Man United vs Liverpool preview: The one they really, really don't want to lose
Despondent giants hope to hit each other where it hurts the most.
MAN UTD FORM
- Swansea 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Club Brugge 0-4 Man Utd (CL)
- Man Utd 0-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-1 Club Brugge (CL)
- Aston Villa 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-3 West Ham (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-0 B’mouth (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Swindon 1-2 Liverpool (F)
Now things have shaken down post-deadline day, who’s happy with what they have got? It was yin and yang for Manchester United, who were a piece of IT buffoonery from losing David de Gea and spent an eyewatering amount (branded by Louis van Gaal himself as “ridiculous”) on the possibly-good Monaco striker Anthony Martial, but still look light on a little proven quality.
There was far less to concern yourself with if you were a Liverpool fan – unless you are among those who wonder whether “getting your business done early” is an adequate substitute for getting players of the right standard in – and the burning question now is whether one of these two sides will have the wherewithal to plunge the other into a right old early-season spin.
Both may have been glad of a couple of weeks’ pause. United’s defeat at Swansea felt grimly predictable for all Van Gaal’s familiar proclamations about “control”; Liverpool’s 3-0 home defeat to West Ham broke a 52-year duck for their visitors and brought its own concerns about a lack of quality in key positions.
Brendan Rodgers’ options beyond – and some might say in – his first XI lack a degree of spark and the obvious exception, Philippe Coutinho, will miss Saturday’s match as a result of his red card against the Hammers.
United are expected to mount something closer to a title push this season but already sit five points behind Manchester City, and there is a nagging sense that something is not right.
Media reports that a group of senior players recently confronted Van Gaal about his rigid training methods were an eye-opener and the impression is that the manager’s fixation with possession and positional precision come at the expense of spontaneity and self-expression.
Whether Van Gaal is willing to change his ways is moot, but the notion that pennies will soon drop and United will become an all-conquering force is starting to wear thin and if senior players are not on board then the pressure on the manager will grow. Whether they like their boss or not, some of them will have to step up to the plate and perhaps Wayne Rooney, now unencumbered by the burden of imminent England record-breaking, will be sufficiently buoyed to show some of his old confidence in club colours.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that this will be a bitty match by the standards expected of a fixture between these sides. Neither needs to press the panic button after suffering just one league defeat, but a convincing defeat at Old Trafford would do nothing for momentum going into a difficult autumn.
Coutinho’s suspension kicks in, but at least one or two of Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen should return from injury. That apart, Rodgers will be hoping that his internationals have returned from their various corners of the world in one piece. The same goes for Van Gaal, who should introduce Martial at some stage but looks likely to be without Michael Carrick (calf). Phil Jones is close to a return after recovering from a blood clot. Who of De Gea and Sergio Romero plays in goal is, by now, anyone’s guess.
Key battle: Schweinsteiger vs Henderson
Bayern Munich revealed this week that Bastian Schweinsteiger cost United just £6.5 million. It was good business by any measure, and the German has eased Carrick out of the side after starting the season on the bench. Schweinsteiger has shown promising signs but is yet to hit his stride fully and – assuming Henderson is fit – will receive a searching examination of his capabilities as a Premier League midfielder. With neither team looking particularly sharp further forwards, the battle in the centre of the park will need winning on Saturday and Henderson’s energy – greatly missed by Liverpool before the international break – could tip things in the visitors’ favour against a United side that has looked ponderous at times.
Blue line = completed pass. X = tackle. + = ball recovery. Diamond = interception. Star = take-on.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L’pool 1-2 United (PL, Mar 15)
- 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)
Van Gaal’s methods are coming under increasingly intense scrutiny, which at times seems extreme given his track record, but United’s progress has been steady at best under his tenure so far and the abrasiveness that sometimes surfaces sometimes makes him easier to oppose. He comes up against an equally divisive manager in Rodgers, who can be similarly dogmatic and needs to prove this season that the Suarez and Sturridge-inspired near miss of two seasons ago was no fluke. His record in the transfer market is yet to convince and a decisive impact from, say, Roberto Firmino or Danny Ings at Old Trafford would not go amiss.
Facts and figures
- This Premier League fixture has produced 16 red cards. Only Everton vs Liverpool (20) has seen more sendings-off.
- Christian Benteke has scored in his last 2 Premier League appearances against Manchester United (both for Aston Villa).
- Wayne Rooney has averaged 0.23 goals per game in the Premier League against Liverpool (5 in 22 games). Of teams the striker has faced 10+ times in the PL, only against Middlesbrough has he posted a lower goals-per-game rate (0.17).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Expect nothing spectacular, but Liverpool’s returning players should help them get a grip in midfield. 1-1.