The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Man United
The M62 Derby (by absolute idiots).
- Swansea 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-0 Blackburn (FAC)
- Liverpool 2-0 Burnley (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 Man City (Prem)
- Besiktas 1-0 Liverpool (EL)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 3-0 Spurs (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal (FAC)
- Newcastle 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-0 S’land (Prem)
- Swansea 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
A lot has changed since these two teams last did battle in mid-December. In fact, pretty much the only thing that hasn’t happened is Liverpool losing a Premier League fixture.
A 3-0 defeat for the Reds left last season’s runners-up languishing in 10th place, and was met with ironic chants of “Brendan Rodgers: football genius” from the Old Trafford faithful. With his team also recently eliminated from the Champions League, the Liverpool boss was suddenly under huge pressure.
Yet, the three-at-the-back system Rodgers dabbled with that day has since been the catalyst for Liverpool to go an impressive 13 Premier League matches unbeaten – a run that has transformed their season from shambolic to promising.
Manchester United’s win over their most hated rivals was their sixth straight victory, a run that suggested Louis van Gaal had already made his mark. Then came a slump. The Dutchman’s side won just one of the next five league matches, with the desperate, aimless nature of the last 20 minutes of January’s home defeat to Southampton particularly reminiscent of last season’s Moyes-ball.
Although several less-than-convincing victories followed, there was reasonable cause for concern when the FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Arsenal ended any realistic hope of avoiding a second successive trophyless season (an ignominy not previously suffered at Old Trafford since the late 80s).
Last weekend’s impressive win over Tottenham couldn’t have been better timed. For the first time this season – arguably for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson picked up his carriage clock in May 2013 – Manchester United played like most believe a Manchester United team should: with high intensity, flamboyant swagger and ruthless intent.
There are still issues for Van Gaal to solve; is Daley Blind’s long-term future at left-back or in midfield? Where does Angel Di Maria fit in, if at all? And what the heck is going to happen with Radamel Falcao? Still, suddenly the last seven months of tinkering and scraping results seem worthwhile.
For the first time in a few years, both teams are going into this fixture in good nick – unusual, given this is widely considered English football’s ‘biggest’ rivalry. In fact, this is the first time since March 2009 that both teams have gone into this most grudging of grudge matches in the Premier League’s top five.
Hopefully, that should make this one a compelling fixture rather than another hour-and-a-half of torrid scrapping and bickering. Then again, with a Champions League spot potentially at stake, perhaps not...
Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva is close to a return to first-team action, having sat out the Reds’ last nine matches with a groin injury. The Brazilian has posted videos of himself back in training on Instagram, but Rodgers presumably won’t be in a rush to change what is currently a winning team.
The Merseysiders' only other injury concerns are full-back Jon Flanagan (knee) and midfield prodigy Jordon Ibe (knee). Mario Balotelli should be over his recent illness, but, let’s face it, has no chance of starting this one. United have no new injury concerns, with Robin van Persie (ankle) joining the suspended Jonny Evans (overly wet mouth) on the sidelines. Marcos Rojo could return to bolster Van Gaal’s backline.
Key battle: Raheem Sterling vs David de Gea
The highlight of the reverse fixture was the sensational goalkeeping performance of United's Spanish stopper. De Gea made nine saves over the course of 90 minutes, with Liverpool's central striker that day, Sterling, denied no fewer than four times. With Daniel Sturridge now finally back fit and firing, Sterling is likely to take his place out wide, but the England starlet will still be keen to get one over United's No.1.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 3-0 L’pool (PL, Dec 14)
- United 0-3 L'pool (PL, Mar 14)
- United 1-0 L'pool (LC, Sep 13)
- L'pool 1-0 United (PL, Sep 13)
- United 2-1 L'pool (PL, Jan 13)
Rodgers appeared to have put his foot firmly in his mouth last summer, when he gave a friendly-and-definitely-not-at-all-smug warning to Van Gaal, outlining the pitfalls of English football. But now Liverpool’s early-season struggles have subsided and the Reds are the Premier League’s form team, it just isn’t funny anymore. Which is a shame.
Facts and figures
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 14 matches in all competitions at Anfield (W7 D7).
- Manchester United have won away at Anfield more times than any other team in Premier League history (10).
- Steven Gerrard has scored 7 goals in his last 11 Premier League games against Manchester United.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Goals 2-1 Red Cards. Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United.