Eight days after one bone-jarring confrontation between them ended in rancour and recrimination, Liverpool and Manchester United were paired again in yesterday's draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup. "A great tie for everyone," Sir Alex Ferguson said, presumably through gritted teeth. "It won't be easy," Rafael Benitez declared in more realistic mode.
The dust has not settled on United's last-minute victory in the Premiership encounter at Old Trafford, with Benitez still annoyed by the free-kick award that led to the winning goal, and Gary Neville challenging disciplinary action over his ill-judged celebration. So when Liverpool came out at home, and Ian Rush joked about pulling out "a good one" for his old club, there was a certain inevitability about what followed.
"It's a hard draw," the United manager said in a masterpiece of understatement. "But the FA Cup is all about difficult ties and dramatic games. You can only appreciate what winning means in the cup competitions by getting through the tougher matches."
Benitez's reaction contained a pointed reminder, as if Ferguson needed one, that the European champions, post-Istanbul, are a different proposition. "Last season we maybe thought a draw against one of the top sides was a good result," he said. "Now we know that when we play to our full ability we can beat any team in the world. We controlled the game last week. We were at least at their level. We can beat United at Anfield. Being at home will make a big difference."
The match is one of three that guarantees a Premiership club goes out, though the quarter-finals could still prove an exclusively top-flight affair. Colchester, lying second in League One on that division's lowest gates, will pit their record of 18 wins in 20 games against Chelsea or Everton, the away draw ensuring a financial killing.
Bolton, having defeated Arsenal, will be excused for viewing another visit from London opposition, West Ham, as a viable route to the last eight. Bolton's manager, Sam Allardyce, said: "You don't want to waste knocking out the holders, certainly not in the next round."
Newcastle's relief at beating Cheltenham was almost embarrassing for a club with their self-image. However, they were rewarded with a home tie against Southampton, former employers of both Graeme Souness and Alan Shearer but now a moderate Championship outfit. The trophy last came to Tyneside in 1955. The winners of Aston Villa (1957) against Manchester City (1969) are similarly overdue Cup success.
Brentford will have hoped for a more rewarding tie, in terms of potential attendance and attractiveness to live television, than a trip to Charlton. Stoke City, appearing in the fifth round for the third time in 34 years, will sense a chance to update the history books after a third successive home draw, Reading or Birmingham following Tamworth and Walsall to the Potteries.Reuse content