Head to head

Liverpool may have won the last three, but Sir Alex still has the superior record in rumbles with Rafa Benitez. The United boss boasts seven wins to his rival's four, and there has been just one draw so far.

Sunday's match will be the 13th meeting - who'll be lucky? Have your say online at
16/03/2010 14:19, Report by Adam Bostock
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Hungry for Sunday crunch

Anybody worried by Liverpool’s apparent return to form on Monday night? No. I didn’t think so.

Although the scoreline - 4-1 to Rafa Benitez’s also-rans - may make your blood run cold with memories of last March’s meeting at Old Trafford, that’s about the only modicum of apprehension you could draw from their home win over rock-bottom Portsmouth. (Given their previous losses to Wigan and Lille).

Okay, so Fernando Torres scored twice and we all know what he did last spring to Nemanja Vidic, but he has another game to play before coming to OT on Sunday. Surely a knife-edge tie with Lille on Thursday night - and the requirement to overturn a first-leg deficit – is the last thing the Spanish striker needs after his struggles with injury this season.

Liverpool playing twice this week while United can either rest or sharpen up tactics on the training ground, whatever the manager may decide, could lead to moans from Merseyside about the unfair fixture list. But the pile-up is a problem of their own making – entry into the Europa League being a forefeit for Champions League failure.

Therein lies my biggest bugbear about European football’s other competition… that teams who couldn’t cut the mustard at the top table are given seconds at another sitting.

How must it feel to be Fulham, who’ve battled admirably through 12 games in the Europa League since July, only to have a Champions League flop fall squarely in front them. And if the likes of Juventus or Liverpool go on to win the trophy, will it not be a hollow triumph? They’re only there because they failed elsewhere. They didn't set out their stall last summer to win it.

That’s my personal view on the Europa League, and while the format irritates me, it might work out to United’s advantage given the heavy schedule that’s been imposed on Liverpool. It remains to be seen what side Benitez will put out against Lille – which is more important to him, the need to stay in the hunt for fourth place with a positive result at OT, or the mission to avoid yet another trophyless season?

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