Liverpool's 'King' refuses to bow to United knight as ice meets fire


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The Independent Online

Ahead of match days like this, Sir Alex Ferguson's managerial adversaries tend to praise him, not to bury him. Tony Pulis talks of Ferguson in hallowed tones as "Sir Alex"; for Steve Bruce he is still "The Boss"; and even Liverpool's owner, John W Henry, shared the reverence this week when he said that "Mr Ferguson is a genius".

Kenny Dalglish dispenses with the worship, though. He is the only serving Premier League manager who uses the rough-edged "Fergie" for the man who stands between him and a victory at Anfield this lunchtime which would be the most stylish way for his club's American owners to mark a year at the helm.

Dalglish's strategy, where his most implacable opponent is concerned, has always been to project a mood of cool insouciance. So when Ferguson tried to crank up what looked like signs of strain in the younger man, during the nail-biting struggle for title supremacy with Blackburn in 1995, by suggesting that Rovers might "do a Devon Loch", Dalglish's dry reply was: "Is that an expanse of water in Scotland?" To his credit, Ferguson's typewritten letter of congratulations to the manager nearly 10 years his junior, when Blackburn took the title, included the postscript: "Devon Loch is a horse! I'm sure your dad must have backed it... mine did!"

Ferguson has never been able to resist basking in the fervour he feels for games against Liverpool, and the journey into the Anfield cauldron. For him it is the domestic fixture – one which for reasons of history and geography means more to him than the resurgent Manchester derby.

"This is the biggest game in the world," Ferguson enthused yesterday. And, once again, Dalglish met fire with cold water, that indifference as evident as it was back in '95 as he replied: "If that is what he thinks, fine. That is up to Fergie. For me, I've always said the most important game is the next one."

Liverpool's fixture list provided some memorable bathos. "It's Manchester United this time and next week it will be Norwich City," he continued. "I don't have a league table of teams I enjoy beating more than any others. We get a reward if we are successful and we get nothing if we are not. They all add up to the same in the end."

In Dalglish's 20-minute discussion of today's game with the press, trying to wring a gushing sentiment about Ferguson was like trying to halt Luis Suarez in a six-yard box. His club's owner may hold Ferguson in awe and feel Liverpool are "a long way behind" United, but Dalglish has grounds for genuine belief today, with Steven Gerrard possibly starting his first game for six months.

In his 250th game in charge of Liverpool – a landmark reached by only five other managers – Dalglish is seeking a fourth consecutive win against United on Anfield soil, a feat last achieved on Boxing Day 1979 by the all-conquering team he played in. And Dalglish has Suarez, the man whose shimmering run past Rafael, Michael Carrick and Wes Brown produced one of last season's most luscious pieces of skill to set up the first goal of Dirk Kuyt's hat-trick in Liverpool's 3-1 win. Game on ...