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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 21 April, 2014

Liverpool v Manchester United: three key battles

Anfield hosts the most mouthwatering tie of the FA Cup fourth round at midday. Here’s where we think the game will be won and lost…

Dalglish and Ferguson stand side-by-side.
Dalglish and Ferguson stand side-by-side.
Image: Tim Hales/AP/Press Association Images

FA Cup Fourth Round
KO 12.45, Setanta Ireland & ITV1

Craig Bellamy v Chris Smalling

The Welshman was not given a huge amount of opportunities under Rafa Benitez but has enjoyed a much more fruitful second coming at Anfield. He managed nine goals in the 06/07 season and is well on course to bettering that figure as the winner on Thursday night was his eighth of this campaign.

Bellamy was immense for 88 minutes against his former club Manchester City and is undoubtedly the best striker available to play right now with Luis Suarez still missing but whether the 32-year-old can do three games in a week is a major concern. Kop fans will be praying that he does start as the alternatives, Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt, just don’t match up on current form.

Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones will both face late calls on their fitness this morning but Smalling is a sure starter. Whether at right-full or centre-half the England defender will be a hugely important player for United on the day.

Liverpool midfield v Man Utd midfield

Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam have both struggled to get to grips with life at Liverpool and the absence of Lucas Leiva has only added to their misery. If the home side are to match United, they must win the battle in the centre of the park, where their opponents are weakest.

They overran the Premier League champions at times back in October when Steven Gerrard marked his return with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw and will be aiming to do the same today. There is talk of Jay Spearing getting a recall but either way, Kenny Dalglish will go with a three-man midfield.

Michael Carrick has been putting in decent shifts for United of late and the likelihood is that he starts alongside one of Giggs and Scholes with Rooney dropping deep off Danny Welbeck.

Kenny Dalglish v Alex Ferguson

The two great Scots have been attempting to defuse what looks like being an explosive atmosphere at Anfield but, nonetheless, will be focused on getting one over on their greatest rivals.

Dalglish got the response he wanted after publicly questioning the commitment of his players in the aftermath of last weekend’s defeat to Bolton and the idea will be to carry on from that highly-energetic performance which sent City out of the Carling Cup in midweek.

Ferguson, meanwhile, has witnessed his side bounce back from the humiliating defeat to Newcastle at the start of the month with three wins over City, Bolton and Arsenal last weekend. A convincing win and a ticket to the fifth round without the hassle of a replay would put his side in good stead ahead of league meetings with Chelsea and Liverpool in the coming weeks.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique, Adam, Gerrard, Downing, Henderson, Kuyt, Rodriguez, Doni, Kelly, Carragher, Coates, Aurelio, Spearing, Shelvey, Bellamy, Carroll.

Manchester United (from): De Gea, Lindegaard, Amos, Smalling, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evra, Jones, Evans, Fabio, Fryers, Cole, Carrick, Scholes, Valencia, Park, Nani, Giggs, Rooney, Welbeck, Berbatov, Hernandez, Diouf.

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