Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 7/4
The biggest game of English football, the one between the 20-time and 19-time champions, is due to take place on Sunday at Old Trafford when Manchester United host Liverpool in the 34th round of the 2020-21 Premier League season.
Quite apart from the immense rivalry between the two clubs, the game and its result are of huge importance to both, as well as the league itself as it could confirm Manchester City as the new champions, providing Pep Guardiola’s team beat Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Being the only team that can still mathematically challenge City for the title, United must win on Sunday to stay in that race, again – providing City win at Selhurst Park. The Red Devils are obviously in second place, with a 10-point gap to the city rivals.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men face a bit of a challenge to focus on the game, with reports of fan protests related to the club’s involvement in the failed European Super League project planned for Sunday emerging these days, though the Norwegian insists they will have no problem with thinking only about overcoming the opposition when the first whistle blows.
The Red Devils have lately been on fantastic form, winning five of their last six league encounters. The list starts with a superb 0-2 triumph away to league leaders City. Then they beat West Ham at home by 1-0, Brighton and Hove Albion at home by 2-1, Tottenham Hotspur away by 1-3, and Burnley at home by 3-1. The only game they failed to win was the one at Elland Road last week, where they played a goalless draw against Leeds United.
On top of that, they didn’t have too many difficulties in getting past Granada in the Europa League quarterfinals and did a brilliant job in the first leg of the semis against AS Roma on Thursday, where they came back from 1-2 down at halftime to win 6-2.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Solskjaer revealed there were no fresh injury concerns ahead of the Liverpool clash. That means the only notable absentee is forward Anthony Martial, who is yet to return following a knee ligament rupture he suffered on international duty at the end of March.
Defender Phil Jones is also unavailable, but Solskjaer probably wouldn’t have counted on him much for this game anyway.
The manager has plenty of options for various roles. He has lately been giving Dean Henderson chances between the posts, but for a game of this magnitude he will likely name David De Gea to start. Captain Harry Maguire is certain to lead the defence, likely joined by Victor Lindelof and flanked by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw.
The midfield section is the one Solskjaer will give a lot of thought. He has Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic to choose from for the deeper role or roles, depending on which formation he goes for. Bruno Fernandes will certainly be in the starting XI in any case, Paul Pogba very likely too, but there probably won’t be room for Donny van de Beek.
Upfront, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood will probably flank Edinson Cavani in the absence of Martial.
It’s been a strange season for Liverpool, as Solskjaer himself admitted when asked about it, mostly due to massive injury issues in the centre of defence which sent impact tremors throughout the squad as manager Jurgen Klopp tried different methods of papering the cracks. They won the title last season and managed to stay on top of things until the turn of the year, but plenty went downhill from there for them.
At the moment, Liverpool are in sixth place with 54 points, four off Chelsea in fourth, one off West Ham in fifth, and with Tottenham Hotspur and city rivals Everton close behind with 53 and 52, respectively.
Their recent form can be described as patchy. They lost at home to relegation-threatened Fulham by 0-1, then beat Wolverhampton Wanderers away by the same scoreline, Arsenal away by 0-3, Aston Villa at home by 2-1, and then dropped points through late equalizers away to Leeds and at home against Newcastle with both matches ending 1-1.
Liverpool’s Champions League campaign, unlike that of United, held on until the quarterfinals, when they were beaten over two legs by Real Madrid.
Despite recent videos of Virgil van Dijk running on a training pitch, Klopp confirmed there was no change regarding to the availability of his first three centre-backs, which means the big Dutchman, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are still unlikely to play again this season. The same goes for his captain, midfielder Jordan Henderson. And if that wasn’t enough, Nat Phillips, who missed the last two games, is unlikely to be ready for Sunday too.
It means midfielder Fabinho is likely to partner Ozan Kabak in the heart of defence again, flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum will probably start in the middle of the park, with James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita all eyeing the third spot. It remains to be seen whether Klopp will put Diogo Jota ahead of any one of the usual front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
Manchester United are obviously in a better place right now, and they will be looking to relay the situation onto the pitch. Even though their home record hasn’t been great this season, Old Trafford has always been a difficult place for Klopp’s team to come to.
Some might argue that a full-strength in-form Liverpool would still be the better team, but unfortunately from their point of view, they are far from their best at the moment. Even though most bookmakers don’t seem to see it that way, United are the favourites to win this match.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 7/4
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