Even without Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson can take his pick from Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernández and young Nick Powell as central strikers, with Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs and Nani completing the pack.
Brendan Rodgers, on the other hand, is forced to depend on a Premier League rookie in Fabio Borini and a 17-year-old winger in Raheem Sterling to support the undoubted class of Luis Suárez. Stewart Downing, it seems, doesn’t figure too heavily.
So no matter how promising Sterling might be (and he is very talented), Rodgers finds himself in an unenviable position going into a game of this magnitude. Attacking options are few for a manager left in the lurch by the club’s refusal to go the extra mile on transfer-deadline day.
Still, he has just got to get on with it now and, in fairness, there were
signs of improvement during the 1-1 draw at Sunderland last week when
One interesting aspect of that match was Rodgers’ decision to start Suárez on the left of a front three, perhaps because Borini had previously struggled on the flank. It didn’t work, though. Suárez couldn’t get on the ball in dangerous areas and, defensively, should have done more to stop Sunderland’s goal.
But when Suárez was later switched to the middle, he got himself a goal, which
would suggest he’ll stay there on Sunday to try and get about
Talking of goal threats, Steven Gerrard carries even more responsibility than usual in the current situation to help out his strikers by finding the scoresheet. Liverpool’s captain couldn’t pick a better day to score his first league goal of the season.
Yet someone else who might be able to chip in, if not on Sunday but during this campaign, is Jonjo Shelvey, who grabbed a couple of valuable goals late on against Young Boys on Thursday.
Given that he started that Europa League match on the bench, I’d expect him to start here to use his height, power and running ability to try and cause problems in United’s box.
If he hasn’t already, Shelvey would be wise to study Frank Lampard, appreciate how the Chelsea man times his runs to arrive right on cue. Once perfected, it’s a great way of finding space in a crowded penalty area.
So when Sterling, for example, receives the ball at Anfield with a good chance of beating his marker, Shelvey can take a gamble to run off his man). Once there, the confidence gained from scoring a brace the other night should help the midfielder to relax a little.
Within the United side, meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa doesn’t appear to need much time to settle at his new club, judging by his telling contributions so far. The Japanese playmaker, in fact, is made for occasions like these when Ferguson might fancy an extra body in midfield.
Going forward, Kagawa could be vital. As someone who rarely loses the ball no matter the pressure, he can act as the conduit between United’s midfield and striker by slipping between the lines to find some precious space.
Always on the half-turn, Kagawa tends to see the pass before the ball has even arrived, a precious knack that has already gone down very well with Messrs Scholes and Giggs.
This kind of ingenuity should certainly test the defensive instincts of Joe Allen, who might possibly struggle against his opponents’ extra pace.
And that would apply to Liverpool in general if you judged this contest on paper. Given the respective threat of these clubs’ strikers, United would come out on top by quite some distance.
Yet this historic battle was never decided in theory. With so much emotion flowing around Anfield, Liverpool are likely to at least close the gap.