After securing passage into last 16 of the Champions League, Liverpool have another blockbuster fixture in store. Bitter rivals Manchester United will be the visitors at Anfield. More than just 3 points will be at stake, with either side battling for bragging rights too. The following is the preview between England’s two most illustrious clubs in history.
The Manchester Bus
When the 2 sides last met, the Reds were on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline. Marcus Rashford scored an early brace, allowing the Red Devils to sit back and soak up the pressure. Even though that deficit was halved by an Eric Bailey own goal, resolute defending allowed Manchester United to hold onto the win.
That is nothing new for Kopites, who are well accustomed to Mourinho’s defensive tactics. In fact, Liverpool were winless in their past 5 encounters, drawing 3 and losing 2 matches. Those games were instantly forgettable, and it would come as no shock if the Portugese employed the same tactics yet again. The question is: will it work this time round?
This season, the Red Devil’s defence, which has so long been their strongest quality, isn’t as great as it used to be. That could be due to De Gea not performing at the superhuman levels fans are accustomed to. Last season’s Golden Glove winner made 3.58 saves per goal; that’s down to 2.08 this season. And having kept only 2, Man United are much more leaky in defence than Liverpool, with the Reds now the team able to grind out the results. To add on, Mourinho has constantly shuffled his backline, clearly showing his distrust in his defenders. So while Mourinho may attempt to bring out his bus, chances are that it won’t be as effective as previous attempts.
While our rivals aren’t enjoying the best of defensive records, fans should be a little concern about Liverpool’s injury situation. Having just lost Gomez to a leg injury, the Reds now have Matip in the treatment room too for a broken collarbone. That’s a huge blow, given that the Cameroonian was faultless in the last 3 games that he’d played.
With Matip ruled out for at least 6 weeks, Lovren is the only senior centre back available. That makes him a certainty to start on Sunday, with Academy prospect Nathaniel Phillips likely to be on the bench. In some ways, the game would suit the Croatian’s physicality, with him likely to tussle with Lukaku for long balls. Mopping up loose balls and winning aerial duels will be important, and it’s a task Lovren has to excel in. Hopefully, he’s up for the job at Anfield.
Quite why Mourinho favours Matic is anybody’s guess. While Pogba has been repeatedly thrown under the bus (no pun intended), the manager loyally sticks by the Serbian. While he may win the odd tackle or so, with 1.6 tackles made per game, his overall performance doesn’t make up for it. That said, he’s still one of the first names on the team sheet.
For Liverpool, it’s great news if Matic starts as he’s a potential weak link to exploit. At 30 years old, he isn’t the Red Devils most mobile player. Against Liverpool’s pressing machine, Matic doesn’t a chance if he isn’t provided protection. Quick interchanging passes are also key against Matic, for he’s adapt at heading away long balls.
With Manchester United expected to sit deep, catching them while they’re in transition is Liverpool’s best chance at scoring. Being one of the best counter-attacking sides, it’ll be second nature for Liverpool. Hence, isolating and pressuring United’s No 31 should definitely be part of the Merserysider’s game plan.