Liverpool vs Manchester United, the biggest game in English football, is upon us and this time it means so much more.
With both teams sat atop the table, United first on 36 points with Liverpool three back on 33, this is a genuine title showdown. The Red Devils are in impressive form, especially away from home, and this has allowed them chase down the Reds, whose questionable results of late opened the door.
What will happen when these two go head-to-head at Anfield? We’ve taken a look and come up with five predictions:
1. Liverpool will line-up like…
Joel Matip is “close” but Klopp added that he’s not decided on whether to start him after only taking part in one or two training sessions. If he is out, then it will either mean skipper Jordan Henderson moving back into central defence or fielding a less experienced option, such as Rhys Williams.
2. Manchester United will line-up like…
Anthony Martial, who limped off in Man Utd’s win at Burnley, will be given the chance to prove his fitness but given the impact he’s been making off the bench, Uruguayan marksman Edinson Cavani is expected to lead United’s forward line.
3. No penalties for United
Manchester United have gotten a lot of penalties under current management, to the point where others are starting to comment. After Liverpool’s recent loss to Southampton where Liverpool were denied two possible spot-kicks, Jurgen Klopp said “[United] had more penalties in two years than I had in five-and-a-half years.”
The two years Klopp refers to his the reign of United’s present manager, which began on 22nd December 2018. Since then Manchester United have been awarded 27 penalties in the Premier League, that’s more than any other side in the division (Leicester are second with 20). The Reds, by contrast, have just 16 in the same time period.
2020/21 Premier League outright winner odds by William Hill:
- Manchester City: 4/6
- Liverpool: 3/1
- Manchester United: 11/2
- Spurs: 20/1
So yes, Klopp is correct. And what’s more, his comments may prove mightily effective. Redirecting the conversation to how United get lots of penalties could make it harder for them to be earn a spot-kick at Anfield without creating the illusion that he was right and they are unfairly favoured by officials.
“It was mind games — an attempt to influence referee Paul Tierney and get inside his head before [Sunday’s game]” former referee Mark Clattenburg told the Daily Mail, going on to say Klopp’s approach in this instance was “straight out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s playbook.”
It’s true that Klopp has been very Fergie-esque here in the way he’s applied pressure to the referee. Especially as he’s ignored that his forwards are just as prone to going down easily and trying to buy contact.
Most penalties won in the Premier League since the 2017/18 season.
Spoiler alert: Man Utd still lead. 😬 pic.twitter.com/uUhR6zhPPW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 5, 2021
“He sounds like a hypocrite if he is suggesting United’s players are looking to win penalties. The likes of [Mohamed] Salah and [Sadio] Mané are just as capable of employing similar tactics,” added Clattenburg.
Whatever happens on Sunday, Klopp’s excellent manipulation of the press and media has ensured that Manchester United (probably) won’t be winning any penalties, which means the visitors’ big-game approach needs to be about creating open-play chances rather than hope to break games open with a Bruno Fernandes penalty.
4. Klopp unleashes hell
Part of the reason Klopp has played these mind games is that he’s feeling some nerves. Not about the title race of course. Liverpool being three points back isn’t ideal but it’s January so there’s still plenty of time to claw the Reds Devils back.
Klopp will be feeling nerves because, for some reason, the usually fearless manager always seems to approach games against Manchester United with trepidation. He never subjects them to the same kind fury he regularly unfurls against Manchester City or Leicester.
This time will be different, however. Because now United aren’t an age-old rival to be wary of; they’re a side ahead of his in the table. Prey to be hunted down. So Klopp will unleash the whirlwind on Manchester United, a full force press, penning them back in their own half with Thiago Alcantara running the show in midfield and cutting off counter-attacks.
5. Honours even in the end
The thing is, for all of Liverpool’s fury, you get the sense that United just have that extra bit of punch right now. That form. That confidence and belief. And Liverpool’s defence is nowhere near as solid as it used to be; Aston Villa’s kids exposed that so you can definitely see how the likes of Marcus Rashford could cause real havoc on the counter-attack.
Liverpool vs. Manchester United betting favourites:
- Liverpool to win: 19/20
- Draw: 11/4
- Manchester United to win: 27/10
And if Liverpool get their nose bloodied by the Red Devils, that could do damage to their own self-belief that they can win the game, even though they are a superior side in attack. As much as United might have a mental edge right now, with the likes of Thiago, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané around there’s no way you can count Liverpool out.
What does that all lead to? A draw, most likely. Six of their last 10 meetings in all competitions have ended that way, after all. Liverpool will dominate the play, but United will be so dangerous on the break that that whether it ends as a disappointing 0-0 or a lively 2-2, there won’t be anything to separate the sides at Anfield on Sunday.