Now that the crowded holiday fixtures are over, Manchester United return to FA Cup action versus rival Liverpool. Sir Alex Ferguson's side will be hoping to avoid the same fate as last year, when they were eliminated in the 3rd round by another fierce rival, Leeds United. Fergie has admitted in recent days that he did not field a strong enough lineup versus Leeds, so it is fully expected that he will submit close to a full strength squad this Sunday when a beleaguered Liverpool visit United at Old Trafford. The vultures are circling over Roy Hodgson and it is no guarantee that he even stays on long enough to manage this match. After a humiliating 3-1 defeat against Blackburn Rovers, it seems only a matter of time before 'Woy is sacked.
These two sides last squared off on September 19, 2010 in League play, a game in which Dimitar Berbatov provided a brilliant hat-trick in United's 3-2 win at Old Trafford YouTube - Dimitar Berbatov hattrick vs Liverpool . For the past two seasons, Fergie has typically elected to go with a hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation for each big match, usually employing a single striker. Despite Liverpool's recent struggles, each match versus them still has felt like an important fixture, much of it inflated due to the fierce rivalry between the two clubs. However, versus Liverpool in recent matches, Fergie has elected to go with 2 strikers. I would be surprised if United didn't line up in a 4-4-2 in this match. As for 'Woy's side, he's typically gone 4-5-1 during the season, however, he's lately experimented with a 4-4-2 more, so that Fernando Torres has more support.
More after the jump...
A trademark of Hodgson's sides are to sit back and attmept to strike on the counter-attack. He typically defends with two rigid banks of four, and this style of play has without a doubt infuriated Liverpool supporters. Much of Torres' struggles likely stems from Liverpool simply booting long balls up to him, and the Spaniard having little support. David Ngog has received a few starts recently, likely with the idea of providing Torres some help. The results have been mixed. I fully expect United to dominate possession, and take the game to Liverpool and the opponents will likely respond just as mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph. If Liverpool do go 4-5-1, they may be able to retain some possession, just by simply having a numerical advantage in the center of the pitch. If that's the case, look for United to get the ball out wide to Nani and for him to whip in crosses. This is precisely what happened in their September fixture. If Liverpool go 4-4-2, it will be imperative for United's two central players to win the battle in the middle, as they should have time to distribute the ball around.
With the match versus Tottenham being a full week away, and a full five days of rest since the battle versus Stoke, a close to full strength lineup could reasonably be anticipated for United. Wayne Rooney is still questionable, but if he can't go, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez should be ready to adequately fill in. With Rio Ferdinand and Edwin Van der Sar rested versus Stoke, I expect to see them in the lineup on Sunday.
Only one time has Fergie lost in the 3rd round of the FA Cup (last year to Leeds), I don't expect that to be the case this year. I predict that United moves on in the FA Cup with a victory over Liverpool, chants of 'Woy being sacked in the in the morning at Old Trafford, and then 'Woy being sacked Monday.
Finally, this video provided by the FA Cup should get you all properly fired up. YouTube - The FA Cup - Pride, Passion, History, Giant KIlling
* Edit: Hodgson leaving Liverpool, who knows what lineup and formation they go with.