Liverpool travel for their third away game in a row and it’s a huge one. Manchester United awaits at Old Trafford on Sunday (16:30 BST/15:30 GMT kickoff time). The Reds lie second on the Premier League table with 18 points, a point behind leaders Chelsea, but 4 ahead of their bitter rivals down the M6. In these early stages of the season, getting one over on your direct rivals can serve as rocket fuel to go on a run.
Jurgen Klopp notched his first win at the Theatre of Dreams last season when his side romped to a 4-2 win that was crucial to their successful mission of finishing in the top four. That victory came in an empty stadium; however, the task will be completely different with a full house on Sunday. The German had gone six visits in all competitions without a win at the ground of his bitterest rivals, suffering two defeats.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s solitary victory over Liverpool as United boss came in the fourth round of the FA Cup last season when Bruno Fernandes’ free-kick gave the Red Devils a 3-2 win. His record against the Merseysiders stands at 1 win, 3 draws, and 2 defeats. He’ll be looking for his first Premier League win over Jurgen Klopp’s men and will hope the momentum his side picked up in the comeback victory over Atalanta in midweek will propel them there.
United hasn’t been in great form over the last couple of weeks as pressure has mounted on the manager. 4 defeats and just 2 wins in their last 8 games paint a picture of a side who are struggling to fit together and achieve balance their play. The playing roster is one many managers across Europe will envy but it hasn’t come together on the pitch just yet as the manager is finding it hard accommodating all his attacking talent.
In that sense, the Atalanta display is a microcosm of their current state. They have the attacking talent at their disposal to hurt teams (only Liverpool have scored more Premier League goals this term), but can also show a soft underbelly that’s seen them concede 7 goals in their last 3 games, with just 2 clean sheets in all competitions this season. There’s been lots of scrutiny on Ole’s midfield selection and it’ll be intriguing to see how he sets up for this game.
Liverpool on the other hand, come into this flying. They are now unbeaten in their last 21 games in all competitions and have scored at least 3 goals in every away game they’ve played this season. They will have the muscle memory of last season’s victory at this ground but as I said, a full Old Trafford is a different kettle of fish. I’ve seen these players walk into that cauldron as champions of Europe and the world, and still lose their nerve.
They needed a late Adam Lallana equaliser to escape with a point two seasons ago. Go back a season before that and they left with just a point again, even though United had injury problems leading up to and during the game. Sunday is a good opportunity for the players to show they’re much more mature now after years together and can handle everything thrown at them in this fiery encounter.
For Manchester United, defender Raphael Varane is ruled out with a groin injury he picked up on international duty. Anthony Martial, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, and Marcus Rashford are all carrying knocks but you can expect all of them to be passed fit despite what Ole says. Solskjaer said; “We might have the whole squad fit but may miss two or three. We’ll see.” Take that with a pinch of salt.
For Liverpool, Harvey Elliott and Thiago Alcantara remain out, with the latter close to a return as he has begun running again. Curtis Jones has recovered from the injury he picked up with England U21s and is expected to be available for Sunday. Jurgen Klopp confirmed in his press conference saying: “Curtis will train today with us completely, he did already parts of training before we went to Atletico. He should be in contention.”
United’s Player of the year last season, started this season with a hat trick on opening day against Leeds but has struggled to find the net since. Just the 1 goal in his last 11 appearances. That’s not to say his influence has waned, however, as he has provided 5 assists in his last 4 matches for the club, including the two he got to aid the comeback on Wednesday. He’s still their best player, expect their play to go through him.
The Egyptian is the talk of the whole footballing world right now. He’s scored 12 goals and provided 4 assists in 11 appearances for Liverpool this season. It’s not only the volume of goals, it’s the touch, the vision, the weight of pass, and the general all-around play. He’s currently operating at a level very few ever manage to reach. He has scored in each of his last nine games (a club record) and has scored 4 goals in his last 4 appearances against United.
The 36-year-old is their top scorer with six goals since his shock moves from Juventus late in the transfer window. There’s been lots of talk about his work off the ball, or lack thereof, but what he remains, is an elite goal scorer. He doesn’t need too many invitations to get his name on the scoresheet and his battle against Matip/Van Dijk will be one to watch.
He’s got the knack of popping up with late winners too, having done so on Wednesday at Atalanta’s expense and some few weeks ago against Villareal. Preventing crosses into the box will be really helpful as he is almost unbeatable in the air if the delivery is right. He can be a bit of a liability when he doesn’t receive the service he thrives on though, and that will be what Jurgen Klopp will work on.