“It’s Liverpool, the neighbors, we know the story. When you arrive in Manchester you know the story about Liverpool and Manchester United. We know it’s a big game”. Yes, Paul Pogba knows it is a big game and he and his teammates are getting ready for the latest version of this rivalry as Manchester United visit Anfield on Sunday evening. But one can argue that the rivalry has lost some of its ferocity in the last few years. It has been more than a decade since the last time these two north-west rivals simultaneously challenged for the league title. Before Klopp’s arrival, the Reds were not in the title contention as regularly as they are now and after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, the Red Devils have lost a bit (or a lot) of their mojo as well.
Not this time though. On Sunday, when these traditional rivals meet, they will meet as two genuine title challengers this season. A win for United will see them pull six points away from Liverpool at the top of the table. A win for Liverpool will see them knock United off their temporary perch and climb up to the top of the league on goal-difference. A draw will ensure that the chasing pack of Manchester City, Leicester, Everton and Tottenham gain even more interest in chasing.
It is fair to say that Liverpool come into this game in an abysmal league form – well abysmal by their own standards set over the last 2-3 seasons. The Reds have not won a game in last three and won only twice in last six. Off their six draws this season, three have come in the last six. In their last league game, they lost to Southampton at St. Mary’s. Since winning 0-7 away to Crystal Palace, they have scored one goal from 15 shots, dropped points at home to West Brom and drawn to Newcastle United away and lost to Southampton. However, they do come into this game after a longish 9-day break and prior to that they won 4-1 against Aston Villa’s youngsters as Villa coped with a COVID-19 outbreak in their senior squad. Jurgen Klopp will hope that the easy progression to next round in the cup and a break after that will have given his team a measure of confidence and a chance to rest some of those fatigued muscles. Not that it has given them any respite from the injury issues. Klopp will hope that the break leads to a break in the winless streak as well and that his team can get back to their winning ways at Anfield.
Manchester United on the other hand come into this game as the in-form team in the league. The Red Devils are earnestly in a title challenge this time. They are unbeaten on the road in their previous eight games in the league this season, with their 2-2 draw at Leicester being the only time they have dropped points. Overall, they have not tasted defeat in the league since losing 0-1 at home to Arsenal at the start of November. Such form has seen United top the table having collected 36 points after 17 games. Ole will hope that his team can keep up its away form and secure 3 points, extending their lead over the champions to six points. His side have a good chance as well – having come from behind to secure wins in all away games other than Leicester this season. This record of six Premier League come-from-behind wins on the road possibly indicates the hunger in Ole’s side. That hunger also allowed them to overcome Burnley on Tuesday to climb to the top of the table. Ole will certainly hope that his players can keep their appetite up.
- Liverpool have won their last two home Premier League games against Manchester United. They last won three home games in a row in March 2011. In fact the hosts are unbeaten in their last four Premier League games against United (W2 D2), their longest unbeaten run against these rivals since a run of five between March 2000 and January 2002.
- Red Devils of late seem to get into a defensive shell when playing Liverpool. They have registered just 77 shots in their last 11 Premier League games against Liverpool, failing to register double figures for attempts since December 2014. At Anfield, they have not had as many as 10 shots since September 2013 under David Moyes.
- Liverpool are winless in three Premier League games (D2 L1) and goal-less in their last two games. The last time they went four games without a win was in February 2017 – a run of five and they have not failed to score in three consecutive league games since March 2005.
- Liverpool lost their first game of 2021 but they have not started a calendar year with consecutive league defeats since 1993. In fact, they are unbeaten in 67 home league games now (W55 D12), finding the net in each of their last 42 at Anfield.
- It has been eight years since Manchester United will be top of the table going into a Premier League match against their traditional rivals. The last time they did so was in January 2013 under Sir Alex Ferguson. They won the title that season.
Mohammed Salah did not score against Manchester United in his first four appearances against them. But he did break this duck in this fixture last season. Both Salah and Klopp will be hoping that he will continue to score against the Red Devils, especially given his current form and the need for Liverpool to topple United right now. Before going goal-less in the last three games, mirroring his side’s fortunes, Salah had scored five in four league games. His xG90 of 0.62 and xA90 of 0.20 indicate a very high probability of him contributing a goal if he stays on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
Bruno Fernandes has not played a Premier League game against Liverpool yet. So, he will be hoping to get on the score sheet in the first chance he gets. With his current form – four goals and three assists in last five league games, he is very likely to contribute a goal, if not score one. His xG90 of 0.55 and xA90 of 0.41 indicate a 90% chance of him contributing a goal if he stays on for 90 minutes, which he does more often than not.
For Liverpool, Joel Matip had not trained with the first team as of Wednesday, which could mean that one of Rhys Williams or Nat Phillips is likely to partner Fabinho in defence. This will mean that Henderson can play in the midfield, alongside Thiago and Wijnaldum. Upfront, Klopp will persist with his trusted front three. The expected line up: Alisson; Trent Alexander Arnold, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson: Henderson, Thiago, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
For United, Ole took Martial off early in the win against Burnley to get him to be available for this game. With Pogba also having played his way into Ole’s first XI plans, United will likely line up in 4-2-3-1 with Martial leading the line. In defence, Eric Bailly will join Maguire who escaped without a card against Burnley, allowing him to play on Sunday. The expected line up: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial.
Klopp’s Liverpool may mope around against teams from the 2nd half of the league table but when it comes to playing the other top sides, they rarely let go of the fight. Especially, when the stakes are so high. It is also Klopp’s 200th game in charge of the Reds. Given the occasion, the opponents and the fact that they are home, Liverpool are likely to come out on top against their rivals, perhaps reigniting the rivalry in the process.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Manchester United