By Daniel Ghorbal
In recent years, a clash between Liverpool and Manchester United would often have huge significance, and although that still remains the case in this one, the contrast between the two sides currently couldn’t be more definitive. A victory for Liverpool would take them back to the top of the table albeit potentially only briefly, whilst the opposition still remain in the hunt for a top 4 place despite some torrid recent performances.
A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick inspired United to a 3-2 home win over Norwich most recently, but even the 37 year olds antics won’t paper over the cracks of yet another disappointing display. The truth of the matter is that the 20 time Premier League Champions are in a right predicament whereby the best team isn’t established, certain players are underperforming considerably and the morale around the camp is at an all-time low. A 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park epitomised the issues they have, struggling to create chances whilst being soft in their approach, yet the tendency of Arsenal, Tottenham and others to lose means a place in next seasons Champions League is still well within reach.
When looking to analysing United’s form and problems, it’s hard to identify one area where they are particularly strong or weak, the brutal honesty of the situation is simply how bang average Ralf Rangnick’s side have been and how moments of quality have papered over the cracks of late. Saturday is the perfect example of where they are at right now, Ronaldo scored a treble in the win over Norwich but the visitors on the day had multiple chances and could feel hard done by to lose the game.
Although winning when playing badly is a great habit, the crooks of the matter is that Norwich are bottom of the table and for a club of United’s size, performances of that standard simply aren’t good enough. Monday’s press conference already confirmed that Varane and Shaw will be missing for the trip to Anfield, and at this stage of the season when tough games are regular, not having your best defence available is a huge concern for supporters. Liverpool will be purring after a magnificent FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City and will be the driving force of the game, so it is vital that United match the intensity of their rivals to ensure embarrassment is prevented.
The side is still littered with quality, but the soft nature of Rangnick’s side means that Tuesday could be a long night for them.
On a positive note for Manchester United, going forward they have had games when the likes of Elanga, Fernandes and Ronaldo have been fluid and scored lots of goal, and when things click in the final third they can cause problems for any team in the division. The high line Liverpool deploy has worked exceptionally well across the campaign, but on the off chance that Manchester United exploit the space in behind, they have the pace in wide areas to at least give Klopp’s side a few worries. An interesting battle for me will be down both flanks to see how attacking both of United’s full-backs will be.
Although containing Mane, Diaz, Salah or Jota is a must, giving the away side an out-ball to stretch the game and provide some service to Cristiano Ronaldo is vital. Virgil Van Dijk will relish the battle with one of the all-time great players, so having different ways to utilise the Portuguese’s quality will give Manchester United a good chance of scoring and hurting Liverpool.
In the midfield areas, United are weak at current and are expected to have Fred and McTominay out for this one, so whether or not they have the disciplined individuals in the centre of the park will be interesting to see. Pogba, Lingard and Fernandes started in there on the weekend, but Matic will undoubtedly start this one to provide some steel and break up attacks. As things stand, United have a minimal chance of getting a result at Anfield, but if they play with the motivation of a top 4 spot at the forefront of their minds, combined with the understanding of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, then it could be a fascinating encounter.
Predicted Manchester United team: De Gea, Dalot, Maguire, Lindelof, Telles, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Sancho, Elanga, Ronaldo