As a Liverpool fan since 1991, I must say that it’s been a while since I’ve been this confident going into a Liverpool vs. Manchester United game. The last time I was this confident, Sami Hyypia got sent off after five minutes, and Liverpool lost 4-0. So you can understand my reluctance to be so confident ahead of Monday night’s fixture at Anfield. Going on recent performances, this should be a routine victory for the Merseysiders, but in reality, it’s proven to be a difficult fixture for Liverpool, particularly in the last couple of seasons. Manchester United have now won 4 league games in a row against Liverpool — a run not bettered since 2008. Liverpool haven’t lost more times to any other team in the Premier League era — 27 losses, in total.
Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have enjoyed victory over Manchester United, but not in the Premier League — to be fair, he’s only had one go and that ended up as a 1-0 loss at Anfield, last season. A Wayne Rooney sucker punch settled matters in a scrappy affair after Liverpool had been the better side over the whole match. In last year’s Europa League run, they managed a 2-0 win at Anfield, when realistically, it could have been 8 or 9; in Europe, Liverpool found a freedom that they didn’t have in the league.
This year, it seems, in the first few weeks of the season, at least, that it might be a different story. Apart from the Burnley game, it’s been a decent start for Henderson and company. After 7 games, Liverpool sit in 4th place in the league, and have looked great in their wins against the big sides like Arsenal and Chelsea. It looks like the pre-season that he has had with the players, has got them to a fitness level with which they can fully implement his style of play.
Right now, Manchester United seem to have got to a stage where we might see the best of their players. The Wayne Rooney issue seems to have been resolved with Jose Mourinho putting to rest the idea of him being a midfielder; I would be surprised to see him start on Monday night, but I’ve no doubt he’ll feature at some stage. Marcus Rashford has forced his way into the starting eleven, as well, and for good reason; anytime I’ve seen him this season, he looks the real deal. You see it a fair amount in football when a young player comes through; they play with no fear. A trait that can be rare in the game, when there is so much at stake.
It’s been pretty obvious in recent weeks that big money signings, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will relish the slightly more advanced role, without the out of sorts Wayne Rooney. As I’ve said on the podcast many times before, Rooney was once on the verge of greatness, bit squandered it all. A lot of times when this happens, a player has a choice: work harder or just be happy with the level you’re at. In the 2010/11 season he had a terrific campaign, culminating in a great goal in the Champions League Final…but that was it. Since then, it’s been all downhill for the England captain.
Liverpool, on the other hand, seem to have players brimming with confidence. Adam Lallana, in particular, seems to have bought into Klopp’s philosophy more than any other. Add to that, players like Firmino and Coutinho, who add a bit of flair, new signing Sadio Mane’s pace, and James Milner’s penalty taking — Liverpool have found a balance that they’ve been lacking since Luis Suarez left. Liverpool are a team now, rather than one genius and ten hangers-on. A reliance on one player is not going to be a successful, long-term tactic, for any team — just ask Steven Gerrard, who found himself constantly having to bail his team out. So, the stage is set for a classic encounter at Anfield on Monday night. Considering last year’s contest between the two teams at Anfield was a fairly mediocre affair, it can’t be as bad this year, surely.
Although, Jose Mourinho won’t really care about entertaining the masses; he has often gone to Anfield to frustrate, not really concerning himself with attractive football. United will be dangerous on the counter attack with the likes of Rashford, Martial, Pogba and Lindgard, with the ability to cause any defence problems, never mind Liverpool’s, which is still unstable, to say the very least. United’s defence has looked shaky this season too, especially in the defeats to Man City and Watford. With that in mind, then, we can surely expect goals. There is a certain kamikaze attitude to the way Klopp’s teams play and they won’t be too worried about conceding, but if those front players don’t shine, then it could be a frustrating night for them. My confidence will start to go as the match approaches, but thankfully, I don’t have to wait much longer.