Where do you start with a night like Tuesday? Do you look at what’s happened on paper? A point against England’s third best team and probably Europe’s fourth. Do you look at their goal? Their filthy, rubbish goal. It’s actually rubbish. Rubbish from Aguero. To stand offside and not get yourself back onside? Imagine if that was Shola? Or Cisse or Riviere? Imagine if it wasn’t Manchester City and one of the world’s top players. Maybe the linesman does his job maybe he doesn’t if it’s another side. To be honest I’m still appalled by it, sat at work. I’m still angry at United’s two goal lead at City being wiped out by an incompetent linesman at their place in October. The two goal lead that was denied to a group of travelling fans who then saw the opposition hit six. Maybe you ignore the opposition, the officials and the sense of injustice and concentrate on what we did right, as we did a lot of things right. Do you look at the league table and think we needed more?
Where do you start with a fixture like Liverpool away? A Liverpool side that have scored four in their last three home games. A Liverpool side you could argue are twice the side Manchester City currently are and therefore could be one of the best sides in Europe. You can look at a manager like Jurgen Klopp and realistically think that the fans Chelsea, Man Utd & Arsenal would kill to have that man in charge of their club come August. A Liverpool side that has lost just 3 of its last 26 fixtures. A Liverpool side starting to reconnect with its fan base and who are putting smiles on the faces of most that watch them. A Liverpool side I think we can beat.
Rafa called it best (as he knows best) when he said that worrying about the league table or the results is a waste of your time. Look, worry and fear if you want – he has games of football to win, starting this weekend. We might lose and be cut adrift this weekend, proper Armageddon stuff. We might win and start to pull ahead. We could lose and be fine and win and go down. That’s how this works. It doesn’t matter beyond what Newcastle United do. That is the attitude of the manager and the manager is right. We need to look at ourselves. If it’s enough – it’s enough. If it’s not, then it’s not. A point here, six more there and we might be okay. There’s so much football to be played yet I’m not looking at maths or contemplating an Arsneal side in freefall. The most important results that will see United survive are the results United will produce themselves – we shouldn’t be looking for favours elsewhere. Steve McClaren would be keeping more than an eye on the results of other clubs and probably talking about them in the press. Not Rafa. No experience of a relegation they said (and continue to say). There’s one bloke looking calmer than the lot, and picking up more points of late, and his name isn’t Samuel or Alex.
The is the first time watching United since Robson (maybe before that) there is genuine competition for places. You don’t know who will play one game to the next. The Keeper, the back line probably picks itself now but the rest of the team, bar Sissoko (the only ever present under Rafa) must get that kick of nerves every team a team is announced. It’s mental. Under every manager in the last ten years United have had a group of droppable players who slowly but surely declined as players. Competition for places means as a fan and player you’ve no idea who starts game to game. That’s how it should be. There should be a debate about who you start, where and when. That’s how you avoid constant injury crisis’ taking over your season. It’s what proper managers do. If you still think Sissoko should be dropped or isn’t good enough please bear in mind that every single one of his managers at United has called him the sides most important player, and that’s before we witnessed Tuesday. More of the same Saturday please, Moussa. I’d totally forgotten his famous performance against Chelsea happened with Rafa in the opposing dugout. It seems like right from day one at United, Benitez was the man who get the most out of Sissoko.
How do you beat Liverpool? Score more goals than them of course. They’re on fire. They were on fire when they turned up at St James’ in December after putting six past a stunned Southampton at St Mary’s. They didn’t score then and we can keep them out at the weekend. Origi is out having suffered a horror tackle from an Everton player. You should get more than three games for that. Still, I’d rather be facing Sturridge than Origi, despite the formers obvious qualities. Origi suits Liverpool well giving them a little of both Sturridge and Benteke as well as his other qualities. It’ll be tough keeping Sturridge quiet, but I back a well marshalled defence to keep the Reds quiet. We’ll be organised and we’ll have to start well. We started so badly at Southampton the game was up after the 5 minutes. No more of that. No more failing to land a glove on the opposition as we saw McClaren’s sides do so often: a friendly reminder that Martinez’s Everton are enduring their worst home season in prem history and they beat United 3 0 at a canter at Goodison. But that was then this is now.
I know United away from home under Benitez have been poor but Benitez never stops banging on about confidence and belief. The players lacked it on so many levels that it seemed impossible that United could ever look like a team capable of playing football at any kind of elite level with this crop of players. Compare and contrast to Tiote dominating Yaya Toure on Tuesday. Colback’s one touch football that took out three or four City players at once. Dummet behaving like a left back. Sissoko in the face of every Man City player forcing the errors. The list could go on. Out of the teams at the bottom, it’s the confident, vibrant United side I’m backing. Not the side who just lost three nill at home or the won who rely on huge slices of fortune to score goals.
Winjladum did more in his 10 minutes than he’s done in months. Townsend will worry Liverpool. We look genuinely dangerous from set pieces – one of Liverpool’s major weaknesses. Liverpool’s team selection is as diverse as United’s these days. I don’t know who they’ll start. The Swansea performance convinced me to drive there and back on Saturday. Paid a scandalous £48 including United’s booking fee. We’ll be travelling expecting an ultra-committed, tactically astute performance with quality when it matters at both ends of the pitch.
Premier League games at Anfield this season have been won by far worse teams than Benitez’s United. Let’s go into Palace and Vile with another proper performance in the bank. If we do that, anything is possible. I’m not worried, I’m excited.
Prediction: 2-0 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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