Liverpool vs Manchester United | Sunday 22 March | Anfield | 15:30
After decades of battling it out for the league title, historic arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester United find themselves in the peculiar position of fighting for a Champions League spot with the top place virtually secured by Chelsea. Although these two teams are no longer the forces they once were, the rivalry between them remains undiminished and we should be in for an epic encounter in Sunday’s blockbuster. United are currently fourth in the league table with 56 points from 29 games, two ahead of Liverpool – who would vault themselves above their rivals and into the top four for the first time this season with a win here. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result for Louis van Gaal’s team, but he’ll love nothing more than to pick up a vital victory over their rivals. The last time these sides met at Anfield, Liverpool earned a precious victory with Daniel Sturridge scoring the only goal of the match.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester United 5/2
Liverpool’s surge up the Premier League table and quest for Champions League qualification continued its fierce upward swing on Monday, as they beat Swansea City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium. It wasn’t the best performance we’ve seen from the usually enchanting Reds but they still managed to beat the Swans – something United failed to do twice this season. Brendan Rodgers deserves massive credit for turning around Liverpool’s season after a torrid start to the campaign that saw the Northern Irish boss come in for much criticism. The first half of the season was disastrous as Liverpool struggled to replicate their form of last season. It was clear Rodgers didn’t know what his best team was as he chopped and changed his side by trying to integrate his new signings. But like all good managers that have had a bad spell he changed his tactics – something Manuel Pellegrini is still yet to do.
The Reds are on a run of thirteen games without defeat, unbeaten since mid-December when they last faced United. Since then, they've taken an incredible 33 points from a possible 39 in the Premier League—winning ten and drawing three, including five successive victories and have kept seven clean sheets in their last ten games. They have become the form team in the league in recent months with Rodgers’ decision to play a 3-4-2-1 formation that has made the Reds stronger in defence and more dangerous in attack. The Reds now have runners all over the park and are playing slick, interchanging football as they did last season. Philippe Coutinho’s form has blossomed as he works behind the pacey Raheem Sterling in attack. The Brazilian playmaker has shown his intelligence to find pockets of space in between opponents' defence and midfield and is one of few players in the squad blessed with the ability to create something out of nothing.
Despite The Reds coping very well with Steven Gerrard’s absence due to a hamstring injury, his experience will be crucial in such an important fixture and he will be playing his final match at Anfield against his biggest rivals. After missing out five months of the season, Sturridge is now fully fit – scoring three goals with one assist since his return. His incredibly fleet feet and quickness of mind have spurred many of Liverpool's attacks this year and he’ll be a nuisance for Van Gaal’s side.
United fans will have to take some encouragement from the fact that they have done all right in the big games in the league this season. They have already beaten Arsenal and Liverpool, they drew with Chelsea, and if not for going down to ten men with an hour left to play at the Etihad, could probably have fared better against Manchester City than the 1-0 defeat they suffered. Van Gaal's side have dropped points in matches they have had no excuse for, but for some reason, they manage to raise their game when playing the better sides. It also helps when they have more space to attack, rather than trying to break down the defensive approach so many teams employ against top sides. There are many dangerous players and huge scoring threats in this United side with the likes of Juan Mata, Rooney, Marouane Fellaini and Angel Di Maria, who will cause all problems for Liverpool’s defence.
VERDICT: Liverpool 21/20
In-form Liverpool are the Premier League's only unbeaten team this calendar year, since losing the reverse tie 3-0 at Old Trafford on 14 December. The Reds are difficult to beat on their turf having won eight of their fifteen matches played with five draws and just two defeats to Aston Villa and Chelsea when they were still struggling to find their rhythm. United have won just four of their fourteen travels this season with three defeats. It should be a tight affair but I’m going for a Liverpool win at 21/20.