THERE is chocolate cake at Old Trafford, and some really good coffee. What else? Well, plenty of security, so much so it makes you feel like you’re at an airport rather than a football stadium. Oh, and they have boss grass. Thank goodness Mario Balotelli is no longer in a Liverpool shirt.
During Manchester United’s media briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Louis van Gaal and Ander Herrera may as well have been looking under the chairs and inside the tea canisters for reasons as to why they could still overpower Liverpool and progress in the Europa League.
Because of their pristine turf. Because of their bigger pitch. And they trounced the mighty FC Midtjylland, yer know.
Their recent record against the Reds — four victories in five meetings, which they were keen to stress counted for little ahead of the Anfield leg, was suddenly spelt out in capital, bold letters. It was Herrera who referenced it, but later he also insisted: “We won’t think about the past.”
Yeah, me neither.
Van Gaal repeatedly said no two games are the same, but then pointed out if United conceded, they could pepper the goal as they did against Midtjylland.
Herrera offered some interesting answers, a departure from the usual copy-and-paste phrases the press get fed, but the briefing was largely bemusing.
United are 2-0 down in the tie, and they don’t need to be rattling off rubbish reasons as to why they could overturn that deficit. They are at Old Trafford, they surely can’t be as ineffective as they were in the reverse fixture, and they should be backing themselves to puff out their chests and pack a killer punch. They still have David de Gea in goal, like.
On that podium, they looked beaten already. The request for supporters to fire up and fuel the players, as was the case for Liverpool at Anfield, felt more like desperate pleas than a rousing call.
Just under two hours later, Jürgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson were sat in the same seats delivering a completely different tone. They were authoritative and confident, but kept stressing they will once again need to be at their intense best.
The pair painted United as more of a threat than van Gaal and Herrera managed to do. Mad that.
But Henderson also stated: “If we focus on our gameplan then it won’t really matter what Manchester United do. It’s all about us and I’m sure if we’re firing at all cylinders — like we were last week — [then] I don’t think many teams can live with us really.”
You don’t win games during press conferences, but the contrast between United’s passiveness and Liverpool’s power was hard to ignore.
So what happens where it all matters then? For Klopp, the answer is easy. “You always have to play to try to score goals and if you score goals then everything is in the right direction,” he told Liverpool’s official website.
“For sure, we are not a team — everybody saw in this season — that can stand back and defend and be passive. All the good games we played were intensive games, that’s the truth.”
For van Gaal, it is not as simple. He wants his players to feed off the energy of the crowd, but in order to generate an atmosphere that can be decisive, United will need to be expansive and enterprising.
If they are, that will afford Liverpool additional space to exploit. If they look to hold the ball and strangle the game in search of a goal, the noise they hear won’t be the kind they’re after, and Liverpool will still feel comfortable.
United have to create a fear factor, because currently, Klopp’s side have nothing to worry about.
The visitors spent time working on dealing with second balls in training on Wednesday evening, in anticipation of Marouane Fellaini starting. Van Gaal views him as the ace in games against the Reds and he’ll need to be nullified again. Alberto Moreno pulled up in the session with a hamstring issue, and if he is unable to feature, James Milner could slot in at the back or Brad Smith will deputise.
Otherwise, it is expected to be the same again for Liverpool as they look to ensure the historic tie holds more painful memories for United.
They need to beware the boss grass though.