Man United, Liverpool to renew league rivalry before possible cup final clash

Craig Burley stresses January’s importance for Man United if they want to legitimately pursue the Prem title.
Craig Burley breaks down Liverpool’s busy January and how Jurgen Klopp may look to field his men going forward.

Manchester United vs. Liverpool needs no introduction. 

Ahead of Sunday’s huge encounter at Old Trafford, with both sides dreaming of a Premier League title, Scott Patterson (United) and Steven Kelly (Liverpool) preview what’s in store.

Both teams are in EFL Cup action before Sunday. What would you prefer: To win that competition or claim three points at Old Trafford?

Scott Patterson: Had we not won the FA Cup last season, I would probably be tempted by the promise of silverware, even if it’s only the League Cup. Nobody should turn their nose up at a day at Wembley.

If results go as predicted, United will face Liverpool in the final, so condemning Jurgen Klopp to yet another cup final defeat would be pretty sweet. However, the league has to be the priority. It is so tight at the top now, so the opportunity to make it less likely for Liverpool to win the league, while improving our own position, has to be the favoured outcome here.

Steven Kelly: Mourinho could live without one more League Cup, yet some might say Klopp needs silverware as much as Liverpool do to get back in the winning groove. The simple answer is “can’t it be both?” but, given a choice, Liverpool should focus on the points. 

Having just seen Chelsea stumble for the first time in months, it could be fatal for Liverpool to fall at the first sniff of a fightback. It’s worth reiterating that fans saw this as a transitional season initially but now the team is in such a good position, Old Trafford is the very last place they’d want to throw it all away.

How crucial is this game to your season?

SP: It’s more or less make or break for United. Not long ago it looked like we would struggle to finish in the top four but the winning streak over the past couple of months has changed all of that. We’ve thrown too many points away already this season with stupid draws against teams we were better than. We don’t have another “Get Out Of Jail Free” card to play with.

United have been offered a great opportunity to get back in to the thick of it and can’t afford to blow it. Just over a month ago, they were 10 points behind second-placed Arsenal but a win this weekend would see United go two points behind second-placed Liverpool.

With difficult fixtures on the horizon for the teams above United, particularly Chelsea, the timing of this  game couldn’t be any better. If United lose, you would still fancy them to finish inside the top four, but any hopes of doing better than that would fade.

The first meeting between Liverpool and Manchester United this season ended in a 0-0 draw.

SK: There are always chances of recovery afterwards of course and season after season Liverpool have assumed they wouldn’t get anything from Old Trafford anyway. People have been saying Liverpool’s form couldn’t last since they beat Arsenal 4-3 on the opening weekend, then followed it up with an abysmal 2-0 defeat at Burnley. They’ve somehow got this far and kept Chelsea in their sights.

There is nothing that would say “same old Liverpool” more than losing to United. It’s hard to use last season’s Europa League tie as any indicator since both teams have come on in leaps and bounds since then. United are starting to look good again and are closing in on the top clubs, so a chance to nip that in the bud would also be welcome.

Klopp will want to stay in the title race for as long as possible but realistically a top four place would be excellent work for the season and curtailing United’s comeback would help towards that goal.

Describe the emotion of winning and losing this game

SP: This is the biggest game of the season. Losing ruins your weekend — your week even — but the last time Liverpool beat us in the league at Old Trafford, the 3-0 defeat with David Moyes was in charge, the overriding feeling was relief. United were awful and Liverpool were challenging for the league, so there were fears the result could be more embarrassing.

Liverpool’s last win before that, the 4-1 against our 10 men in 2009, felt dreadful. We were both challenging for the title and the result could have given the trophy to our rivals. Thankfully, it didn’t, but without that hindsight, it was a real sickener.

Those are the only two victories for Liverpool at Old Trafford over the last 12 years though, with United winning the remaining 10, and every one of them felt absolutely fantastic. The best feeling was probably when Rio Ferdinand scored a last-minute winner in 2006 and Gary Neville went bonkers. In football, nothing beats it.

SK: It’s a strange one. Even when Liverpool do emerge victorious — 2002, 2009 and 2014 — it never ends in a league title, although coincidentally those are the years the Reds at least challenged for it.

United, in contrast, can simply palm their last defeat in this fixture off on David Moyes and pretend it never even happened. It’s something Liverpool fans often do with Roy Hodgson.

Mourinho vs. Klopp has far more of a heavyweight ring to it and given the clubs’ positions in the league it’s back to being pretty important again. There’s no finer feeling than watching Old Trafford prematurely empty with Liverpool strolling to victory. It’s such a rare sight, however, that the inevitable humiliation is what’s usually expected, with the away fans kept in to endure every last second of it.

Whoever happens to be top of the table, this is still the biggest fixture and however little success Liverpool have had in it, there’s always hope the next game will be different.

Anthony Martial scored twice in two home games against Liverpool last season.

What will be the key battles?

SP: Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have won it for United at Anfield earlier this season but, going through his dry patch at the time, he couldn’t direct his header on target. Having scored 12 goals in his last 12 games, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan will have to be on top form to the keep the Swede out this time.

I’m most looking forward to seeing Herrera vs. Henderson, though. Both are hugely popular figures at their clubs and it will be interesting to see who will boss it on this occasion, after Herrera took charge at Anfield. The Spaniard is incredibly passionate and plays for the fans on occasions like these, so I fancy him to come out on top.

SK: Liverpool were outfought for unnervingly long passages of the 0-0 home draw at Anfield on Oct.17, when Ander was excellent. Klopp will hope Henderson returns from injury but whether he will still be fit enough to wrest midfield control is another matter. 

The full-backs, Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner, have been two of the most reliable performers so far but if Mourinho turns Marcus Rashford loose on either of them it could be their biggest examination yet. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic gave the impression the Anfield game was beneath him but if he decides to show up for this one , Lovren and/or Klavan have a massive job on their hands.

Who will be your team’s star man? 

SP: Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a fantastic player to watch and plays with so much confidence. Not only is he a threat in front of goal, he excels in creating for others too. Already a popular figure at United, a good performance in his first game against Liverpool could see his stock rise further.

Anthony Martial announced himself to the world on his debut against Liverpool last season. It would be great to see him given another run out and see what he can do, on the back of much improved form.

SK: Philippe Coutinho’s fitness could be decisive here and although Liverpool have won games without him, there’s been something stodgy and lethargic about them recently.

There will be a lot of pressure from United and it is vital Simon Mignolet plays well. He is a good shot stopper and he’ll hope United won’t just throw the ball in the air to expose his one real weakness. The whole defence will be under scrutiny, really.


SP: 2-1 United.

United are getting good results and Mourinho has a great history of beating Liverpool.

SK: 0-2 Liverpool

Seems risky — the clean sheet especially — at a ground Liverpool are generally awful, but call it a wild hunch.

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