It’s into that part of the football season where I will spend hours at a time looking at the league table and fixture list and working out the various permutations of who needs to win against whom for me to get the results I want. (Specifically: Champions League qualification and for neither of the Manchester clubs, but especially not United to win the title.) This year, it’s also an opportunity to look back at all the points we’ve dropped against clubs trying to avoid relegation and think what might have been. (If we’d beaten Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton in the past six weeks we would be pretty comfortable in fourth right now.)
Liverpool and Tottenham can help each other tomorrow by winning. We play United (as everyone knows and more on which below) who are five points in front of Tottenham and they play Newcastle who are four points in front of us. Obviously three points will be very, very hard to get at Old Trafford, but we beat them at home in the FA Cup and we have a bit of momentum against teams from Manchester recently. If we can get those three points then if Arsenal even draw at Sunderland we will go into sixth. It’s not a huge improvement, but every bit helps and we need to start moving up the table.
The match itself starts at a more than a little bit irritating 06.45 CST, which is really far too early to be getting up on a Saturday, but I would not think of missing it. I do think we have a chance of pulling off an upset. United’s defence looks shaky and we will have an extra motivated Suarez and probably an in-form Bellamy. We have occasionally looked a bit shoddy at the back too, despite how good Agger and Skrtel have been overall, and it will be very difficult against a United who have scored twice the number of goals this year that we have. I think we have a great chance of getting a goal or two, however, (though we will need to be less wasteful in front of goal, that seems like it has been more of a problem at home) and if we can hold firm at the back I think we will have a very good chance of winning.
The match is also notable for being the first time Suarez and Evra have come face to face since the FA hearing. There has been some speculation about whether Evra will shake Suarez’s hand before the match. I’m sure I’ve heard something more pointless, but I’m hard pressed to think of what. There is no point in any of them shaking hands, ever. It is an entirely meaningless display of ritual sportsmanship, a cursory glance at cricket and football will show that it has no effect on the game. The battle between Evra and Suarez will be much, much more interesting than whether or not they shake hands. Hopefully Evra will repeat the performance he put in at Anfield.