Brendan Rodgers is 6/4 to leave Liverpool before the end of the season and just third favourite in the Premier League Sack Race odds. There could be a massive shift in the betting if Liverpool lose meekly to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. A match described as the biggest in England could be pivotal in the careers of the two respective managers. United fans will gain more respect for Louis Van Gaal if his side can beat their great rivals.
It seems a ridiculous suggestion but Arsenal’s home match with Newcastle could be Arsene Wenger’s last in charge. Qualifying for the next round of the Champions League will buy him some time but there is clearly something amiss when fans of the same team are fighting amongst themselves. It’s almost becoming a civil war and unedifying for the club and Wenger might have to be sacrificed.
Tottenham and Everton were seen as contenders for fourth place in the Premier League at the start of the season. Things have not quite gone to plan but Everton seem to have a strategy while nobody quite knows what will happen next at Tottenham. The Holy Grail of Champions League football is the objective but televised matches against Queens Park Rangers and Swansea will determine how the rest of the season pans out.
There are many great rivalries in world football but the relationship between Manchester United and Liverpool is unique. They are not same city rivals but are part of one conurbation that could rival London in terms of population and potential. The two cities are just 35 miles apart and have a hate/hate relationship in many respects. More enlightened people see the benefits of a joint effort to promote the area but football will always provide a basis for antagonism and to be blunt hatred which is a strong word in the context of sport.
Each side of the argument takes the moral high ground but the Mancs and Scousers (and I am a Liverpudlian who supports Man United so have a rare perspective) are equally culpable in fuelling the rivalry that borders on bigotry. The obscene songs about the Munich and Hillsborough tragedies have been mostly eliminated but it takes very little to cause a flare-up and the inevitable puerile chanting. The irony is that players from both sides are sometimes close friends and Mrs Rooney and Mrs Gerrard are mates on the WAG circuit.
Sir Alex Ferguson really appreciated the rivalry and inspired a team and generation of supporters when he promised to knock Liverpool off their perch. Both clubs have claims to be the most famous in the world, Liverpool for their five European Cups and the legend of the Kop and United for Munich and being the first English club to win that trophy. The two clubs have massive support in Asia and the match on Sunday will be avidly followed around the globe.
Commercially, United are bigger with much greater revenue from match days and merchandise. There are still many festering resentments including Bob Paisley not being knighted and the fact that United don’t play in the city of Manchester but Salford. Fergie realised his dream when United won the title for the 20th time. However, in the context of British football the superpowers are now Chelsea and Manchester City, the richest clubs in England.
From a footballing point of view the momentum is with United. Without playing particularly well they have won their last five matches and are now third in the league. Overhauling Chelsea and City may be beyond them but qualifying for the Champions League is now feasible, especially if the club spend more money in January. Defence is still a problem area and it maybe more than paper talk that Nemenja Vidic could return. The Galactico approach may not go down well with some fans but results are justifying that strategy.
Liverpool are now a club in crisis and Rodgers may not survive the season. He spent over 100 million pounds in the summer but the total input from his recruits has not matched the contribution from Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge has been missed but the team still relies on Steven Gerrard to produce something special and get them out of a hole. However, he can’t go on for ever and it must be worrying for the fans that there is no obvious replacement. The nature of the fixture is such that despite the form Liverpool could win at Old Trafford.
The first televised match of the weekend brings together Arsenal and Newcastle. The Gunners played well in the Champions League in midweek but Galatasary are not as good as in former days and winning away is no more than what should have been expected. Despite progressing to the knockout stages in Europe fans will take some time to forget the shambles that was Arsenal away to Stoke last weekend.
Stoke scored in the first minute and Arsenal could not recover and conceded two more goals before half time. Per Mertesacker was brutally criticised by Jamie Carragher who basically said the German World Cup winner was a disgrace. Wenger surely can’t get sacked but if Arsenal lost Newcastle at home he will face the biggest test in the 18 years he has managed the club. Newcastle beat Chelsea last week so will be full of confidence ahead of their trip to London and can avoid defeat.
Tottenham and Everton have pretensions to join the European elite. However, it’s hard to compete with the rich and well established clubs that dominate the Champions League. West Ham and Southampton are trying to get into that group but at the end of the season the top of the Premier League will look familiar. It’s possible the top four will be the Manchester clubs and, Arsenal and Chelsea and the second tier will have to stay in that position in the hierarchy.
Everton are doing well in the Europa League but that is small fry financially compared to the Champions League. League form is a worry and they were booed off the field after a poor home draw with Hull recently. They need to beat QPR to restore some faith in the crowd. Tottenham are also trying to get to the next level but ultimately both clubs will be vying for fifth place and another season in the Europa League.