In the signature matchup in the English football calendar, top-of-the-table Liverpool faces a Manchester United littered with as many uncertainties as there can be within a grossly mismanaged multi-billion pound organization.
Liverpool have had their best start in the Premier League era – under the eccentric German, but this is not the first time they are top of the league 16 games into the season. Yet somehow this one does feel different, even for an outsider like me. Liverpool, for the first time in recent – probably Premier League history – have the single outstanding centre-half in the country – and a goalkeeper that has genuinely plugged all the gaps they were leaking goals from – in seasons past. With such improvement in their backline this season, I reckon Allison in goal probably has enough time to learn about Matchbook during most 90 minutes, VVD is a big reason for this.
Beating United at home should be worth more than 3 points for Liverpool and their supporters by default but Sunday’s outcome, if overwhelmingly positive, could really kickstart a pattern in this fixture for the foreseeable future, given the trajectories of the two football clubs.
For Manchester United, Anfield has always been the ground where a win got them the most joy – because they rarely win at Liverpool. After a decent streak of results under Louis van Gaal, United have struggled to impose themselves under Mourinho at most stadiums and particularly Anfield where they have drawn 0-0 in the two outings under the Portuguese.
However, with Manchester United very clearly the underdog for Sunday’s titanic clash, it is hard to tell what type of a strategy would work for the visitors against Liverpool – who are not only proficient in front of goal but also boast the best defence in Europe – going by goals conceded so far.
The Red Devils have lacked a clear attacking philosophy/style of football for half a decade now – but they may be forgiven for once on Sunday – should they approach the game with the kind of ultra-pragmatist football that Mourinho employs in games like these – to avoid a hiding.
Joel Matip is out for six weeks and Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to miss out for a few weeks. Naby Keita and Fabinho did not start against Napoli but only the former may come into consideration for a starting berth against Manchester United.
Chris Smalling is also carrying a knock but is expected to be fit in time to start against Liverpool. Phil Jones or Eric Bailly will partner him at the back with Victor Lindelof still sidelined. Luke Shaw is still a doubt ahead of Sunday’s fixture in Merseyside.
- Liverpool are looking for their first win in nine PL matches against Man Utd (D3 L5). They haven’t gone longer without a win against the Red Devils in league competition since April 1988 (12 matches).
- Liverpool’s attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are all yet to score or assist in a PL match for the club against United, despite playing a combined total of 855 minutes.
- Jose Mourinho has won 50 per cent of his PL away matches at Anfield, with four out of eight. That is the best win percentage among managers who have taken charge of five or more such fixtures in the competition.
Virgil Van Dijk – Liverpool
Despite Liverpool’s obvious firepower up front, it’s their £75-million defender that has really transformed that football club from what was an exciting and at times frenetic top-six side to the well-rounded title contender to be taken most seriously, this season.
Liverpool have conceded just 6 goals in 16 games – including 6 clean sheets out of 7 fixtures at home. The Dutchman has brought an authority and a sense of calm at the back – that powers the engine in midfield and wheels up front keeping this machine ticking off one win after another.
If Van Dijk is at his usual best, then they should be alright on Sunday.
Juan Mata – Manchester United
United are second best to Liverpool in almost every department this season – even though there is a significant amount of potential – that is underused (or misused rather?) by Jose Mourinho in the last 6-8 months.
Yet, they have had some decent performers within that squad – and arguably the best out of the outfield players in the last few weeks has been the little Spaniard Juan Mata, who recently accomplished a rare feat of scoring and assisting 50 goals in the Premier League for Chelsea and Manchester United combined.
Mata has always been able to have good scoring runs in a season – and it does appear like he could be on one again. His quick movement of the ball will be crucial against Liverpool’s counter-press as will his knack of finding the net on the run.
Liverpool are overwhelming favourites for valid reasons – which is why I am going for an underserved and ugly draw for Manchester United.
As a bonus, I also foresee Mourinho gesturing “three” fingers at the home crowd after keeping his 3rd clean sheet in a row at Anfield as Manchester United manager.
Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United