On the face of it, you’d think the latest clash between Manchester United and bitter rivals Liverpool will only go one way.
A Liverpool win…and a comfortable one at that.
No one could blame you for thinking that. All the signs are pointing towards a…err, bit of a steamrolling by Jurgen Klopp’s men. They top the table, they have a 100% win record in the league and they’re scoring goals for fun.
As for United, well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that they’re not doing fantastically at this moment in time – resulting in them currently sitting just two points above the relegation zone. Anyone who knows anything has seemingly been keen to express in their own way just how bad the Red Devils have been.
It gets worse as well, David de Gea is definitely out and Paul Pogba is probably out. So, yes, how on earth can we possibly even consider anything other than a Liverpool win?
Well, as has been proven on countless occasions in the past, form goes out the window when a team takes on their rivals. And this isn’t just any rivalry, this is ?Manchester United vs Liverpool.
It doesn’t matter when it is or the form of either team, no player will take this contest for granted. Take Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson, who ?reaffirmed exactly this when claiming:
“It’s Man Utd vs Liverpool. It will be a one-off game and we’ll see who comes out on top.”
The Scotland international went on to state that there is no better time for their opponents to kickstart their season than against their bitter rivals – and he is right.
United – with the crowd behind them – will have a hunger and motivation to prove the critics wrong and this, compiled with the fact that they have an opportunity to break the Reds’ winning streak, will only add to the intensity of their performance.
Now, of course, hard work alone isn’t going to be anywhere near enough to conquer the runaway Premier League leaders. However, despite the fact that the Old Trafford side have ?endured some astonishing low points in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, they have continued to perform in this fixture.
Since Klopp took over as manager of Liverpool in October 2015, the German has only recorded two wins in all competitions against United in nine attempts. In fact, the last time the Anfield side scored a goal from open play at Old Trafford in the league was way back in September 2015 – Christian Benteke the man to net on that occasion.
The last time these two teams faced off against each other, the game ended goalless but injuries were the main topic of discussion after the game. United lost Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard to injury in the first half, while ?Liverpool also lost Roberto Firmino. In a match which many expected Klopp’s team to run away with (much like this one, may I add), they were bereft of ideas. The Red Devils grew into the contest and were unlucky not to have found a winner late on, despite using all three substitutions in the first half due to injuries.
With Klopp growing increasingly frustrated by his team’s inability to break down the opposition, he set about rectifying this. However, this resulted in hooking ?Mohamed Salah, reaffirming just how impressive United’s defence was at shutting out a potent Liverpool attack.
To this end, Solskjaer appeared to have done his homework, with ?Marcus Rashford starting in a central striking role alongside Romelu Lukaku, but he had the license to drift wide and impact the game from there. The Manchester-born forward played through the pain barrier after picking up an injury early in the match to help his side – and he was a nuisance. Rashford constantly looked to get the better of Joel Matip and James Milner, who were struggling to deal with him.
The last time these two sides met at Old Trafford before that match was in March 2018, where Jose Mourinho guided United to a 2-1 win over their rivals. Again, Rashford was the key component for the hosts, as he bagged two goals. The winger had the better of Trent Alexander-Arnold throughout the match and continuously exposed the right-back.
No one can dispute just how impressive Alexander-Arnold is going forward, but he has shown minor frailties in his defensive game, and Rashford has all the necessary attributes to continue to expose these weaknesses. With ?United hopeful that Anthony Martial will be fit, the Frenchman would occupy the striking role and allow Rashford to move out wide, with the two forming a potent partnership prior to Martial’s injury.
Even in the bleakest of times in recent years, the Red Devils have continued to produce spirited performances in this fixture and with even further disappointment this season, we should expect to see even more grit and determination to go and get themselves something from the match.
While we, of course, cannot predict what will unfold on Sunday afternoon, it is clear that Solskjaer will look to use the opening day rout of Chelsea as a guide for the upcoming game – soaking up pressure, before springing with pace and power on the counter.
Liverpool may well be running away with the league this season, but that will only give their opponents more of a reason to get a result. With history and, more importantly, the crowd on their side, United will pose a real threat and one only needs to look as far as the recent meetings at Old Trafford to recognise that a sub-par United can still take points off a dynamic Liverpool.
Forget form. Forget the title race. Manchester United will rise to the occasion at Old Trafford if it means preventing Liverpool from claiming the bragging rights.