The biggest rivalry in English football, between the two most successful clubs in British football, is set to ignite again at Anfield – and this time, the Premier League’s top spot is up for grabs. Last year Liverpool won their 19th top division title, whilst their rivals Manchester United have 20. The year before that, Liverpool succeeded in winning their 6th European title; Manchester United have 3. These are the two superpowers in the Premier League and it is their success domestically and in Europe, which makes this rivalry so great.
This is war: there are no two ways about it, it always has been.
This year both teams are slugging it out for the title in what looks to be the closest race amongst so many teams in years. Liverpool’s injury crisis has no doubt aided the chasing pack, with Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez out for the majority of the season, it has allowed other teams to build momentum and believe that Liverpool will not run away with the league like they did so last year.
Manchester United have been resurgent this season; the headliner Bruno Fernandes and his Red Devils are grinding out results, pretty or not, and find themselves at the top of the pile in 1st place. That could all change on Sunday, with a Liverpool victory…
An interesting backdrop amongst the upcoming fixture is that Liverpool are unbeaten at home in 67 league games and their last defeat was in 2017. Meanwhile, Manchester United have not lost a fixture away from home in 15 games; in fact, the last time they lost an away game it was against Liverpool, when Salah scored THAT goal and the Kop roared ‘We’re gonna win the league.’ United have found themselves amongst the elite once again for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2012, but it can be Liverpool, if triumphant, to topple them off the summit.
Liverpool have not been in good form over the past four weeks, they have not won a game in the league since that 7-0 flogging they handed out to Crystal Palace. Since then, The Reds have played West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton in the league without victory. The players looked fatigued and out of ideas but with a game as monumental as this one, form goes out of the window. Liverpool on their day are capable of beating any side in the world and they will need no motivation or rally cry from Jurgen Klopp against Sunday’s opponents; all the Reds boss has to do it plaster the Anfield home dressing room with a picture of the current league table. Sitting second in the league, especially to their bitter rivals, will act as catalyst and fuel enough, to stoke the raging fire.
“I think I’ve always shown the right respect to Liverpool and the history they have and great team they are. But I also know that it’s the team I get the most pleasure out of beating.”Ryan Giggs
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has history himself in playing against Liverpool, a winning goal in the 4th round of the FA Cup at Anfield helped his United side under Sir Alex Ferguson progress not just in the cup, but also towards their treble winning season in 1999. These two teams have once again been drawn against each other in the fourth round of the cup, but that is another story for another day. Solskjaer himself, believes his United side are the ones to take the title from Liverpool, to vanquish their unbelievable home record, to stop them equalling their own 20th title. Are you getting excited yet?
As far as team news goes, Liverpool find themselves in a similar position that they have been in in recent games. Long term absentees and aforementioned Van Dijk and Gomez are out, and there are question marks over the fitness of Joel Matip and whether he will be ready in time to partner Fabinho at the heart of defence. Klopp has said that Matip ‘might’ be involved in training today or tomorrow. If Matip does not start, Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips or captain Jordan Henderson will no doubt play alongside the Brazilian. Now that Liverpool have their midfielders back again, Klopp may want a player as experienced as Henderson to feature in what is expected to be a fiery fixture.
The inexorable Andy Robertson and talented Trent Alexander-Arnold will surely man the flanks and attempt to push the United wide forwards back in their own half as much as possible – but beware of the breaking counter United have executed so well in the past under Solskjaer.
As stated, Liverpool have options again in midfield, the classy and mesmerising Thiago thrives in games as big as these, and although he has experienced many high profile encounters before, he has never played in the North-West derby. I for one, am excited to see him elevate himself of the grandest of occasion. Gini Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri, Curtis Jones and (pending defensive duties) Jordan Henderson are all fit to play. Calls for Big Shaq to feature after some impressive cameos are on the rise, he registered a brace a few season ago which was the coup de gras in the Mourinho coffin, so expect to see him at some point in the game, even if not a starter.
The fitness of Naby Keita is once again not the news we had wished for, he is unfit to feature this weekend after Klopp said: ‘We just have to put on the brake and settle him properly and give him all the time he needs.’ The exhilarating Guinean needs to find a run of fitness if Liverpool are to compete on all fronts this year, here’s to hoping.
Up front, it is as you were: Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino. The greatest front three in world football will once again be expected to produce the goals, and you wouldn’t bet against them. Mo Salah is the league’s leading goal scorer but has been jaded of late, much like other members of the team in recent fixtures. He did notch against a youthful Villa side in the cup which will certainly aid his confidence going in to the biggest game of the season so far. Sadio Mane has found his goalscoring boots again and it will be an interesting battle down the flanks with Shaw and Wan Bissaka facing a near impossible task to neutralise the threat of Liverpool’s relentless wide men.
Firmino will undoubtably make life hard for Maguire; the world’s most expensive centre back will have his hands full this weekend and Firmino will certainly look to expose his lack of pace by pulling him out position so Mane and Salah can exploit the space he leaves.
As for Manchester United, Anthony Martial and Nemanja Matic limped off in their last game against Burnley, so their inclusion remains in the balance. Harry Maguire evaded a yellow card in that match too which means he is included in the game at Anfield, expect him to start alongside Eric Bailly. Luke Shaw has cut himself an angry figure in recent weeks, fortunate to avoid a red card in the game against Burnley it will be interesting to see how he copes with his temper when playing against the elite. Aaron Wan Bissaka is claimed by United fans to be the ‘best right back in the league’, no doubt a sly and subtle insult towards our own right back TAA; again, he faces one of the best attack forces in the world, so the claim and the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
“We’re ready and we’re excited, we’re hungry for it and it’s a test of character and quality again. We’re in a good position going into it.”Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Two of either Paul Pogba, Donny Van De Beek, Scott McTominay and Fred will line up as the holding midfielders if Matic in unable to play. Pogba thrives on the big occasion so will have to be watched carefully. In front of him is United’s messiah and ever so important penalty taker, Bruno Fernandes. Key to United’s resurrection, the Portuguese star will want to dictate the play and create opportunities in that ten role, however Jordan Henderson will have alternative plans for United’s saviour.
Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and (if fit) Anthony Martial are the players you would expect to see test Liverpool’s backline, but the threat is, and will no doubt be again, from the creative Bruno Fernandes. Stop the play in the middle of the park from Bruno and Pogba, you stop United’s attackers… unless of course, a penalty is on the horizon!
Side note: the referee for the clash will be Paul Tierney, who has awarded United five penalties in the last ten games he has officiated in and only one against; he has awarded Liverpool zero penalties in fourteen games… over to you VAR/Bruno: the greatest PL duo since Lampard and Drogba.
All eyes on Anfield for this game which means so much, even more so now given that the winner takes top spot. The fixture and rivalry that will go on for an eternity comes to us once again; Liverpool can subdue and eliminate the Devils’ plight and march towards a league title and make good on their own pursuit in the process. This is a game that Liverpool simply cannot lose, but given the talent in Jurgen Klopp’s ranks, you would still make Liverpool the favourites to be victorious. United are making a noise once again in the title race, and for Liverpool, as the saying goes, ‘if you want peace, prepare for war.’
Up the Reds, stay safe, YNWA.
By: Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)