage, meetings have always maintained a feeling that the stakes are high, and it will be the first taste of such an encounter for the likes of Kagawa and Van Persie for United, and Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling at Liverpool.

Both sides go into the match on the back of stuttering midweek victories in Europe: Sir Alex Ferguson overseeing a 1-0 home win against Galatasaray in the Champions League and Rodgers' charges triumphing 5-3 away to Young Boys in Switzerland. But while United fielded a strong side, Liverpool rang the changes with Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Joe Allen and Martin Kelly all rested ahead of the Anfield showdown. Those first-teamers all appear certain to return but one man who won't feature is Wayne Rooney, who Ferguson has insisted is not yet fully fit.

Liverpool player to watch: Steven Gerrard. Unlike his team-mates, Liverpool's captain has a personal connection to the Hillsborough disaster - his 10-year-old cousin was the youngest person to perish - and he will be desperate to harness the emotion of occasion and produce a display to remember. With three goals and a red card in his past five matches against United, Gerrard is never far from centre stage in this fixture and scored the Reds' opener in last season's 1-1 draw at Anfield.

Manchester United player to watch: Robin van Persie. The absence of the injured Wayne Rooney has not been so keenly felt thanks to the electric start Van Persie has made to life at United. Four goals from his first two league starts have already helped secure three points against Fulham and Southampton, and it is now time to see if he can produce in one of the biggest fixtures on the football calendar. The Dutchman claimed a superb match-winning brace for Arsenal at Anfield last season and Red Devils fans will be crossing their fingers for more of the same.

Key Battle: Luis Suarez v Nemanja Vidic. United captain Vidic has endured some nightmare days against Liverpool in the past, notably in the 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2009 when he was given a torrid time by Torres, and has been red carded on his last two visits to Anfield. Suarez was on target against United when the spotlight was firmly pointed on him at Old Trafford this February and his off-the-ball movement and pace - qualities he shares with former Reds hero Torres - could prove a real handful for Vidic, who despite looking sharp since returning from a serious knee injury has only helped United keep one Premier League clean sheet.

Trivia: Liverpool v Manchester United clashes have produced 13 red cards in the Premier League era, with Everton v Liverpool the only fixture to have seen more sendings off (20).

Stats: Manchester United's have missed as many penalties this season (three) as they did in the whole of the 2011-12 campaign.

Odds: Liverpool (2.70), Manchester (2.62), and the draw (3.30) are on offer with bet365.

Prediction: A Liverpool victory would have a powerful effect on the club and would certainly galvanise both the players and the fans. But with United likely to be more focused on the football, the inevitable sentimentality that the Hillsborough tribute brings may be the hosts' undoing and they could be left waiting another day for their first Premier League win of the season.