In many ways, Michael Carrick knows exactly what to expect when he walks out at Anfield today: a tough encounter between two bitter rivals played at breakneck speed, something that has always been the case when Manchester United travel to Liverpool.
This one though has a little added importance, with it being the first game at Anfield since the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were documented.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side come up against a wounded Liverpool, who have made their worst start to a season in 101 years, but one capable of fighting back. Carrick thinks whoever handles the occasion better, rather than recent records, will dictate the outcome of the fixture.
"I think form for these games goes out the window," Carrick said. "Both teams and both sets of supporters treat it as a one-off game, irrespective of how results have gone in the weeks prior to the game."
Asked about the animosity between the clubs, he said: "It is something I appreciate, the history of the two clubs and the traditions and everything that goes with it. It is a huge game and it's got a special place in world football. Everyone will want to watch it. I had played at Anfield a lot in the past but going there with United is a totally different kettle of fish."
The midfielder himself has played each of the four Premier League games thus far, in stark contrast to his fortunes last year when staggeringly Carrick didn't play a full 90 minutes until November 19th away at Swansea City. "There is always competition at this club and that is what keeps everyone at their best," he said. That fight for selection was intensified over the summer with the acquisitions of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa – both of whom have begun their Old Trafford careers with some sparkling displays.
"They are two top players," Carrick said. "I think you can see that it is going to get better as the season goes on and they settle in. They haven't been here long but considering that, they have stepped in and it has been quite comfortable.
"There is extra competition this year. Hopefully that is going to bode well because we are going to need everyone."
Kagawa in particular has impressed Carrick. "There is nothing flash but he is really effective. He picks up great positions and makes the game look really easy but believe me it is not. The way he plays is tough to do, he is terrific to play with."
Carrick's connection with the playmaker was evident on Wednesday night when the pair combined to score United's only goal in the Champions League win against Galatasaray. It was Carrick's first goal since January but that isn't something preying on his mind. "Look around Europe at some of the defensive midfielders, they don't score many goals," he said. "Of course in an ideal world I would like to [score more], but it just depends how the team is playing and who I am playing with, to how much I can get forward."
Ferguson admits to being foxed by results against their big rivals
The unpredictable nature of games between Liverpool and Manchester United adds further spice to this afternoon's fixture. Although it was 2002 when Liverpool last finished above their rivals, they have often had a good record at Old Trafford, including a 4-1 success in 2009, and Sir Alex Ferguson says of his team's visits to Anfield: "We haven't won there for four years and I'd have to say we were disappointing in at least two of them. They look upon it as a massive game and we've got to do the same. It has always been a meaty game and you can't avoid that. But it does fox you in a way, Liverpool-United results over the years." The most recent sequence shows a run of home wins and draws since that 2009 game. Having written an open letter to United's supporters to end tasteless references to Hillsborough, Ferguson hopes Liverpool fans will respond. On the pitch, he believes United's Japanese signing Shinji Kagawa quickly gelling with Robin van Persie, will be key: "He is such an intelligent little player. His movement is good, he doesn't give the ball away and it will be an important ingredient, keeping the ball."Reuse content