It’s a testament to the gravitas of the fixture that regardless of what condition either squad is in, regardless of whether titles are being contested or not, the magnitude of Liverpool vs Manchester United consistently captures the imagination and energies of global footballing curiosity. It’s a fixture that manages to coax passive fans out of hiding and inspire hard core fans to heavy emotive reactions.
Below we preview the upcoming English Premier League clash at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester United.
Manchester United: Resurgent?
Granted, it’s not like they haven’t won any trophies at all, but it’s been a peculiar drought for the Red Devils since the departure of Alex Ferguson. The tide ebbed and flowed in relative mediocrity under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, and while last season threatened more of the same, there was a critical undercurrent to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United design. True, the game identity didn’t resonate with many hard core United fans familiar with the attacking masterclasses of old, but the Portuguese coach managed to establish a powerful defensive core, and the transition into 2017/18, alongside astute transfer signings, has seen United put together a sublime start to the season.
It’s too early to tell yet if they can sustain the form, of course; this fixture in itself will be an important marker to assess if they can resume the impressive rhythm of their first 2 months. They’ll have faced Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea by the time the next international break pops up in November. If Mourinho’s side are still near the summit of the table by that point, it would be a brave soul that takes a bet against them making a strong case for title contention.
Liverpool: Flattering to deceive
Liverpool, by contrast, have had an unconvincing start. The waves of optimism on the back of the smashing victory over Arsenal were quickly replaced by a dull confusion in the aftermath of the thumping at the mercy of Manchester City. True, the attack remains potent; Mohamed Salah looks every bit the refined version of himself after a progressive spell in Serie A, Sadio Mane remains an ever present danger, and Coutinho seems to have become even deadlier from distance while “nursing his back” in anticipation of a move to Barcelona.
But the goals conceded remain a point of contention, threatening to undermine Liverpool’s season. 3 goals weren’t enough to claim 3 points away to Watford, and sloppy defending cost points vs Burnley and Newcastle. The old enemy does have a special resonance with Liverpool though, and fan sentiment is already rife with the notion that a win over United is not only an opportunity to kickstart a top 4 push, but a necessity too.
By the Numbers
In Head to Head respects, Manchester United remain the dominant party, especially in league fixtures. Liverpool’s last win over United at Anfield was a 2-0 win in the Europa League knockout tie in 2016. Time has to travel back to September 2013 for Liverpool’s last win over United in league competition at home, where Daniel Sturridge scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory.
|January 2017||Old Trafford||Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool|
|October 2016||Anfield||Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd|
|January 2016||Anfield||Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd|
|September 2015||Old Trafford||Man Utd 3-1 Liverpool|
|March 2015||Anfield||Liverpool 1-2 Man Utd|
The current season also reveals some of the tactical layers that may guide the match. Nothing appears more critical to observe than the defensive contrasts. Where Liverpool appear crippled by their defence, it is comfortably United’s strength. Liverpool have conceded 12 goals in stark contrast to United’s 2. Considering Liverpool’s struggles with recent shot conversion in their last 3 matches, it makes for a recipe that only further favours United in having the propensity to deal with the Liverpool attack.
|Match||Liverpool Shots||Conversion %||Liverpool Shots on Target||On Target / Total %|
|Newcastle 1-1 Liverpool||17||5,8%||2||14,2%|
|Spartak Moscow 1-1 Liverpool||16||6,2%||6||37,5%|
|Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool||23||13%||6||26,1%|
Equally still, Liverpool’s anxieties may be exposed by United’s relative proficiency from set piece goals, which Liverpool have shown tendency to concede. The Red Devils lead the league in goals from set pieces, with 7.
United are also considerably good at keeping clean sheets at the moment, having accumulated 8 in their last 9 Premier League matches.
Lastly, the contrast in fortunes between the 2 sides is evident when comparing their starts in 2017/18 to last season; where United have managed to concede 6 less goals and secure 6 points more, Liverpool have conceded 2 goals more and secured 4 points less than their opening 7 fixtures last term.
Jose Mourinho’s squad management, combined with a sustainable game identity built off the back of a solid defence, have done wonders in ensuring the results thus far have been both emphatic and impressive. Not even the injury to Paul Pogba has taken the shine off progress, with Belgian Marouane Fellaini filling in superbly for the Frenchman in recent matches.
The key player that Liverpool need to unsettle most of all, however, is midfield stalwart Nemanja Matic, who’s turn from Chelsea blue to United red has turned into an inspired signing on first impressions. Liverpool will need to find ways to ensure Matic is pulled out of his core defensive positions, or overload him with more than one player to mark. The Serbian’s influence on United’s functional play is considerable and it makes him the one player Liverpool need to seek to unsettle.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will likely focus their attention on getting Mohamed Salah as much time on the ball as possible to ensure that the Egyptian speed merchant gets ample opportunity to run at the aged legs of Ashley Young or Daley Blind. Liverpool’s key player though, is likely to be Jordan Henderson; if the English midfielder reprises his role in defensive midfield, it will likely fall on him to ensure that the danger of Henrikh Mkhitaryan is well catered for.
Be it the numbers, or a qualitative view of the tactical aspects, it’s hard not to expect a United win. United have tended to blitz opponents of late, but there’s an argument to suggest Mourinho won’t take too many risks with Liverpool’s attack once his side take a lead. United have a superb propensity for game control and it wouldn’t be surprising to see United sit back and manage the game through a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline to conclusion.
Liverpool are at home though, and well aware of the importance and opportunity this match represents. The challenge remains that the likes of De Gea and his backline are in tremendously good form, and the Reds may well struggle to get through the United defence, all while risking a set piece goal on their own end, particularly if they themselves become anxious about committing more focus on attacking efforts.
It may seem dull and typical of Mourinho, but a 2-0 type scoreline seems both plausible, and imminent.
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