Mohamed Salah heads into Manchester United v Liverpool with a “crazy” new skill and a chance to make more history
The Premier League’s prominent Reds get together Monday night in Manchester United vs Liverpool at Old Trafford, each hoping to find its footing on the heels of a wobbly start to the 2022-23 campaign.
In fact, this is the first–ever top-flight meeting (excluding season-openers) between them where both teams come in winless.
Liverpool’s stumbles out of the gate leave Jürgen Klopp’s side with just two points after two games. In the opener, they needed an 80th-minute strike from Mo Salah in order to salvage a 2-2 away draw against newly-promoted Fulham. Last weekend, in their home opener, it was a Luis Díaz equaliser moments after the clock struck the hour mark (and Darwin Núñez struck Joachim Andersen with his noggin, earning a straight red card) in order to secure a 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace.
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In the other dugout, meanwhile, is a manager who, if given the opportunity, would waste no time swapping out his own issues for Klopp’s. Despite taking over a Man United clearly in need of rebuilding and with (relatively, at least) lowered expectations, Erik ten Hag has not only not enjoyed the luxury of a honeymoon period, but is already in the midst of a full-blown nightmare.
Ten Hag – the fifth different manager to lead Man United against a Klopp-led Liverpool – is at risk of becoming just the second Red Devils boss (the first since John Chapman 101 years ago) to lose each of his first three games in charge. Joining Chapman in that ignominious club would also mean (dating back to last season) United’s fifth straight league loss, something that last happened half a century ago, in 1972.
Suffice it to say, Ten Hag would gladly ‘suffer’ through a ‘down period’ that includes Carabao and FA Cup wins and a pair of season-opening draws.
Manchester United team news v Liverpool
There are numbers aplenty highlighting United’s brutal start to the season. In attack, despite 65% possession and 130 dangerous attacks, the Red Devils have managed just nine shots on target and a single goal in 180 minutes. The picture on defence is not much prettier as, despite all of that possession, they’ve allowed Brighton and Brentford 12 shots on target and six goals and, most importantly, looked completely bereft of confidence and organisation.
It’s because of this last point that the rumour mill – in perpetual motion as it pertains to United at the best of times – shifted into overdrive in search of on-pitch reinforcements who might affect immediate change. In the wake of a failed move for Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot, the club have reached for the stars – and broke the bank, again (to the tune of €70 million, plus a potential €15 million in add-ons) – to sign defensive midfielder Casemiro from Real Madrid. That the 30-year-old Brazilian, who won the Champions League an astounding five times in the past nine years, was vital to Madrid is beyond question. So, too, is the fact that, upon his arrival in the Premier League, he’ll slot in alongside N’Golo Kanté (when healthy), Fabinho (when playing well, which we’ll get to shortly) and Rodri on the shortlist of the league’s best defensive midfielders.
If United can be assured that the version Casemiro that arrives in the UK is the same one that’s anchored Real Madrid’s midfield for so many years, the price tag is hardly outlandish. Casemiro’s combination of toughness, smarts and savviness are universally sought. However, for as influential as he is, Casemiro is neither a miracle worker nor a solo act.
His debut will likely come at home to Southampton next Saturday. In the meantime, Brazil teammate Fred, Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen will audition for the role of his midfield partner.
Manchester United injuries: Facundo Pellistri, Anthony Martial, Brandon Williams, Victor Lindelof
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Liverpool team news v Manchester United
Whether or not you buy into the notion that Klopp is cracking under the pressure of a subpar start, it’s difficult to deny that Liverpool do have questions to answer. First, like Ten Hag, Klopp is contemplating his midfield. Coming into the season, Fabinho is deservedly considered a top-tier player to rival Casemiro in his position but has endured a poor start to the season. Against Crystal Palace his misjudged intervention contributed to Wilfried Zaha’s goal and in the 2-2 draw with Fulham he was hooked before the hour mark. James Milner, 36, would not have expected to play so many league minutes this season so far while Jordan Henderson is averaging 77% pass accuracy this season, down from 86% last term. Injuries elsewhere mean Harvey Elliot is not at all unlikely to start, if the returning Naby Keita doesn’t step in.
Further up the pitch, Núñez’s loss of composure against Palace means the newly fit Roberto Firmino should be thrust straight back into the lineup. Of course, you’ll forgive United fans if they don’t rejoice, as their greatest terror, Mohamed Salah, will be present and accounted for.
Salah’s brilliance is news to precisely no one with even a passing familiarity with recent Premier League history. Neither is his regular and ruthless abuse of Man United, especially at Old Trafford. That said, we see no harm in boggling the mind a bit. In his last four games against Manchester United in all competitions, Salah has scored eight goals. Six of those goals have come at Old Trafford and half of those came in last season’s version of this fixture. And, overall, he’s got nine goals against the Red Devils; his next will make him the first Liverpool player ever to score at least ten times against Man United.
Now, every game in which Salah played against Man United for Liverpool will have been a massive occasion. And certainly, Liverpool have often lined up against United with more at a stake beyond the rivalry. And, of course, it’s not as though Liverpool have only ever been at full strength in those contests.
However, in the absence of their primary striker, with their title challenge, incredibly, feeling as though it’s teetering after just two games, with Man City (and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal) already up four points, and against a rival that’s incapable of offering much resistance, Salah will be especially motivated on Monday and having lately added a new string to his bow.
“I think he found a right foot on holiday,” Klopp told Sky Sports.
“He always develops. It’s really crazy.
“I know a few years back he arrived and usually when a player comes from outside inside they use the inside of the foot to spin the ball and all of a sudden he had the full throttle – the Chelsea goal is a pretty remarkable one.
Liverpool injuries: Thiago, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez (suspended), Caoimhin Kelleher, Curtis Jones, Joel Matip, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ibrahima Konate, Calvin Ramsay
Manchester United v Liverpool predictions
In a sense, this game defies traditional analysis. Liverpool are in the midst of a rough patch and come into this game without their top pure striker, and beset by previously-unexpected-but-suddenly-significant questions in the midfield. And yet…
Thanks to the inexhaustible wellspring of chaos and upheaval that is modern day Man United, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which Klopp’s side does not emerge victorious. Even in the absence of Darwin Núñez, an attack spearheaded by Firmino and, of course, Salah has enough firepower to punish this United defence. Adding to the motivation will be Liverpool’s need to not only set things right and reassert themselves in the title race, but to do so emphatically. The central figure in this should be, unsurprisingly, Salah, who is at 6/4 with Sky Bet to score in a Liverpool win. Sky Bet are also offering a boosted odds of 13/2 for Salah to score at least 2 goals.
Liverpool, though favourites to win the game, are experiencing their own defensive scuffles. Despite the experience in recent years of repeatedly watching Manchester United put forth ‘less than the sum of the parts’ performances, it’s still tough to scour this nominally loaded roster and not incredulously wonder how, even if they’re not winning, these guys aren’t at least scoring goals. On this stage, in the face of a full-blown crisis, one would assume that this side could at least momentarily find its footing.
All of that said, our prediction would be Liverpool win and both teams to score (13/8 @ Sky Bet).
If you’re looking for something more elaborate, Sky Bet’s featured RequestABet is Diaz to score, Salah 2+ shots on target and Maguire to be carded at 18/1. Salah we’ve mentioned, Luis Diaz is looking like Liverpool’s most dangerous player this season so far and Harry Maguire could become the first United player to get booked in their first three games of a Premier League season (this is also true of Scott McTominay).