The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United has belittled the majority of today’s feuds, both territorial and ancient for the best part of a century. Not only does this represent domestic honour and European endeavour like none other in the country, it also brings out vociferous behaviour to it’s extreme from both clubs’ supporters.
Emotions can be overwhelming during matches of this magnitude and it has even gotten to the players occasionally, the most recent case being the diabolical show of discipline by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard in March 2015. In his final season at the club, the Englishman then brought on as a half-time substitute lasted no more than thirty-eight seconds on the pitch. He was guilty of sinking his boots into the outstretched leg of Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera and with referee Martin Atkinson in close proximity, Gerrard was given his marching orders, much to the dismay of the Anfield faithful. United went on to win the game 2-1 courtesy of two Juan Mata strikes either side of the interval with Daniel Sturridge’s solitary goal rendered a mere consolation.
Now Gerrard may have felt engulfed by the sense of expectation and emotion, given how important this game was to him as a boyhood Liverpool supporter and player but there can be no margin for error in Merseyside on October 17 when United pay a visit. The old enemy has dominated this fixture over the past two seasons, winning both contests by one-goal margins and comprehensively beating their arch-rivals at Old Trafford in the Premier League. The Europa League Round of 16 ties last season rekindled the Scouse spirit that appeared bereft in the league clashes though and manager Jurgen Klopp will certainly reflect on those games in some capacity to prepare for the visit of Jose Mourinho’s side.
All that said and done, the example of Gerrard must serve as a stern warning to the Liverpool players, none more so than skipper Jordan Henderson.
Having inherited the captain’s armband in 2015, Henderson has demonstrated sound leadership qualities for his side, despite having produced a string of underwhelming displays on the pitch. What may concern Klopp though is his disciplinary record ahead of the United game. Henderson has already picked up four yellow cards in his seven league outings and is just one booking away from serving a one-match suspension. In a clash renowned for malicious challenges, brawls and intensity, that may cease to help the midfielder.
Liverpool’s midfield trio of Georginio Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana and Henderson has looked promising and could be considered the cornerstone of the club’s league ambitions this season. While Lallana is currently out of action following a groin injury, it must be noted that he and Wijnaldum have accumulated a total of one booking in their appearances so far. What’s better for the duo is that they have committed a combined total of just five fouls on the pitch, half of what Henderson has racked up alone. Discipline is key to boosting Liverpool’s chances and while it can be said that United have a few players on the tightrope themselves, it is Henderson who needs to be wary more than any of his colleagues.
The former Sunderland man has been sent off only once in his Liverpool career, during the stoppage time of his side’s 3-2 win against Manchester City at Anfield in 2014. Being a combative midfielder though, he is expected to make challenges in order to break up play and rough up his opponents in the middle of the park. The aforementioned points are likely to produce a booking and that is something both he and Klopp must take care of, come next Monday.
If it could happen to Gerrard, it could happen to anybody and that must be embedded in the captain’s mind.