Derby day was massive this year because for the first time in decades City were tipped to actually stand a chance – not because of derby day unpredictability, but because they actually had good players.
For us to batter them like we did for the second half really should have put them in their place but it looked as though the bragging rights had been stolen away from us when Rio Ferdinand bizarrely chose to try to flick the ball over Craig Bellamy’s head which lead to City’s last minute equaliser.
The overwhelming feeling of sickness and anger was almost too much to bear and several fans leapt out of their seat, rushing to the stairs. Little did they know they were about to miss one of the greatest moments we’ve seen at Old Trafford, particularly in recent years. Who on earth would ever have thought Michael Owen would have been behind that moment?
I was amongst many United fans who thought the news stories linking us to Owen were a piss take. “He’s not senile yet!” someone said to me about the manager, when I questioned whether there might actually be some truth to the rumour, and we chuckled away.
My honest reaction was devastation when I saw Owen at Carrington but quickly had to get my feelings in check and get behind the manager. He was a United player now so there was no point throwing our dummies out. He signed an incredibly modest contract, he was clearly over the moon to be here and it’s hard to ignore his impressive goal scoring record.
The sheer joy he showed in celebrating the winning goal against City earned a shift in fan opinion of the former Liverpool striker. Whilst there’s no point convincing ourselves he loves United, it showed his Liverpool days were well and truly behind him, but more importantly, he had scored exactly the kind of goal he had been signed for – in a massive game, in the dying moments, with mountains of pressure – all on a free transfer!
It stands to reason that Owen will of course be the centre of attention today ahead of our trip to Anfield. He was once an icon of hatred for our fans but now it is our fiercest rivals that feel so strongly against him. But will he start?
Wayne Rooney is struggling to come back from an injury he picked up whilst on England duty although the manager reckons he is fit. Some papers have oddly claimed that Ferguson will leave Rooney out because of his ‘temper’ which seems entirely ludicrous. Why would you leave your best player out of one of the most important games of the season?
Well, there is a reason, and it’s not Rooney’s temper, rather the better pairing of strikers in Dimitar Berbatov and Owen. I’m not for one moment suggesting that Rooney should be left out of the starting line-up if he is fit but it’s hard to ignore how better suited the Berbatov-Owen partnership is. Owen spends the entire match roaming around the defensive line whilst Berbatov enjoys coming deep and picking defence splitting passes. In contrast, Rooney goes everywhere, regardless of him now supposedly playing in his favoured centralrole. You never know where he is going to be or what he is going to do and that unpredictability makes him a nightmare to play against, but it also makes him more difficult to play alongside too. That isn’t a task too difficult for Berbatov though, the guy is gifted, but Owen certainly makes Berbatov’s life easier than Rooney does.
A few months ago, plenty of our fans wouldn’t be too concerned with Berbatov’s preference of partner, given his lack of popularity in the stands. But there has been a definite change in opinion, which has been evidenced by his song being sung in the Stretford End and his wondrous (but failed) attempts applauded, rather than met with grumbles. Berbatov has magic in his boots and whilst I always want Rooney on the park, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Berbatov-Owen combination given more time in future fixtures, and think if anyone is going to be subbed off for Owen today, it shouldn’t be Berbatov.
It is surely down to our Plan B up front, as much as it is Darren Fletcher’s improving form, which lead readers of RoM to believe Fletch is as important to us as Rooney. He works so hard in the centre of the park and a fragile Liverpool midfield, suffering with the poor form of Mascherano, the lacking ability of Lucas and injury plagued Gerrard, would likely be intimidated and pressured by Fletcher’s presence. It looks as though Fletcher is losing that injury battle at present meaning we will have to look elsewhere for our grit, fight and determination in midfield.
Anderson was hailed as the big game player in his first year, outplaying Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas on our meetings with Liverpool and Arsenal, but he suffered badly from second-season syndrome last year and struggled to get in the team. He has improved so far this season though and is due a game which restores fan confidence in him.
Antonio Valencia has scored two goals in two games so is a good shout for a starting place and whilst Nani irritates the hell out of so many of us, it’s hard to look past his positive contribution when he does play. For every five occasions he passes straight to the opposition, fails to take on a defender or shoots wildly, there will be one dangerous ball in to the box or a powerful and on target(ish) shot. I think it would scare the shit out of Liverpool’s struggling fullbacks to have two pacey wingers running at them from the off and would serve to unsettle the defence as a whole.
So does that leave Ryan Giggs starting alongside Anderson in the centre? Giggsy can’t be left out of the team at the moment because of his outstanding form, but it would also be positive to have that added experience in the midfield.
So, we’re just a couple of hours away from kick-off now and like derby day a few weeks ago, this match against Liverpool has extra spice to it. Liverpool are undergoing their worst run in 22 years, our fans will be piling on the humiliation with their beachballs and Cantona masks and we’ve got top spot to play for.
So scousers, we’ve won eighteen and we’ve come back. Race you to nineteen? I fancy our chances, whether we win, lose or draw today. But I desperately want the win and the prospect of Owen getting the winner makes today the most hyped United vs Liverpool fixture in years.
COME ON UNITED!