Both Manchester United and Liverpool managed to exorcise some demons this midweek, which leads up to a mouth-watering clash at Old Trafford on Saturday (8:45am ET, Setanta Sports USA).
For Sir Alex, he took on the greatest nemesis of his 35-year managerial career and sent him home empty handed. It was a controversial win against Fergie’s Manchester United that gave birth to the “Special One.” It was at the expense of Sir Alex that the legend of Mourinho grew. Now, it is the Knighted one, faced with his toughest of possible draws, who slew the Portuguese mastermind, leaving a massive question mark over the greatness of “The Special One” in the process. Now, instead of talking about charming sound bites, people are asking why the clubs Mourinho left have advanced in the Champions League while his current team crashed and burned. Instead of scudettos, people are asking why he couldn’t get any further in Europe than the “incompetent” Roberto Mancini. There are even reports that indicate that the “unflappable one” took a swing and landed it on the face of a Manchester United supporter after the match. Even comments about the fortuitous nature of his 2004 European trophy seem to be popping up. Absolute defeat for Mourinho; another foe vanquished for Fergie.
Meanwhile, over at Anfield, Liverpool took on a foe of its own. Rivals for overall supremacy among European royalty (9-5 overall for Real, 5-3 Liverpool in the “modern era,” 3-1 Real in the Champions League), this clash of the titans held a venomous tone due to some unsavory comments Jorge Valdano spat toward the Reds a few years ago. In the column he wrote for Marca in May 2007, the former Real Madrid sporting director famously spat:
“Football is made up of subjective feeling, of suggestion – and, in that, Anfield is unbeatable. Put a shit hanging from a stick in the middle of this passionate, crazy stadium and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art. It’s not: it’s a shit hanging from a stick.”
“…If Didier Drogba was the best player in the first match it was purely because he was the one who ran the fastest, jumped the highest and crashed into people the hardest. Such extreme intensity wipes away talent, even leaving a player of Joe Cole’s class disoriented. If football is going the way Chelsea and Liverpool are taking it, we had better be ready to wave goodbye to any expression of the cleverness and talent we have enjoyed for a century.”
Regardless of Valdano’s removed status from Real Madrid, the words struck hard with a fan base that prides itself as champions of positive football. Getting drawn with one of the few teams that can look down on the Reds was an irresistible opportunity to set the record straight. After a 0-1 win at the Bernabeu, Liverpool showed Los Blancos who was “the shit” with a 4-0 mauling; the worst defeat ever in Real’s Champions League existence.
Both matches left fans of the English game wanting more; lo and behold, they got it. After both clubs won convincingly against their “media rivals,” the two true enemies are matched up against each other with the fate of the Premiership on the line. Both clubs with European fixtures midweek, both clubs coming off big wins, both clubs as healthy as can be expected at this time of year. No excuses, just results.
So, who will win? Despite laying claim to the better midweek display, this game has a United victory written all over it. Manchester United simply has too much depth, composure and experience to drop three points this weekend. When you consider that players like Anderson, who put Steven Gerrard in his back pocket at Anfield last year only put in 20 minutes against Inter, and £30Million rated Carlos Tevez & “Chelsea slayer” Darren Fletcher didn’t even see the field, Sir Alex Ferguson has an abundance of fresh, hungry players at his disposal. Conversely, Liverpool’s bench is nowhere near as deep. Additionally, Liverpool has a history of playing champagne football on midweek, only to resemble Valdano’s damning assessment the next weekend. Manchester United, on the other hand, has proven they are masters of consistency this year. Finally, despite playing, Stevie G is still fresh off a hamstring issue, while Fernando Torres needed pain-killing injections in order to participate in the destruction of Real Madrid. Without the two stars of the side at full strength, and a relative paucity of squad depth, it looks like this will end up a bittersweet week for Scousers, a seventh heaven week for United fans. Regardless, for fans of football, this will prove to be one of those weeks that is the focus of many “Where were you when…” discussions in the weeks and years to come.
Roll on Saturday!