When these two teams go up against one another, it is always a grueling battle. No matter the form of either side, they will both raise their performances to the required standard in order to get the upper hand.
Liverpool against Manchester United, at Anfield, is going to be electric, but how are they shaping up coming into it?
For Jürgen Klopp’s men, a title challenge looks one step too far this season, given his failure in the transfer market. Liverpool made it very clear that they wanted Virgil van Dijk, but Southampton, to their credit, remained strong in negotiations and the Dutch centre back has stayed put.
It is blind ignorance to think that only van Dijk would have been the only defender to have improved Liverpool’s incredibly feeble defence. The Reds desperately needed a leader in the heart of their defence, and instead are stuck with Dejan Lovren, a player that is not fit to wear the jersey.
For Manchester United, José Mourinho has assembled a compatible squad. Last season, there was a huge imbalance in the team, but with the arrival of Nemanja Matić, there should be no obstacle in their way to challenge for the title.
The Red Devils will be expected to be in the running for the Premier League trophy come May, and anything else will be a failure. Mourinho has the knowledge and experience of doing it before, especially in his second year.
Both teams have picked up injuries over the international break, ones that will come as a huge miss for this game as well as moving forward into Champions League and other competitions.
Sadio Mané has reportedly picked up a hamstring injury which will see him out of action for six weeks. A huge blow for the Senegalese forward; a player that has been integral in creating chances for Liverpool. He is a menace in-and-around the area, and would have been a nuisance for Manchester United’s defence to handle.
For Mourinho, the two players that are ruled out that will be a huge miss are Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini. While the Frenchman was ruled out prior to the international break, the outcome of his injury suggests that he will be out of contention for several weeks.
The same is said for Fellaini, who picked up a medial collateral ligament tear in Belgium’s World Cup qualifier against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Both players will be a huge miss for Mourinho, who values the two players in different situations. Against Liverpool, who struggle immensely at set-pieces, the Belgian international would have been a handful and made a nuisance of himself inside the box.
Liverpool’s clear weak point is their defence. Against Newcastle United, before the international break, Joselu’s equaliser came from a comedy of errors at the back. It only took one Jonjo Shelvey through ball, right down the middle of the park, to allow the Spanish forward a one-on-one chance which he fortuitously converted.
Joel Matip and Lovren are not a compatible central defensive unit, which is why they have conceded 12 goals in just seven games, compared to United’s two. The Reds’ fullbacks are too attacking in Joe Gomez and Alberto Moreno, and therefore leave Matip and Lovren isolated at the back.
If United can counter quickly, as they have shown this season, they will have a field day up against Liverpool’s disorganised defence. The likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku’s sheer pace will dumbfound Klopp’s defenders.
For Liverpool, an area of weakness to attack is through the midfield. If they can overload the middle of the park and get players on the ball – such as Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson – then they can dictate the state of play.
Manchester United are without Pogba and Fellaini, and so Ander Herrera is likely to form a three-man midfield with Mkhitaryan and Matić at the base. While the Serbian has been superb, Herrera has not played a lot of football this season, and Mkhitaryan does not have such defensive qualities.
The Red Devils’ midfield is not as dynamic without Pogba dominating it, and so there is an opportunity for Liverpool to exploit that weakness with quick runners on, and off, the ball.
What it means
No matter what, this game will always be deemed as an important fixture in the Premier League season.
A win at Anfield, for Manchester United, would cement their name as title challengers for this year. There are critics who say Mourinho’s run of form is down to playing lesser opposition, but this is the perfect game to convince them that they are the real deal.
Not only would three points keep them tied with Manchester City, who are bound to win against Watford this weekend, it would send a clear statement of intent out to the rest of the league. To win at Anfield, without key players who would be in the starting XI, suggests they have the squad depth to compete in all competitions.
For Liverpool, it would get their season back on track. Klopp has a good record against the ‘big six’, but now, more than ever, is time to prove he is a top coach and can go head-to-head with the best.
Being below Burnley in the league is never a good sign, but that is where they are currently situated due to sloppy mistakes that has lost them valuable points.
Fans are beginning to become annoyed at the same mistakes they watch week in, week out, but an almighty win against their arch-rivals would cause room for optimism heading into a busy period.
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