The biggest regular game in English club football is right around the corner as Manchester United prepare to host Liverpool.
The two biggest clubs in the country lock horns yet again but for the first time in what feels like an eternity, the Red Devils may honestly go into the match as favourites. Liverpool’s injury and form woes have had them looking a long way from their usual effervescent selves and they face a fight to finish in the top four for next season’s Champions League.
United, meanwhile, are comfortably secured in second place and will surely be in Europe’s top competition next season. The Reds need the result more, but both will want it. Here are five predictions for this Sunday’s showdown:
1. Manchester United predicted XI
With all they’ve got going on in the Europa League and their comfortable position in the Premier League table – they’d have to lose four of their last five games while watching West Ham win all of theirs in order to miss out on the Champions League – the smart thing to do would be for Man Utd to rest pretty much everyone for this game.
But the Red Devils have never really rotated all that much under the current manager, and given the history of the Liverpool rivalry and the fact that United are so far ahead of them in the table, they will want to make a big statement. So it will be a mostly full-strength side.
Dean Henderson will return in goal and we’ll probably see Alex Telles start in place of Luke Shaw, plus breaks for Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba, but the rest will be standard Manchester United.
Expect to see ‘McFred’ anchor midfield and kicking anything that moves, Dan James slotting into the right-wing, Mason Greenwood up-front with the seemingly inexhaustible cyborg bodies of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford completing the side.
2. Liverpool predicted XI
Nothing has worked for Liverpool this season. All the tweaks have led to dead ends and frustration for Jurgen Klopp as his obviously talented Premier League champions have flapped around like a fish out of water. A spluttering, gasping mess.
With this trip to Old Trafford, a ground where Klopp has not won in six attempts as Liverpool manager, being a must-win in the Reds’ quest for Champions League football, you can expect them to go as full-strength and back-to-basics as they can.
Obviously, their centre-back injury crisis has now claimed Nat Phillips (a doubt for the weekend), so Fabinho will have to be drafted into the back-line alongside Ozan Kabak, with his place in midfield being taken by the ever-reliable James Milner. This leaves Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones to come off the bench and bring their goalscoring power to proceedings if need be.
3. United to show caution
This season Manchester United’s performances against “Big Six” sides have been mixed. They scored big wins against Manchester City and Spurs of late but most of the games have been rather tepid draws as their manager seems to have taken a rather Mourinho-esque approach in thinking not losing these big games is more important than winning them.
And we’ll see that again from United on Sunday. There’s simply no reason for them to go hell-for-leather. For starters, they will be in between the two legs of their Europa League semi-finals and, secondly, if you push up and attack you expose yourselves to the deadly Liverpool counter-attack (which does still work; just ask RB Leipzig).
So despite naming all his big boys, you can expect Solskjaer to approach this game as he has approached most of the other big games this season.
Premier League top four finish odds by William Hill:
- Leicester: 2/11
- Chelsea: 1/2
- Liverpool: 2/1
- West Ham: 9/2
- Spurs: 10/1
4. Salah’s big day out
Mohamed Salah had often struggled against Manchester United. Before this year he had played them six times and scored just once, a stoppage time breakaway to turn 1-0 into 2-0. He had never threatened in the actual body of a match, let alone even played well (he has even been marked out of more than one game by Ashley Young!)
But then in January of this year, Salah scored twice against United in the FA Cup. What’s more, he played really well, too. Sure, Liverpool lost the game, but for Salah in particular it felt like a breakthrough moment against a club he could not get to grips with previously.
Anyway, fast-forward to this weekend and Mohamed Salah is in the running for the Premier League Golden Boot. The Egyptian has been the only member of Liverpool’s famed front three to not disappoint this season and as a result is just one goal behind Harry Kane in the top-scorer race. So he will want to bag as many times as possible to overtake Kane and win this, which is what we expect him to do.
5. Honours even in the end
So United will approach the game with caution, but Liverpool’s determination to score plus Salah’s drive to become top-scorer should see the Reds take the lead.
This should spur a reaction from United to get the equaliser, but if they do their gameplan’s natural caution would kick back in to prevent United from pushing on to really hurt the Reds.
Man Utd vs Liverpool betting favourites:
- Man Utd to win: 9/5
- Draw: 5/2
- Liverpool to win: 29/20
The second-half may see the pattern repeat itself, but we expect to see a score-draw. A decent result for United, but a huge disappointment for Liverpool, who have dropped 15 points in the league this season (more than every top-four contender bar Spurs) and four in their last two games alone.
United have lost just one of their last 15 home games against Liverpool in all competitions (10 wins, four draws), and Jurgen Klopp, on a personal level, has played away at Man Utd without ever winning more times than any other opponent in his managerial career (six games, four draws and two defeats).
So this match looks set to become another victim of the occasion, which Liverpool and Man United seem more desperate to avoid losing than hungry to win over the last five years.