Manchester United v Liverpool: The Big Match Preview - The Anfield Wrap

Rob Gutmann’s preview ahead of Manchester United v Liverpool at an empty Old Trafford, with The Reds knowing even a win might not be enough…

 

IT’S not Manchester United away without fans.

It isn’t Old Trafford. It isn’t even the fucking theatre of fucking dreams.

Let us be clear, what is on offer on Sunday afternoon is not an opportunity to raid their fortress and get a big one over on them, it’s only about the points, nothing more, nothing less. 

‘We’re due a win there’, I’ve heard said quite a bit this week around Liverpool. And yes, we are due, but we aren’t going to be ‘there’ on Sunday. We’re not going to be anywhere, just as we’ve been nowhere all season. The only things that change from match venue to venue are the seat colours.

The game matters because everything Liverpool do matters. This Sunday, three points, and only three points matter. Obviously a draw against the league’s second-placed side would be no embarrassment, but neither would it be enough.

Our hopes of playing Champions League football next season are hanging by a thread. Failure to win at Old Trafford would see that last fragile fibre severed.   

The bookies have Liverpool as marginal favourites to win on Sunday. That took me aback at first. We haven’t won for three games and United are kind of flying. The unspoken truth is that Liverpool really should have won each of their last three games and be approaching the weekend’s encounter as the country’s form side.

Real Madrid were very fortunate to leave Anfield unscathed and both Leeds and Newcastle were only able to deny Liverpool victories with last-minute equalisers. Leeds were probably worth their point in the end, but Newcastle definitely weren’t.

Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker looks dejected after his side concede a 95th minute equalising goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield.

United have had a strangely successful season. They are technically still in with a shout for the league title, and should win the Europa League, but where it all goes from here for them is hard to fathom.

This campaign could be a foundation for a true reassertion of themselves as a force in the English game, but equally, finishing second to an all-conquering Manchester City side could be the false dawn it proved to be after Jose Mourinho’s United finished in second spot in 2018. 

Liverpool’s slender top four hopes would be hugely bolstered by beating United but a Liverpool win would hand Man City the Premier League crown before United next kicked a ball.

As much as Liverpool need to win matches they need Chelsea to lose them. If Man City are home and hosed before Chelsea face City next weekend, it would arguably boost Chelsea’s prospects against much less motivated opposition.

Chelsea though are not Liverpool’s concern unless they beat United.and indeed Southampton. At start of play today, The Reds are seven points off the pace. Two wins, a task though they are, would put Liverpool within a single point of fourth spot, if Chelsea lose at City.

Man United have no fresh injury concerns for the Liverpool game and will only be missing Phil Jones and Anthony Martial. A few who didn’t feature in the midweek 6-2 win over Roma could be called upon for starts today.

Liverpool’s status as slight favourites may be a reflection of the fact that United have travelled abroad in midweek and playing Sunday after a Thursday European away is never ideal for any side. Those eligible for a start simply by not having done so on Thursday are Mason Greenwood, Dean Henderson, Daniel James, Van de Beek and Eric Bailly. 

Jürgen Klopp says he has no new injury concerns for the game that may represent Liverpool’s last stand of the wretched 2020/21 season. Once upon time that would’ve been a fillip to hear, but it is the old injury concerns that continue to cast a cloud over the campaign.

Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford

Klopp gave no encouragement to the prospects of us seeing Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip or Jordan Henderson again this season. It has come to something when we are additionally disappointed to hear that (at the season’s start) our sixth choice centre back, Nat Phillips, will also again be unavailable.

Seemingly, the Liverpool boss has no options but to go with the back five that he has selected for the past two games, with Fabinho again partnering Ozan Kabak in central defence. With full weeks between games these days, Klopp can now pick his strongest available 11s with no eye to future fixture congestion and the need to rest players.

So how does the manager see his best midfield three setting up? Without Fabinho available in these positions, Thiago Alcantara and Gini Wijnaldum are certain starters, but who gets the third slot? James Milner would be the favourite but if he isn’t preferred then it’s a toss of a coin between Curtis Jones and the more experienced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to come in, although Naby Keita may just be in the equation.

Of course, Jürgen might just go for broke and pick four attackers again. Liverpool were open playing the 4-2-3-1 system against Newcastle but were at least making bag fulls of goal scoring opportunities.

To say I felt optimistic about our prospects of getting that crucial win this afternoon would be stretching it. It feels like it’s been a long time since Liverpool were giving us much reason to feel genuine confidence about our prospects. To win, Liverpool will firstly need to play well. They will need to ally that with composure and of course be lucky. These are the three obvious components of most victories.

Liverpool have rarely been blessed with the full set in any game since Christmas. The consistency that was for so long the watchword of this Liverpool has gone. Rebuilding it takes a long time. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, some fella once said.

Winning at Old Trafford, even the fake version, would be a nice first step.


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