Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Prediction: Liverpool vs Manchester United

Verdict: Draw

Best odds: 29/10

Bookmaker: Unibet

It’s the big one. The two clubs with the biggest numbers of major trophies in English football will face each other on Sunday at Anfield, in the 18th round of the 2020-21 season in the Premier League.

The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is huge, and irrespective of their table positions, the games between them are always eagerly awaited and preceded by loads of tension among both sets of fans. Now, however, even their table positions add to the flammability of the contest.

Liverpool

Liverpool are, of course, the reigning Premier League champions. They’ve now won the crown in English football 19 times and are certainly looking to make it an even 20 – a significant number on several levels. At the moment, they are in second place, as they are in terms of the number of league titles. With 17 games played, they are second to Manchester United with 33 points, three less than their fiercest rivals.

What will be worrying manager Jurgen Klopp ahead of this event, apart from the injury absences of several key players, is that his team aren’t on very good form at the moment. They did the job in the FA Cup against an extremely youthful Aston Villa side last week, but in the Premier League, their last-six run consists of two wins, three draws, and a defeat away to Southampton in the previous round when their former striker Danny Ings made sure the points remained at St. Mary’s.

The Reds will have had eight days to prepare for this match, and they’ll be hoping to snap out of the recent stupor which has brought their credentials as the title defenders into question.

Team News

Defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will not be able to help their team, probably at all this season, and to make things worse, Joel Matip’s involvement is in serious doubt as well. Midfielder Fabinho is certain to take a centre-back position once more, but Klopp now has a choice of inexperienced options to partner the Brazilian – it’s either 23-year-old Nathaniel Phillips or 19-year-old Rhys Williams, and that is arguably the only question the German tactician will be pondering ahead of the game.

Klopp will be delighted that midfielder Thiago Alcantara is fully back in contention after a long absence and showing his class on the pitch. The same goes for Xherdan Shaqiri who has brought some spark into Liverpool’s play in recent matches, but the Swiss winger is set to start on the bench again. Naby Keita has been ruled out.

Alisson Becker in goal, Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back, Andy Robertson on the other side, captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield, and usual front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, are all nailed-on starters. Forward Diogo Jota remains out with a knee injury.

Like Shaqiri, the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi will be waiting for a chance to replace someone off the bench.

Manchester United

Not even United fans, at least the more realistic among them, will have hoped at the start of the season that their team would be topping the Premier League in mid-January. Nonetheless, here they are, leading the pack with 36 points from 17 games, and hoping to extend the gap by inflicting Liverpool with their first home defeat in the league since March 2017.

Unlike Liverpool, United’s recent results have been fantastic, even if their performances weren’t always at a great level – they got the job (after job) done and climbed up the ladder to get where they are. They won five of their last six matches in the league, drawing one. The last one they played was an arguably unconvincing win over Burnley at Turf Moor, but it still got them three points as Paul Pogba’s deflected volley surprised the excellent Nick Pope in the Clarets’ goal.

Still, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains cautious about any title talk at this point.

Team News

Unlike Klopp, Solskjaer has no significant injury absences, at least when it comes to cases confirmed. Defenders Phil Jones and Brandon Williams are out, but neither of them would have been likely to play anyway. David De Gea is certain to keep his place between the sticks ahead of Dean Henderson, as is Harry Maguire in the heart of defence. Victor Lindelof is a doubt, which means Eric Bailly is likely to start alongside the captain, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw covering their flanks.

Nemanja Matic picked up a minor knock against Burnley, but he will likely be the man providing protection for the back four, with Pogba by his side as the deeper of the two playmakers. The other should be Bruno Fernandes, playing in an advanced midfield position. The Portuguese has certainly lifted United’s quality to another level since arriving from Sporting Lisbon a year ago. In the case of Matic being unavailable, Scott McTominay is likely to get the nod ahead of Fred.

It will be interesting to see Solskjaer’s choice of attackers. Anthony Martial also got a knock for his troubles at Turf Moor, apart from which he wasted several good chances. If he ends up not starting, young Mason Greenwood could step into the breach on one flank, with Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani the obvious options for the other two positions in the front line.

Conclusion

If there was ever any game that could go in any possible direction, it’s this one. The teams seem well-balanced for the most part, though there could be an advantage for United when it comes to Liverpool’s makeshift defence facing United’s well-established attackers. Still, Liverpool will certainly look to keep their impressive home record in the league intact.

It will be an interesting match, that much can be said with a big degree of certainty, one in which both teams are expected to make the opposition net shake at least once. But in the end, there could easily be nothing separating the two teams on the scoresheet.

Verdict: Draw

Best odds: 29/10

Bookmaker: Unibet

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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