Less than a year ago Roy Hodgson’s stock was trading at an all all-time high. A mid-table Premier League position was considered an acceptable return for Fulham’s resources with consistently poor away form more an inconvenience than anything else. But the team was well-organized, difficult to break down and good enough to beat Manchester United 3-0 at Craven Cottage. Progress in the Europa League had been secured and European football at the business end of the season was guaranteed for the Fulham faithful.
A losing effort in the Europa League Final to Atletico Madrid was considered the cumulation of a great effort rather than a major set back in not taking that final step. For a team that had only hung on to Premier League existence a few seasons before by the slimmest of margins things it was a magnificent turnaround and Hodgson was the pin up man for sensible management.
Grounded, systematic and repetitive in his craft Hodgson was the consummate low-profile coaching toiler who was finally gaining the recognition that eluded him during his years overseas (with only a short spell with Blackburn Rovers). Clearly the English media’s favourite to take over from Fabio Capello when his time came (and it so nearly did this past summer) Hodgson was even tagged with the word “genius” by one of the more excitable scribes. Master craftsmen yes, genius well that was as far over the top as a 30 yard effort from Wilson Palacios.
When Liverpool came knocking on Hodgson’s door there were few murmurs of discontent and the move to the Liverpool hot seat seemed almost too obvious. Team in crisis, underperforming, yahoo owners, missing out on a top four spot – it seemed like a job for sensible, predictable Roy who fitted the profile of a safe pair of hands perfectly.
But rather than a match made in heaven it rapidly turned sour. Unlike Fulham where poor away form, a mid table Premier League position and progress in the Europa League exceeded all expectations at Liverpool it came no place close. Although there have been a significant number of barren years since the early nineties Liverpool fans have always believed that their team is a contender and a tweak hear and a signing there would ensure the return to glory days.
Manchester United v Liverpool 3rd Round FA Cup
When you consider that the FA Cup was first competed for in 1871/72 and look at the traditional turnover of teams, it is remarkable and noteworthy that only 42 teams have every lifted the trophy.
Manchester United have won the coveted trophy 11 times and have finished as runners-up seven times; Liverpool 7 wins and 6 times runners up. No team has won the FA Cup more times than Manchester United and only Arsenal and Spurs have a better record than Liverpool.
United have appeared in the most FA Cup Finals (18) with Arsenal experiencing one fewer and Everton, Liverpool and Newcastle United have making it to the last game 13 times.
In head-to-head meetings in the oldest football competition in the world Manchester United and Liverpool have faced-off 15 times. United have by far the better record with 8 wins, 4 draws and only 3 losses.
Their first FA Cup clash came on February 12, 1898 and finished in a goalless stalemate. Four days later in a replay Liverpool beat the then-named Newton Heath 2-1 in a replay. However, Liverpool were destined to go out in the next round losing 5-1 to Derby County. Derby would lose the final to Nottingham Forest with the legendary Steve Bloomer scoring the only goal for Derby in a 3-1 loss.
Since Manchester United returned to the top flight of English football for the 1975/76 season these two sides have been drawn together in the FA Cup six times. Twice it has been in the Final (with United winning both) and three out of the other four occasions the winner of the match has gone on to win the FA Cup.
In the 1978/79 season United beat Liverpool 2-1 after a 2-2 draw but would lose to Arsenal 3-2 in what was probably the most dramatic ending ever seen to any FA Cup Final.
Although the match does not fit the dictionary definition of a derby match there are fewer rivalries more bitter and over the years the unpredictably of the outcomes certainly mimic city derbies.
Much may depend on the line-ups picked by the respective managers. Manchester United are coming off a spell of four Premier League games played in just ten days. Liverpool’s first holiday-time fixture was scheduled at Blackpool on Boxing Day but fell victim to bad weather and a frozen pitch. Nonetheless Liverpool have still played three games in eight days.
Both managers will be eyeing the upcoming Premier League schedule as well as European commitments. It would be surprising if Sir Alex Ferguson fields a side that is recognizable as a first choice eleven (even though he said on Friday that he would field his strongest side) but Fergie is in a very different position to that of Kenny Dalglish.
Even though the conventional wisdom has the Premier League, and more particularly a top four spot, taking on the semblance of the Holy Grail each season, there is an eight point gap (based on points dropped) with Spurs in 4th and Chelsea sitting in between. It is a lot for a Liverpool squad to make up even if they hit stride.
What’s more any definitive decision as to a top 4 finish is months away while the pressure is here and now and a win away to Manchester United (Everton are up a week later in the Premier League) would put the club and the fans in a more positive state of mind.
The last time these two sides met in the FA Cup was on February 18, 2006. A 20th minute Peter Crouch goal proved to be the only goal of the game and Liverpool would win the FA Cup on penalty kicks against West Ham three months later.
Of the players who appeared in that match less than five years ago only three Liverpool players remain on the Anfield club books while at Old Trafford there are eight.
For Liverpool it is Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard; for Manchester United, Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. Carragher is injured and Park is away at the Asian Cup.
The sharks looking to take chunks out of Roy Hodgson were quick to jump on the attendance at Anfield when Liverpool met Bolton on New Year’s Day. The announced attendance was 35,400 which was well below the average this season of 41,938 and last season’s average of 42,864. The simplistic conclusion was that the decline in January 1 attendance was a “Hodgson Must Go” statement.
But did one of them step back to consider the logical conclusion of such a statement? What it means is that over 6,000 Liverpool fans believed that staying away would rid the club of Roy Hodgson while they did not believe similar action would have been effective in ridding the club of hated-owners Gillett and Hicks. How warped is that?
Bookies say – Manchester United 1/1.5, Draw 2.6/1, and Liverpool 4.5/1
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