Manchester United and Liverpool will likely play a very high-quality football match on Saturday, and that match is important in the Premier League standings. Liverpool need a series of fantastic results to get themselves back in the chase for fourth place, while Manchester United need points to keep pace with Manchester City and keep a gap on Tottenham Hotspur.
However, this game has a lot of subtext that has little to do with football. As much as many people want to keep discussion about this edition of the Northwest Derby to the talents of the players and what might happen on the pitch in footballing terms, the lingering fallout of the Luis Suarez racism case is a massive story. Suarez has returned from suspension, and will take the pitch at some point in this match. Patrice Evra, his accuser, will also play. Their actions will be closely watched and eventually scrutinized, for good reason.
No one knows what's going to happen. Suarez could apologize, they could shake hands, and it could truly be over. Evra could pull a Wayne Bridge, refuse to shake Suarez's hand, and start all kinds of nastiness. Though, it's highly unlikely that anything that occurs on Saturday could be as nasty as what Suarez allegedly said to Evra.
As far as real team news goes, there's plenty going on between the teams on the injury front. Phil Jones is out for Manchester United, while Chris Smalling is a doubt. This means United are likely to play a back four of Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Johnny Evans and Rafael da Silva. Tom Cleverley will return to the 18, but is unlikely to start. Nemanja Vidic is missing long-term.
Liverpool don't have any short-term injury issues other than the back problem that kept Jose Enrique out against Tottenham Hotspur. He's expected to return to the starting XI. Lucas Leiva, like Vidic, is out long-term.
Craig Bellamy and Steven Gerrard are in excellent form for the Reds, while Suarez should be 90 minutes fit. This likely means that Andy Carroll will return to the bench, and Liverpool supporters are unlikely to be too broken up about this development. Attacking in the other direction will likely be Ashley Young and Nani on the wings, with Wayne Rooney in the hole behind either Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck. Hernandez scored the equalizer last week against Chelsea and has scored twice against Liverpool in his short United career.
Manchester United vs. Liverpool
Game Date/Time: Saturday, February 11, 7:45 a.m. ET, 12:45 p.m. local
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
TV: ESPN2 (USA - English), ESPN Deportes (USA - Spanish), TSN2 (Canada), Sky Sports 2 (UK)