Saturday, March 14, 2009

Theater of Dreams faces Reality

Sir Alex Ferguson has no fresh injury concerns ahead of Manchester United's eagerly-awaited Barclays Premier League showdown with Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Ferguson will be picking from strength as the leaders look to record a 12th successive win, with changes expected from Wednesday night's win over Inter Milan.

Carlos Tevez could come into contention for a striking berth, with Anderson among those hoping for a midfield slot.

Sir Alex Ferguson expects sparks to fly when the powerhouses of Manchester United and Liverpool collide.

There has never been any love lost between the north west giants, a fact Ferguson recognised as soon as he came down from Aberdeen and vowed to knock the Merseyside outfit off their perch as kings of England.

That aim has long since been achieved but there are a few other factors likely to give Saturday's showdown more spice than usual.

United are chasing an 18th league title to match Liverpool's long-standing record for a start. Rafael Benitez's men are desperate to stop them and realise that, seven points adrift having played a game more, nothing but a win will do.

Then there are the controversial comments Wayne Rooney made to MUTV in midweek, outlining his hatred of the Anfield outfit, which have only served to stoke the fires even more.

"Liverpool have always been our main rival,'' said Ferguson.

"It does not matter what the position in the league, as far as I am concerned, it has always been the derby game.

"It will always be that way because of the geography and history of the two cities.

"We are the two most successful football clubs in England. When they get together you expect sparks to fly.''

"Hate is an easy word to say, easier than dislike. Maybe it is not the right word.

"But Wayne has had plenty of stick from Liverpool fans over the years, so it is understandable.

"He supported Everton as a kid and the rivalry between them and Liverpool is pretty ferocious now. Since then he has come to Manchester United and he wants to win.

"It is nothing out of the ordinary really.''

Spanish winger Albert Riera will return to the Liverpool squad at Manchester United having been suspended for the midweek victory over Real Madrid.

But midfielder Yossi Benayoun is still out with a hamstring injury, as Liverpool try to give boss Rafael Benitez his 100th Premier League win as Anfield boss.

Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard were both withdrawn in the final stages of the triumph over Real, to protect them for the Old Trafford clash. Daniel Agger is unlikely to have recovered from his back injury.

Rafael Benitez has no regrets over his verbal attack on Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson that many believe was the turning point in the title race.

The Liverpool chief takes his side to Old Trafford tomorrow admitting "everything will have to be perfect'' for them to grab the win that will maintain their interest in the Premier League crown.

Benitez is bracing himself for a hot reception from the Old Trafford faithful, but refuses to accept anything he said in his January outburst over Ferguson's influence on football, will have any bearing on the outcome.

Benitez also denies claims today he has set a two-week deadline to sort out his new contract, but he confirmed his lawyer will soon have further discussions with the advisors of club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

But his main concern is trying to wrestle the three points from the champions that will keep alive Liverpool's title hopes.

With key men Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres declared fit, he said: "There is a greater desire. We know how much of a difference it will be for us if we do win.

"Players will use this game to be extra-motivated, we will push them. We want them to be proud of what they have achieved, proud to play for the club and the fans.

"They must know that to go to Old Trafford and play well is part of their responsibility to the club.

"I sense that motivation is high, like before we beat Real Madrid in midweek, everyone wants to play.

"Everything is possible. If we can play with the same high tempo as we did against Real Madrid, and keep possession as well as we did, then we can win the game.

"We had confidence before the Real Madrid win, now the mood is even better, everyone is looking forward to the match.

"I do not believe they are untouchable, as has been suggested, clearly I believe we can win.''

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