Premier League | Old Trafford | Sun 16 Mar | 1:30pm
Unlikely also-rans versus unlikely title contenders.
Who’d have imagined at the beginning of the season that Liverpool would go into this game as many people’s favourites – and as realistic title contenders, no less? Not even in most Reds fans’ wildest dreams did they believe that come March their team would have a chance to kill off Manchester United’s already-faint hopes of Champions League qualification.
MAN UNITED FORM
- WBA 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Olympiakos 2-0 Man Utd (CL)
- Palace 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 4-3 Swansea (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (FAC)
- Fulham 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal (Prem)
But while the need for revolution rather than evolution has become increasingly clear at Old Trafford, Brendan Rodgers has brilliantly juggled a squad seemingly lacking depth, displayed a tactical flexibility that his counterpart has apparently been lacking up to now and brought a feel-good factor to Anfield not seen in 20-odd years.
Sure, the Northern Irishman has been lucky with injuries and a lack of European distractions (although Luis Suarez was missing for the first six weeks of the season), but such is the verve Liverpool are playing with that nobody seems to be holding that against them.
And yet, this might just be the worst time to visit Old Trafford. In their last two Premier League games, United seem to have stumbled across their best attacking line-up. Gone is the 4-4-2 – which briefly reappeared with disastrous results against Olympiakos in between victories at Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion – to be replaced by a more fluid 4-2-3-1.
And despite Liverpool being unbeaten in 2014, United have won their last six homes games between the two. Although you know what they say about derbies…
The continued absence of Jonny Evans shouldn’t be felt by United after Phil Jones’ successful return from a hip injury last week. Nani and Javier Hernandez remain sidelined with hamstring and knee problems respectively but neither would be likely to make the team at present.
For Liverpool, defender Mamadou Sakho is fit again, as is Lucas, the Brazilian more likely to return if Rodgers decides his midfield needs reinforcing. Given United’s defensive woes, however, the anchorman is likely to remain on the bench, with Liverpool’s attack-minded approach continuing.
Key battle: Wayne Rooney vs Steven Gerrard
England colleagues and good friends, Rooney and Gerrard will be able to do plenty of catching up on Sunday. The latter is mainly deployed in a deep midfield role these days, starting many of Liverpool’s attacks with accurate short passes or defence-stretching long ones, as you can see from the 3-0 victory at Southampton which disproved the theory that the Reds struggle to win tough away games. But with Rooney occupying the same area of the field as Gerrard – dropping into the hole to create, score and probe as he did against West Brom – the England skipper may be pre-occupied with his vice-captain and unable to influence Liverpool’s attacking game as much as he would like. A fascinating match-up.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 1-0 L'pool (LC, Sep 13)
- L'pool 1-0 United (Prem, Sep 13)
- United 2-1 L'pool (Prem, Jan 13)
- L'pool 1-2 United (Prem, Sep 12)
- United 2-1 L'pool (Prem, Feb 12)
4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1: you name it, Rodgers is happy to play it.
And while Liverpool have changed little in term of personnel since the two teams shared 1-0 wins in September – United’s coming in the League Cup – David Moyes seems to be following his opposite number’s lead by giving youth its head and demonstrating more tactical flexibility.
Of late, Maraoune Fellaini has provided some long-awaited muscle alongside Michael Carrick in midfield; a fluid front four of Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj has shown glimpses of its potential, while Jones and Chris Smalling were praised by Moyes for their partnership against West Brom. A good performance against Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and this could be the future.
Facts and figures
- Liverpool have scored in all 11 league meetings with United since 2008/09 but United have won this fixture in each of the last four years.
- Liverpool have lost 3 of their 6 trips this season to the current top eight, winning only once, and last season won 0 of their trips to the top six despite scoring in each match.
- United have won 5 of their last 10 home games against top-six teams.
- 23 of Liverpool’s last 27 away matches have had at least 3 goals, including 6 of 8 trips to top-six teams.
- United have not conceded before half-time in any of their last 9 home games against top-six teams.
Best Bet: United @ 2.45
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United’s season to finally get a kick-start. 2-1.