Joshua Gaillard previews this weekend's Premier League humdinger between Manchester United and Liverpool.
English Premier League | Sunday 2 May | Old Trafford | 17:30
There are games that mean a bit more than others, and then there is this game. No game speeds up the heart rate quite like this one. This is a clash between the two most successful clubs in English football history, Manchester United vs Liverpool.
The rivalry between these clubs goes way back, and the bitter hatred between the two has only intensified further at the end of last season. Jurgen Klopp’s men ended a 30-year wait to be crowned Premier League champions, which gives the Merseysiders the ability to lay claim at being the most trophy-laden club in English football – above the Red Devils.
This will be the third time these teams battle each other this season. The first league meeting ended in a goalless draw at Anfield in January, before the sides squared off later that month in the FA Cup, United ultimately prevailing in a thrilling 3-2 home victory.
United were, and still are, on a firm and unerring upward trajectory whereas Liverpool were trending in the opposite direction. Klopp has steered his ship into calmer waters since, and his eyes are unequivocally set on European qualification, after crashing out to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on the other hand, has all but secured runners up in the league and has one eye on AS Roma in the Europa League semi-finals.
Manchester United fans have been at the throats of their owners over the past two weeks due to the proposed Super League. All of this has possibly affected things on the pitch.
Last week, fans stormed United’s Carrington Training facility demanding the Glazer’s sell the club which delayed training ahead of their Leeds United fixture, in which United played to a stale 0-0 draw. Ole, however, has done a great job this season in finally implementing his ‘attack quick, play forward, run forward, chase back, and win the ball back’ style of play, as per his 2019 interview with Adam Marshall.
With those ideals in mind, he has managed to pull off an improved season in the league by equalling last season’s 66-point tally with five fixtures remaining but has dropped out earlier in this season’s EFL and FA Cup, and also failed to surpass the Champions League Group Stages.
The Red Devils are set to endure the rest of the season without their number nine, Anthony Martial, due to a knee injury, and an indefinite Phil Jones. Mason Greenwood has been on call this season and has undeniably answered, doing so in all competitions but the Europa League. The 18-year-old netted one of his nine goal tally this season in composed fashion against Liverpool in their FA Cup meeting.
With first-choice Martial out, more than capable Edinson Cavani has shown his worth. El Matador seems to prove his given name time and time again. With the whereabouts of a feline inside the opposition box, the number seven has three goals in his last five starts.
Manchester United seem to be seeing out the business end of the Premier League in an impeccable fashion, winning their last six back-to-back before drawing with Leeds. The current fixture at hand is Liverpool, who matches up to be their toughest, on-paper fixture, before traveling to Aston Villa, proceeded by Leicester at Old Trafford for revenge over their quarter-final dismissal in the FA Cup. Finally, they could knock Scott Parker’s Fulham out of the league, before traveling to their season finale against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Manchester United Form Guide: WWWWD
When Jurgen Klopp sat down for his first press conference as Liverpool manager, he looked like a man out to impress a lady on the first date, and he posed the question, “Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders at Liverpool?” He vowed that he would march on together with his team, the players, and most importantly, the fans, to an English League title within four years. He has produced just that, undoubtedly winning over fans.
Now Klopp resembles a man married to the club, and the German has come under fire this season from everyone but his loyal fans. The Red’s have set a new record under the self-proclaimed ‘normal one’ losing six fixtures in a row at Anfield but has since turned a corner finding some form and restabilising what the world has seen in recent years.
Liverpool is still plagued by injuries, with big man Virgil van Dijk out and fighting to be match fit for the Euros, last years’ Liverpool Player of the Year Jordan Henderson, 6 ft. 5 Joel Matip, Champions League winning goalscorer Divicok Origi, and finally 23-year-old Joe Gomez.
Over the past few games with interchanging centre-backs and swapping positions and roles, a key player has emerged in my opinion. Brazilian midfielder Fabio Tavares, more commonly known as Fabinho. The 27-year-old has won all Premier League matches he has started this year, when placed in a central midfield role.
Liverpool may have beaten Aston Villa at home but have struggled finding the net at Anfield in 2021, only netting three in nine fixtures. However, on their travels, they have been substantially more prosperous, netting 14 in eight fixtures. Mohammed Salah has scored 20 goals in the Premier League after falling one goal short last season for the first time since joining Liverpool.
Liverpool Form Guide: WWWDD
Mancheser United: 4-2-3-1
Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Cavani.
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Prediction: Manchester United (31/20)
A fast paced, running game is what can be expected in this mighty clash. United love to counter with the precision of a sniper, and Liverpool put pressure from the first to last whistle. From the home team perspective, they’ll be hoping to keep the midfield tight, and should they stay disciplined, three points are in the bag. The United outfit can rely on Paul Pogba to win possession in and around the United box and blitz a counter attack through the fast legs and clinical feet of Greenwood and Marcus Rashford. McTominay alongside Pogba also allows the World Cup winner to get forward to link up with United’s talisman, Bruno Fernandes. The visitors are always going to press high and look to capitalize on a wayward pass. Liverpool always find their Egyptian, or rather Salah always makes sure he can see his centre-back’s number whenever there is a defensive threading pass on the cards. Sadio Mane has finally found the back of the net again in a cagey 1-1 draw with Leed’s United, and we should see him give Aaron Wan-Bissaka a rough night. Livepool have to attack this game, with three points more important in their league ambitions, so the Both Teams to Score market at 6/10 also looks a good bet.
Written by Joshua Gaillard