Had United been drawn an English side at this stage in the competition, I’d easily have been able to find the positives. There is a great familiarity with English teams, so if you have confidence in your manager getting the tactics right, then progression should be achievable.
However, with United being drawn Roma in the quarter finals of the Champions League, a team we had already faced four times in the past year, we couldn’t have got a much better draw for familiarity. That said, Roma are the second best team in Italy currently, 4 points behind the league leaders, and 7 points ahead of Juve, 16 points ahead of AC Milan.
Teams who will be incredibly familiar with each other by next week are Arsenal and Liverpool, who will have played each other 3 times in 6 days. The first game ended in a 1-1 draw at the Emirates, in the first stage of the quarter final draw in the Champions League. Tomorrow, they will play each other in the league, again at Arsenal’s ground.
From a United point of view, I’d much rather see Arsenal progress in the Champions League and Liverpool win the league match, however it seems that Rafa has again made known his priorities lie in Europe. After playing his strongest team at the Emirates on Wednesday, he plans to make massive changes to the line-up, including dropping Liverpool’s best players, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.
“Torres and Gerrard will need to be strong for the second leg, and Kuyt ran himself to a standstill on Wednesday,” said Benitez. “Some players recover in two or three days, others need four. Maybe we will need to change some players. The age may be the key. Fernando can recover in two days, but Sami could take five. We will have to wait and see. I am expecting to make changes, I cannot expect them to play three times like that in seven days, certainly with the very high tempo of the games. It is impossible to play these same players three times in a week. Impossible.”
Whilst Arsenal are struggling for form at the moment, losing two, drawing six, and winning two of the last ten games they’ve played, a second string Liverpool team at home should be a rather simple task. If Liverpool were playing their strongest side, this certainly could prove to be a game where Arsenal lost even more ground in the title race.
Wenger’s priorities aren’t as clear though, with the French man still claiming they still can win the league, despite being six points behind. Will he too play a weakened side, seeing the Champions League a more achievable trophy this season? Van Persie and Adebayor are doubts for the game regardless, but Wenger might also be tempted to play around with the midfield and defensive selection, in order to preserve his players for the second leg, where they are at a disadvantage following the first game’s result.
If Liverpool don’t go on to win the European Cup, Benitez may regret resting his players in the league, as a loss for them at the weekend coupled with an Everton victory would put his Merseyside rivals just two points behind them in the battle for fourth place, the last European Cup spot. Although apart from a bragging point of view, this serves United no benefit, whereas them taking points off Arsenal at the weekend would.
What are you hoping for from the upcoming Arsenal vs Liverpool matches?