The 30th game week in this season’s Premier League starts with a bang as Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford at lunch-time on Saturday, March 10th. It is a fixture that is earmarked by fans of both sides as soon as the fixture list is out in June. The anticipation of a thrilling game on Saturday is high among the fans, despite the three drab draws that the two sides have played out in last three games and even though neither of the two can win the league this season.
Manchester United come into this game after a thrilling 2-3 victory over Crystal Palace on Monday. However, this game on Saturday is the first of two important games lined up for them as Sevilla will come calling on Tuesday night in the second leg of the Champions League last sixteen tie. Jose Mourinho does not like his team to lose any game but against a “Big Six” rival and especially Liverpool, he simply hates to lose. This cautiousness has caused the last three games between the two sides to end in drab draws. However, the winner on Saturday will greatly strengthen their claim for Champions League football next season. Can this incentive along with the fact that they are playing at Old Trafford lead Jose Mourinho to play a bit more attacking football?
Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp can never be accused of playing defensive or drab football. No side has scored more away goals in Europe’s top five league than Liverpool and Lyon (34 each). But the Reds have also conceded 10 goals more than Manchester United in this season’s Premier League season so far. Liverpool come into this game following a 0-0 draw with Porto in which Jurgen Klopp managed to rest some of his key players and still stroll into the Champions League quarter-finals. Overall as well, Liverpool are in great form as they have conceded 3 goals and scored 15 in their last six games, winning four and drawing two. A win on Saturday will help the Reds leapfrog Manchester United and reach the 2nd position. This kind of form and the incentive of gaining over Manchester United should be enough for Klopp’s side to be pumped up on Saturday.
- In 169 previous league matches between these two teams, Manchester United have won 67, Liverpool 55 and 47 games have been drawn. However, in the more recent history draws have been more prominent. In their last six games in all competitions, the Reds and Red Devils have played out four draws and won a game each.
- Of the last three games, two have ended goalless. This used to be a rare occurrence previous to these three games, as it happened only once in 49 games preceding these last three games. Just like goals, this fixture is renowned for aggressive gameplay as well. The two teams have gathered 16 red cards between them during the Premier League era, second only to the Merseyside derby (21).
- Liverpool have not lost more number of times (67) to any other opponent but only Manchester City and Chelsea (6 each) have won more games at Old Trafford during the Premier League era than Liverpool (5).
- Against the “Big Six” sides, Manchester United have improved considerably this season, having already won thrice this season (W3 D1 L3), one better than last time (W2 D4 L4). However, Liverpool have garnered only one point from the nine available so far against their “Big Six” rivals (W0 D1 L2). Prior to this season, under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool had not lost a single game on the road to the “Big Six”.
Alexis Sanchez has suffered a torrid start to his Manchester United career, scoring just one goal in 443 minutes for the Red Devils. However, this bad run of form is bound to end and unlike his fellow attacker Romelu Lukaku, Sanchez’s goal contribution output does not waver against “Big Six” rivals. He has scored 8 goals in the league this season and has provided three assists. One of those 8 goals was scored against Liverpool when the Reds visited the Gunners in December. His xG per 90 minutes and xAssist per 90 minutes numbers are 0.45 and 0.08, which means that there is a 53% chance of Sanchez contributing a goal if he plays all 90 minutes, down from 71% probability he had when he was at Arsenal. However, Sanchez is a big-game player and has remained subdued for a long time this season. It is likely that he can come out of his indifferent form against Liverpool.
At present, Mohamed Salah cannot be expected to understand “indifferent form”. Liverpool’s talismanic winger has scored in each of his last five Premier League games. Only Daniel Sturridge and Michael Owen have scored in more consecutive games (8 and 6 respectively) in the Premier League. Salah’s xG per 90 and xAssist per 90 minutes amount to 1.06, which means that Salah is almost certain to contribute a goal if he plays all 90 minutes. His personal competition with Harry Kane to win the Golden Boot this season can also fuel his desire to score on Saturday.
Manchester United will be without Ander Herrera, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, and Phil Jones due to their respective injuries. Anthony Martial missed the thriller at Crystal Palace on Monday and remains a doubt for this game too. Zlatan’s match fitness is suspect for such a high-profile game so he might not feature as well. Monday’s defensive performance might prompt Jose Mourinho to ring in a few changes at the back, possibly getting Eric Bailly to start ahead of Lindelof. Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford will all vie for the right winger position, assuming Mourinho continues with his 4-3-3 tactic.
Liverpool should be able to welcome back Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah back into the starting lineup on Saturday. Skipper Jordan Henderson and left-back Andrew Robertson are minor doubts with their respective injuries suffered during the week, while Georginio Wijnldum is doubtful after a fairly long layoff due to an illness. Nathaniel Clyne is also not likely to start on Saturday.
It is likely to be another game of defense versus attack, but the fact that they are playing at home and that three points can almost secure Champions League football for next season should incentivize Manchester United to play with more intent. Jurgen Klopp’s team, on the other hand, are likely to play their expansive style of football. If United attack, Liverpool will find opportunities to test David de Gea and by default Liverpool will afford a few opportunities to United. These two factors are likely to cancel each other out and we should see one more draw being played out. Hopefully, this will be more entertaining than the game at Anfield earlier in the season.