The Premier League is back with a bang following the international break, as Manchester United host Liverpool for the Sunday afternoon kick-off. With both teams in polar opposite situations, the fixture could not be more of a curveball for either.
Although the difference is not always this big, the chasm that exists between Liverpool and United seems to be ever-present in the Premier League. Only this time, the two teams seem to have swapped positions in the table, with a 15 point gap between the rivals bringing to life an already palpable tension that rests amongst the two sets of fans.
Seldom do the two Lancashire rivals go to battle without the stakes being high, and this clash is no different. For United, the sheer desperation to get their Premier League season up and running before it gets a bit too late. For Liverpool, to capitalise on the momentum built during the first 8 games, and for once, be the hunted and not the hunters in a Premier League title race.
The aforementioned chasm has been possible due to a faultless start by the league leaders and the worst ever for the Red Devils in three decades. That said, all the clichés are valid – form goes out the window, league position does not matter and no holds will be barred.
This, the most illustrious fixture in English football, has unsurprisingly served up some classics in the past and will continue to do so. All the numbers withstanding, this, like every other fixture before, will be a fiercely contested affair. Both teams will give it their all and more. The subtext of Manchester City will also play a heavy part in both the dressing rooms. Liverpool’s nearest rivals to the title played last night and closed the gap at the top. United, on the other hand, will look to enforce their gameplan onto the visitors. They will waste no opportunity to show the world that they were, are, and will be Liverpool’s rivals, this temporary deterrence from normalcy an untimely and unwanted blip.
OFF THE PITCH
PR and media antics are on the fore once more. A Sky Sports combined 11 contained all Liverpool players and none from United. The hype surrounding the fixture could not even be evaded by the managers of either team. Jürgen Klopp’s response was one of incense when asked about the potential crisis United were in. “Disrespectful” was the word he used to describe the press. Klopp is a clever man. Once again, he used his “broken” English to great effect to sidestep any tricky questions that came his way. “Unstoppable”, said Pep Guardiola of Liverpool.
Such antics, according to the Liverpool boss, are an attempt to turn this match into a “massive banana skin”, which is not doing United any favours. The difference between the teams is certainly projected in an exceedingly overt manner, but to insinuate that it is any form of disrespect is certainly unbecoming of the Liverpool manager.
The three day preparation period after the international break before the final team selection would have been crucial for both teams. For Liverpool key players nursing knocks and some returning from long injury lay-offs would have had the chance to recoup and recover. All the players involved in international duty during the past couple of weeks off returned without any injuries.
For Manchester United, Paul Pogba and David de Gea remain highly doubtful for the clash. The Spanish goalkeeper hobbled off during his game against Sweden but was spotted entering The Lowry Hotel on the eve of the match. Pogba has not recovered from his foot injury. Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are set to return though, providing Solskjaer a much-needed boost.
No players on either side face a ban.
ON THE PITCH
Ole will be keen to outdo his one-time inspiration and will probably look to set up to absorb pressure from the Liverpool attacks before launching their attacks. This looks to be a battle between two great planners. Neither manager is known to change tactics over the course of a match, preferring to stick to the original formation and mindset throughout the course of the 90 minutes. Having said that, Liverpool seem to be coming alive in the second half of games more often than not. This is due to them adopting a conservative approach in the beginning of games, rather than going full-throttle, or as Klopp puts it, ‘heavy metal’.
They seem to save that for the bigger matches in the Champions League and the absolute title-deciding matches. Seeing that this is neither such of an occasion, they will also be expected to sit back and take it slow in the opening exchanges. This, coupled with an away day experience for Liverpool, may lead to a slow game in the beginning. One factor which is not really talked about is the difference in the width of the pitches at Anfield and Old Trafford, which suits the home team. The newer faces in the Red Devils camp, chief among them Daniel James, should be well accustomed to this by now.
Unlike last season, Liverpool have not kept as many clean sheets as was expected from them, despite having conceded fewer shots. The stand-in between the posts, Adrián, bought for a free, has been more than satisfactory, to say the least. With the return of Alisson to full training during the week, he is expected to claim back his position without too much contention.
United’s best and worst formation this season has been the much-maligned 4-2-3-1. Almost all of the pros and cons of this formation have been highlighted through the course of United’s short season. While used to excellent effect against Chelsea in their opener, it has also left United vulnerable at times, with only a single midfielder protecting the back 4. This puts heavy pressure on the said defensive midfielder.
Liverpool, on the other hand, will look to mix it up with lots of running and bits of clever football. Their midfielders will have to cover more ground than ever to plug the holes created wide by the full-backs. They will have to exercise caution as this is after all, not Anfield, where the pitch is much shorter and shifting from one side to another doesn’t extract such a heavy physical toll. That said, the Liverpool players will be well-informed of this. While on the attack, Liverpool will look to alternate quickly between flanks and get in behind United’s midfield. Maguire does not fancy any attacker running at him with pace, let alone Mo Salah and co.
It should be worth the two-week wait!
Prediction – United 1 Liverpool 2
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.