By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to face a rejuvenated Manchester United side, looking to make a huge step on their way to a first Premier League triumph. A win would see Liverpool regain top spot with a three point advantage, while a loss would mean Manchester City would be in the driving seat.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the reins at United, they have only lost one in 13, seeing an 11-point gap to the top four reduce so much so that they now occupy that fourth spot. The game they did lose against PSG in the Champions League, could provide an insight to how you stop this dangerous United side.
Liverpool on the other hand are in a poor run of form for their high standards, one win in four matches, a 3-0 win over Bournemouth was only the third win Liverpool recorded in 2019 continuing Jurgen Klopp’s not great record, picking up an average of close to one-and-a-half points per game – the worrying thing his record in February isn’t much better.
As stated before, the mood has changed drastically at Old Trafford since the two sides met last December, a match which resulted in the sacking of much maligned Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen nine league matches and has remained undefeated – winning eight.
If you indulge into their fixtures, only one of the nine teams they have faced are placed in the top half of the table, beating teams such as Cardiff and Newcastle should be expected for a team of the stature of Manchester United.
But credit is needed were credit is due, they have played some excellent football in recent weeks and Paul Pogba is looking the player they hoped he was going to be when they re-signed him from Juventus.
Liverpool on the other hand have not matched the high standards they set during the opening months of the season, since the turn of the new year they have only won half of their matches, three from six.
Victories over Brighton and Crystal Palace were unconvincing and quite fortuitous as were draws against Leicester City and West Ham. Conceding a third of our goals for the season in those four games, our defensive stability was seriously questioned. We have however recorded back-toback clean sheets against Bournemouth and Bayern Munich which is impressive given their attacking ranks.
Against Bayern Munich mid-week we were defensively sound, barring a few astray passes from Alisson, and to keep Lewandowski quiet without Virgil van Dijk is quite the feat.
At the other end of the pitch we were unlucky not to score and should have found the back of the net multiple times due to the chances we had, lets just hope are shooting boots are tightly laced at Old Trafford.
Team news and expected line-ups
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to make late calls regarding the fitness of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, both of whom picked up injuries during their victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Though in his press conference he hinted that the duo will be fit and available for selection for the bench. Long term absentees Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo will all be unavailable.
The United boss has something of a selection headache as he prepares to welcome Liverpool to town, does he go with the same side that overpowered Chelsea or does he try and switch things up? One thing for certain however, is that David de Gea will start in net.
Eric Bailly will probably start alongside the impressive Victor Lindelof, though after a good performance mid-week Chris Smalling may get the nod. Full-backs Ashley Young and Luke Shaw will certainly have a tough game on their hands as they try to stifle both Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
The duo of Herrera and Matic will start as a double pivot midfield, the Serbian looked leggy late on against Chelsea and was lucky not to see red, his fitness could be something to target late on in the match. If Martial and Lingard are unable to make the squad, Lukaku may start up front supported by Mata, Pogba and Rashford.
Dejan Lovren has failed to recover from a hamstring injury he picked up six weeks ago and his return to the team doesn’t look like its coming any time soon. Other than the long-term absentees, Jurgen Klopp has a fully fit squad to choose from.
The back four picks itself with only four fit first team defenders at the club, van Dijk returns after his European suspension and there were calls to start Fabinho alongside him, though Jurgen Klopp dismissed this during his press conference.
Fabinho would much more effective in midfield having the job to try and stop Paul Pogba, in PSG’s victory over Man United, the Frenchman didn’t have a sniff and as a result United didn’t look like scoring.
Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum will be the other two starting midfielders with Wijnaldum being the more likely of the duo to venture further forward throughout the game. Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Salah will start up front looking to be more clinical then they were against Bayern Munich.
Danger man: Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba has found a new level since the sacking of Jose Mourinho, in 13 games for the club he has scored eight goals from midfield and laid on a further five to his team mates, bringing his total amount of goal contributions for the season to 24. No midfielder has contributed more in the top five leagues in Europe.
Of course, Pogba has quite the temperament, if things aren’t going his way he often sulks and dangerously tries to win possession back. He got sent off against PSG due to a rash tackle after being largely anonymous for the 90 minutes.
Man marking Pogba all over the pitch won’t be an easy task, but as the match goes on, if he has little to no time on the ball then it should get easier to handle him. Give the Frenchman an inch and he can pick out a glorious pin-point pass as seen against Spurs, Leicester and Chelsea.
If there is one man however to mark the No. 6 out of the game, then it is our very own Fabinho. He may not be effective as he would like to be in possession, but we have two other excellent midfielders to do his work.
Last five results
Premier League: 16/12/2018 – Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United
Premier League: 10/03/2018 – Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool
Premier League: 14/10/2017 – Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
Premier League: 15/01/2017 – Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool
Premier League: 17/10/2016 – Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
The phrase “form goes out the window” for clashes between the two sides is one of the most cliche’d in history, yet recent history has stated otherwise, especially when these two sides meet at Old Trafford. In the past 10 meetings at Old Trafford the team placed higher up the table have won eight of the 10 encounters. Liverpool (one), Manchester United (seven).
Liverpool have only won twice at Old Trafford in the past decade, both times they were in a title race and both times they were second in the table. If Liverpool were to continue this record on Sunday, the momentum gained from it could be the difference over the last couple of months in the season.
That being said however coming away with a victory will need a hell of a lot of effort from Liverpool. Every single player needs to be fully concentrated at all times due to the players United possess. Give Pogba an inch and he can very dangerous around the box. Fabinho will need to mark him tightly sacrificing his own game to help the team.
If we can perform at the level we know we can, which hasn’t come often at Old Trafford, then it should be a relatively routine victory. If, however, we were to continue our poor recent form then it will be very difficult to come away with three points.
United still look frail at the back and if our front three were to be on top of their game, then we should score a handful of goals, most of United’s play goes through Pogba so starving him of the ball will be important.
I’m going for 3-1 victory in Liverpool’s favour, Salah has yet to score a goal against United and I’m backing him to break his duck. Mane will also find the back of the net as he always seems to up his game against the Red Devils.
Prediction: Manchester United 1 (Rashford) – Liverpool 3 (Salah x2, Mane)