The gap is huge. Twenty-seven points separates Liverpool and Manchester United in the Premier League table. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side go to Anfield as the only team to have held Liverpool this season – and fired up to end their rivals’ unbeaten streak.
Liverpool’s position in the Premier League is nothing but commanding. They are closing in on a first-ever Premier League triumph and a 19th English league title after 30 long years without the crown.
Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Reds have put together a quite remarkable 38-game unbeaten run dating back to last January, amassing a record 104 points in that time. Week after week they have stepped up and delivered, winning every Premier League game this term – except for that 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
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Manchester United, in contrast, have been wildly inconsistent. They’ve lost to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Watford and Arsenal this season. But when they get things right they can be dangerous. Just ask Chelsea, Leicester, Tottenham and Manchester City, who have all been beaten by Solskjaer’s enigmatic side.
It’s that record against the better sides – and the way Manchester United have gone about achieving those victories – which will give their travelling support hope on their journey up the East Lancs Road this weekend.
United are the only team in the Premier League with a better record against the top half than the bottom half. They’ve won five of the six games when they’ve had less possession (but only four of the 14 when they’ve had more).
Of course, going to Anfield, sitting back and playing on the counter-attack is easier said than done. There will be enormous pressure on the backline – marshalled by new full-time captain Harry Maguire, following Ashley Young’s sale to Inter Milan – and United’s forwards will have to make their rare forays forward count.
But it’s a game plan which has worked in the past. And if it comes off on Sunday, it will be a sweet moment for everyone associated with United – even if it is ultimately only a brief hiccup on Liverpool’s march to the title.
Fabinho and Joel Matip are “likely” to be in Liverpool’s squad to face Manchester United on Sunday after recovering from injuries, says Jurgen Klopp.
Midfielder Fabinho has been out since an ankle injury forced him off in the 1-1 draw with Napoli on November 27, while centre-back Matip has not played since Liverpool last met United on October 20 when he suffered a recurrence of the knee injury he first picked up in the win at Sheffield United.
However, the league leaders are set to be without James Milner, Dejan Lovren and Naby Keita again.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will give Marcus Rashford the maximum possible opportunity to recover from the back injury he aggravated against Wolves in midweek, but the striker is unlikely to feature.
Rashford will undergo further assessments on Friday ahead of United making a late call over his fitness.
“I’m not going to hold my breath,” Solskjaer said. “I probably think he wouldn’t be ready. We’re going to give him the absolute amount of time to find out.”
Meanwhile, Luke Shaw is a doubt after missing the Wolves game with a hamstring injury and Eric Bailly is unlikely to be risked, while Paul Pogba, Marcos Rojo and Scott McTominay are all still out.
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“At times this season Liverpool have actually been caught out with a high line, and opposition have gone through on goal, and probably haven’t made as much as they should have.
“That’s something Ole will be looking at – can they get in-behind this Liverpool team? Liverpool will look to play high, squeeze the midfield and give United less space to play in midfield, so they’ll have to be really clever in central midfield to get it to the front players.”
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“I think Manchester United play against me in a different way to some other players. They defend against me in a different way. It’s a challenge, but I’m happy about that. As long as the team are winning, I’m always happy.”
Why Man Utd’s style gives them hope vs Liverpool
On the surface, there is little evidence of unfancied United ending that run, but Solskjaer’s side are perfectly set-up to play on the break – and since his return, they are the only Premier League opponent Liverpool have not found a way to beat.
United’s ability on the counter-attack owes nothing to chance. Solskjaer consciously changed the gameplan shortly into his reign, and they are far more at home utilising their raw pace as the form of Anthony Martial, Dan James and Marcus Rashford has shown. When the manager arrived in December 2018, they ranked bottom in the Premier League charts for the number of fast breaks they had completed. By the end of the campaign, they were number one.
– Since completing a league double over Man Utd in 2013-14, Liverpool have won just one of their 11 Premier League games against the Red Devils (D5 L5).
– Manchester United are winless in their last four away matches against Liverpool in all competitions (D2 L2) since a 1-0 win in January 2016 in the Premier League.
– Liverpool have lost 28 Premier League matches against Manchester United, eight more than against any other club.
– Liverpool will face Manchester United at Anfield for a league game starting the day top of the table for the first time since September 1990, winning 4-0 under Kenny Dalglish.
– Among the 31 teams Jürgen Klopp has faced 10 or more times during his managerial career, his worst win ratio is against Manchester United (20% – P10 W2 D6 L2).
– Manchester United have lost their last two away Premier League games on Merseyside against Liverpool and Everton; they haven’t lost three in a row in the top-flight since April 1979.
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.