United in suspense

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The Independent Online
WILL the best team win this season's Premiership, or simply the one that has the least number of suspended players? Today's crucial game between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield draws attention to the issue that clubs always feared might become decisive.

It would be against United's style to tiptoe through any game, least of all one against the club who upstaged them for so many years. But six points behind Blackburn and with Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and Paul Ince all one booking away from suspension, which could also mean their missing the FA Cup semi-final, the dilemma is obvious. But Alex Ferguson says any holding back would be like shrinking from a tackle and getting hurt yourself.

The one United player who Ferguson confidently predicts will go into every remaining game with no thought of shirking anything (especially today's if he plays) is Roy Keane, who missed the superb though goalless midweek match against Tottenham with a hamstring injury and faces a fitness test today.

Ferguson sees him as the "magnificent" core of the team which, he hopes, will capitalise on any loss of confidence Liverpool may be suffering after their 3-2 home defeat by Coventry City on Tuesday.

Liverpool can point to a long history of hitting back with the quick counter-punch after any setback. They are expecting John Barnes and Phil Babb back in the team but Rob Jones is suspended, leaving Mark Wright waiting the call for his first game of the season.

Liverpool are also threatened with more suspensions since Neil Ruddock and John Scales are one caution away from a ban that would deprive them of appearing in the Coca-Cola Cup final against Bolton Wanderers at Wembley on 2 April.

In spite of the suspension threats, the game promises to be one of the most exciting and significant of the season, and with plenty of goals. In the equivalent match last season there were six, equally shared.