After their embarrassing 1-6 loss to Tottenham Hotspur, nobody (including me) expected Manchester United to be anywhere near the top of the Premier League table. And here we are now. The Red Devils head into a huge clash against Liverpool at Anfield sitting in the league’s summit & with all the confidence in the world.
However, that euphoria can soon turn into dismay. Jurgen Klopp’s men are absolute colossal at home. The last time Liverpool lost a home game at home was nearly 4 years ago! Interestingly, the last time United lost an away league game was at Anfield last year. Something’s gotta give here. In games like these, recent form also goes out the window.
Even withstanding United’s excellent away form, this will be their biggest challenge of the season. A loss could dent their title dreams. However, a win or even a draw can be the motivation they need to go all the way into challenging for the PL title.
Liverpool Likely XI
Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson, Henderson, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Salah, Mane, Firmino
Liverpool have some big injury absences hindering their form, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez & Diogo Jota all ruled out indefinitely. Naby Keita is also expected to miss the game through injury.
Manchester United Likely XI
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Pogba, Bruno, Rashford, Cavani
Victor Lindelof remains the only one injured. Anthony Martial & Nemanja Matic both seemingly picked up slight knocks in the win against Burnley, so they could end up getting benched for this one.
Liverpool vs Manchester United Preview
When United last visited Anfield to face Liverpool in last January, they were nearly 30 points adrift of the then league leaders. Now, they arrive 3 points above the defending champions. If that isn’t progress, then what is? But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can’t bask in his pride for long.
He knows the journey to actually winning the title is long & treacherous. To make a statement of intent of their ambitions of becoming champions, United need a positive result on Sunday. Winning the game would definitely make believers out of their title ambitions.
But the reality remains that Liverpool are unbreakable at Anfield. Be it playing in front of a crowd or not, they’re just too well drilled at home to get ousted by anyone else. They’re like the final boss of the hardest video game you’ve never managed to complete.
To get a result, every player must put in their best performances of the season. That includes the entire backline. Harry Maguire & Eric Bailly have formed a solid partnership, while Luke Shaw & Aaron Wan-Bissaka are both defensively really strong. But to keep LFC quiet, they must notch their effectiveness up to 100.
The trio of Sadio Mane–Mo Salah–Roberto Firmino is still among the world’s best. Their connection, chemistry & lethality can run any team ragged. To keep either of them from running riot, United’s defenders must put in a solid shift and restrict space for LFC’s attackers to threaten.
Solskjaer is likely to protect his defenders by packing his midfield line, which means Fred & Scott McTominay should both play. The midfield duo are excellent in breaking up attacks, making crunching challenges & maintaining high energy levels in United’s game. They’ll be tasked to keep Thiago Alcantara & Gini Wijnaldum quiet, while also getting the ball forward more quickly.
But United can’t rely on getting a clean-sheet at a stadium like Anfield. They need to take the fight to the hosts & put in a shift in the attacking end. Incidentally, this is the first time Bruno Fernandes faces LFC as a United star. He’s had 33 goal involvement in 31 PL games so far, but this is definitely his biggest one yet.
Fernandes needs to put in a big performance to assert himself among the absolute best in the league. While his effort is never doubted, he must be more precise with his creative passes & more intelligent with his movement to sneak into scoring areas. Along with him, an in-form Paul Pogba looks to continue his brilliant form.
Pogba is playing like a world-class player right now but his ability will be tested against the best on Sunday. He needs to assert his authority early on, work extra-hard & create chances for United, especially on the counter-attacks.
Liverpool aren’t one to sit back at Anfield and will go all-out attack to get a big win against their rivals. While the Red Devils have to defend strongly, they will receive chances on the counter. They must be clinical in finishing off whatever chances they get, launch forward in numbers & make good use of their pacey swift-breaks to hurt LFC.
The front-two of Marcus Rashford & Edinson Cavani will be key in creating magic in the final third. Rashford loves scoring against the big sides & needs to put in another clutch performance against his biggest rivals. Cavani also gets his chance to reassert himself as world-class, as he’ll need to finish off or at least test Alisson with whatever chances he gets.
This clash will be a test of character for both sides. Playing at Anfield, Liverpool obviously have the advantage. United head into this as underdogs, but they need to relish under the pressure, defend strongly & be brave in trading blows with LFC to get something special out of the game.
United might be playing like champions away from home, but Liverpool are honestly too strong at home. I feel this should be an open game, but the hosts should nip it 2-1 to blow open the title race even more.