The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs Liverpool
MAN UNITED FORM
- So’ton 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Hull (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-1 Basel (CL)
- Liverpool 0-0 S’land (Prem)
- Leicester 1-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Ludogorets 1-1 Liverpool (CL)
Manchester United are in fine form as they go into this meeting with their most hated rivals - five Premier League wins on the bounce since their defeat to their second most hated rivals, Manchester City.
Liverpool, categorically, are not. The Anfield side have won just five of their last 20 matches in all competitions, during which time they have slipped down into both mid-table and the Europa League.
Brendan Rodgers would kill for a little bit of what Louis van Gaal's got going on right now. The Reds just don't seem to be able to stack up a run of good results.
The 3-0 masterclass at Spurs was followed by home defeat to Aston Villa, the late, late comeback at QPR was followed by a humbling defeat to Real Madrid, while the gritty victory at Leicester was followed by a turgid Anfield stalemate against Sunderland. Only twice this season have they won two on the bounce.
Having last season made so much noise about reclaiming their 'perch' from their old foes, Liverpool already look like having fallen behind United, who themselves still look a long way from being a title-winning outfit. Narrow victories against the odds may be 'the stuff of champions', but scraping by every week doesn't exactly suggest the Red Devils will be able to keep this going until May.
Forget the perch, by their own high standards this pair are both currently scrambling about in 'guano' and scraps of old newspaper.
United, without Europe as a 'distraction' and seemingly with the funding to strengthen their defence in January, do at least look in good shape to return to the Champions League next season. Lose on Sunday, and winning the Europa League would look increasingly like Liverpool's best chance of doing the same.
This week's new addition to the United injury list is Chris Smalling, who limped out of Monday night's win at Southampton with a 'torn groin', which sounds pretty darn painful. He joins Luke Shaw (ankle), Rafael (groin), Phil Jones (shin), Angel Di Maria (hamstring) and Daley Blind (knee) in sitting around looking sorry for himself.
Liverpool will still be unable to call on the services of Mario Balotelli (groin) and Daniel Sturridge (curse), meaning Rickie Lambert (beetroot) is likely to once again lead the line. Kolo Toure may return from the groin strain that saw him miss Tuesday's draw with Basel.
In summary: groins.
Key battle: Michael Carrick vs Lucas Leiva
Since Carrick's return to the starting XI on November 8, United have made more passes than any other Premier League team, and have also had the division's highest passing accuracy and possession. They've also won five straight matches.
The former Spurs and West Ham man made a whopping 108 passes in the recent win over Hull - United's most convincing and comfortable victory of late. He only completed 32 passes himself at Southampton on Monday night, but that was largely because he was shifted back into defence after 39 minutes.
Liverpool will need to find a way of disrupting the Geordie Metronome's rhythm, and the best man for the job could be Brazilian scrapper Lucas, who made more ball recoveries (11) and tackles (7) than any other Reds player in last weekend's game against Sunderland. He also made 5 interceptions (no Liverpool player made more) and led the way in terms of passing (34 in the attacking third, 84 overall).
The midfielder has started Liverpool's last five matches - his longest run in a year - with the Reds unbeaten in that time (two wins, three draws).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- 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)
- L'pool 1-2 United (PL, Sep 12)
"I think what he’ll find is the competition in this league will be different from any other league that he’s worked in," Rodgers said of inbound United manager Louis van Gaal over the summer. "In a lot of the other leagues there are one or two teams and those are the teams that are expected to win.
"This is a league where the top team plays the bottom team and on any given day you can lose. You don’t get that a lot in the other leagues. I think the competition will probably take him by surprise and that’s from foreign managers I have spoken to over the years."
Rodgers will therefore presumably fancy Liverpool (langushing in 9th) to overcome United (in form and 3rd).
Facts and figures
- Robin van Persie has netted 6 goals in his last 9 Premier League appearances against Liverpool.
- United have scored the most goals from outside the box in the Premier League this season (7).
- Steven Gerrard has scored more goals as an away player at Old Trafford than any other player in Premier League history (5).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
The emotion of the day to inspire Liverpool into a more empassioned performance, but the United machine to roll on, for another week at least. 2-1.