Fiery northwest derby looms

A return to action by Hojlund would be a massive boost for Man United. - AP

WE have been treated to some absorbing football over the last few weeks or so, and there is every indication that that trend will continue this weekend with the FA Cup quarterfinals.

It is anticipated that the coming together of Manchester City and Newcastle United today and Manchester United and Liverpool tomorrow, among others, will be sources of great and welcome entertainment.

Indeed, the rivalry between Liverpool and Man United, dubbed the “northwest derby” and borne of the historical inter-city scrap for supremacy, is widely accepted as the fiercest in world football.

With this and what’s riding on the game, not least Erik ten Hag’s future at the club, we can expect a clash with a good measure of intensity that could lead to some of the passions spilling over.

It is unlikely to reach the heights of the drawn fixture between Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League last weekend. But it should still be played with a lot of fire in the belly.

Tomorrow’s cup tie is the first of two meetings between these sides. The Red Devils will host the Reds at Old Trafford for a second time in quick succession when they clash in the Premier League in three weeks’ time.

Defeat in both and by wide margins, coupled with one or two other similar outcomes, and ten Hag could well be shown the exit.

Such is the precarious nature of things at Man United that some UK media outlets this week reported a replacement for ten Hag is already underway.

That could all be stopped in its tracks if Man United were to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup, and doing so, burst the bubble of a possible quadruple in Jurgen Klopp’s last season with the Anfield club.

The ol’ enemy could make things even worse were they to follow a scenario like that with a triumph in the league encounter on April 7. That would almost certainly put paid to Liverpool’s aspirations for the league title, assuming they were still in the running then.

Ten Hag will have had his spirits lifted this week with the news that his much-missed centre-forward Rasmus Hojlund is likely to be in the starting lineup tomorrow.

Hojlund has been sidelined with a muscle strain and has missed the club’s last four matches. Ten Hag and the lad himself will have been disappointed by the timing of the injury, given that he was in the middle of a rich vein of form.

The 21-year-old Danish star carved out a nice piece of history for himself when his double against Luton Town on Feb 18 made him the youngest player to score in six consecutive Premier League games.

That’s why his team manager would be delighted just to have him back playing again – if he is fit enough, as expected.

Liverpool, too, had a bit of good news from the medical staff this week.

Central defender Ibrahima Konate, who missed the Man City game after coming off in the Europa League victory in the middle of last week, has a “good chance” of playing against Man United tomorrow.

And with Mo Salah expected to start, following his coming off the bench against City, Klopp and the fans will be hoping for another fully committed assault on the opposition.

But they will have to do it without the services of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The England international has been out for a month after sustaining a knee injury against Burnley, and the talk this week of him making a return to action has been shot down.

Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders has said the right-back is only likely to return after the international break, which means maybe against Brighton on March 31.

Midfielders Curtis Jones and Ryan Gravenberch are also expected back from injury around that time, while goalkeeper Alisson Becker, midfielder Stefan Bajcetic and striker Diogo Jota are all due to return sometime in April.

Still, there is no team that either of these two sides would like to beat more than the other, which really adds spice to what should be another fiery clash between them.

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