12:30 KO (BST); Saturday 14th October; Anfield (Liverpool, England) Sky Sports
Liverpool’s quest stuttered and stumbled on all fronts through September, with only a nervous 3-2 victory over Leicester to line the clouds descending above Anfield. Despite this, Liverpool are still unbeaten at Anfield this season and have one of the Premiership’s finest attacking forces at their disposal. They now also have a glorious chance to put their Premiership charge firmly back on the rails in facing their bitter rivals on Saturday lunchtime.
By contrast, United have been coasting through the opening period of this season with Maxim Choupo-Moting still the only player to score against the Red Devils in the Premier League. Equally impressive is their record of only conceding four times from their first ten games in all competitions, with 32 goals raining into the oppositions net during this same period. United will face their first real test this weekend against a bitter rival and fellow title-chasing team.
Last time out
Newcastle United 1 – 1 LIVERPOOL (Premiership)
With the majority of possession and far more shots on goal, Jurgen Klopp bemoaned his team’s luck in only securing a draw upon the final whistle. While Liverpool certainly dominated the first half hour of the game, they were unable to apply concerted pressure on Newcastle. For all Liverpool’s endeavours, one statistic perhaps told the story above all others. Of the Reds 17 shots, 15 of them failed to find be on target.
While Newcastle recorded five shots on goal, the manner of their goal also laid bare a problem at the heart of Liverpool’s current plight. A ball played from the centre of the pitch by Jonjo Shelvey was made far easier by the poor positioning of both centre-backs and Jordan Henderson who was AWOL from his CDM position. This was then compounded by a weak attempt by Joel Matip to dispossess Joselu, resulting in the ball deflecting off the unwitting striker’s shin to trundle into the net. With Sadio Mané and Daniel Sturridge both culpable of failing to perform and Philippe Coutinho often trying to do things by himself, Liverpool may have thought themselves unlucky but they didn’t do enough to earn a victory.
MANCHESTER UNITED 4 – 0 Crystal Palace (Premiership)
A combination of an impressive United performance and a poor Palace display showed the gulf in class between the teams at opposing ends of the Premiership table. It took Juan Mata only three minutes to open the scoring and settle the game into a rhythm which wrote the story of this fixture.It also provided the perfect platform for Marouane Fellaini to again disappoint his critics with a two-goal, man-of-the-match performance at the heart of the team.
Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial’s blossoming partnership again made an appearance with the two linking up frequently, most notably for United’s fourth goal. It was Ashley Young who perhaps came away the biggest winner after another faultless game at left-back. His pin-point cross for Fellaini’s first goal in the 35th minute was similar to the ball he sent into the box for Lukaku against Southampton in the previous fixture. With the left-back having proved a difficult position for Mourinho to fill, Young now looks to be at the top of the pecking order.
Sadio Mané has returned from international duty with a hamstring injury likely to rule him out until the end of November. He joins Adam Lallana (thigh) and Nathaniel Clyne (muscular) who are the only other long-term injuries left in Liverpool’s physio room, however, doubt shrouds the fitness of Dejan Lovren who has admitted to needing painkilling injections for a back complaint and could require time out for rehabilitation.
Manchester United lineup
Marouane Fellaini picked up a knee injury in Belgium’s dramatic game against Bosnia-Herzegovina so will join Phil Jones (knock) Marcos Rojo (knee) Paul Pogba (hamstring) Michael Carrick (knock) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee) on Mourinho’s “unavailable” list. This could bring Ander Herrera back into the first team where he could be given the role of man-marking Philippe Coutinho.
Key Battle: Jordan Henderson vs Juan Mata
After slowly building up his reputation as a central midfielder of nous and composure, Henderson took the captain’s armband from the departing Steven Gerrard with a promising future lined up ahead of him. Since then his star has slowly faded, culminating with many people questioning his attributes and abilities following the latest England games in which he was ineffectual. If ever there was a game set for a Liverpool captain to lead by example and inspire his team to glory, this weekend’s showdown would be the perfect time for Henderson to remind everyone of his talents in the centre of the pitch.
The player most likely to be directly against him in this match is Juan Mata, a player who has been making things happen for United recently without attracting the headlines his performances deserve. While he may not be lighting up the scoring or assist charts in the league, Mata is often involved in many of United’s goals and will prove a tricky opponent for Henderson to out-perform this weekend. With the central midfield players of Liverpool having the main task of recycling the ball for their team, Mata could provide the mercurial key to threading the ball forward to the attackers in front of him and setting up the game’s best chances.
Jurgen Klopp is one of the most animated Premier League managers on the sidelines during a game, something which has often motivated and galvanised his team during big moments of play. This has been in stark contrast to the calm and jovial nature he exudes away from the intensity of a game.
His usual calm and composed mask has started to slip, however, with cracks beginning to appear in his demeanour during recent press conferences. Klopp has at times cut a frustrated figure, replacing his dry sense of humour with large exaggerations and irritation at the questions asked of him. Hopefully for him and Liverpool, this frustration doesn’t filter back into his team as composure on the pitch is one of the main ingredients which has been missing from their displays of late.
A rivalry of the Reds
With only 35 miles separating the two stadiums, Liverpool and United have now been at loggerheads for 123 years. With tensions already existing between the two cities surrounding the newly opened Manchester shipping canal, the first meeting in 1894 was already established as a keenly fought contest for local bragging rights.
Years of Liverpool domination in the 1970’s and 80’s subsided and was eventually replaced by Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, with the Scot famously using the rivalry to spur his side to ever-greater achievements. United currently lead the way with 87 wins to Liverpool’s 75 (64 drawn) however, it’s been an evenly contested battle lately with the previous three fixtures finishing level. While United also hold an advantage in present form, this is a derby match and the form book is normally the first thing out of the window when local teams line up against each other.
Nine out of ten ain’t bad
United have been in dominating form so far this season winning all but one of their matches to date. They’ve arguably had the easiest run of fixtures amongst the teams considered to be title challengers in the early stages of this campaign, however, this is about to change.
With Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea making up three of the next four League games, United now have a chance to solidify their credentials at the top of the table. Alternatively, it could be a challenging period which justifies their critics’ claims that Mourinho’s team are still short of the quality needed to reclaim their place among Europe’s elite. With teams at the top of the table looking less likely to drop points against sides in the bottom half of the Premiership, these high-profile clashes could have a more important role in deciding the overall standings at the end of the season.
PREDICTION: Liverpool 1 – 3 Manchester United
United’s defence will be given their first proper examination this weekend, however, the absence of Sadio Mané is a huge blow to Liverpool’s hopes. The Reds are still sure to cause United problems at the back but it remains to be seen whether they can be more accurate in the shots they take at goal, with David de Gea still to beat for any that do find there way on target. At the other end of the field there will be a mismatch and I can see United’s high-flying attackers scoring more than once against a Liverpool defence who have been struggling of late.
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