Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 7/10
Manchester United and Liverpool are set once more to take each other on at Old Trafford on Thursday evening, in the game that was initially scheduled for Sunday before last. It is, of course, a clash between the two most heavily decorated clubs in the history of English football, and as such it is always a huge occasion, regardless of the respective table positions of the two teams.
Not many, aside from the most die-hard United supporters, would have thought it likely that this team would finish the season as strongly as they seem to be at the moment. With the Premier League title already in the hands of neighbours Manchester City and top four already secured, this match wouldn’t have mattered too much to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team if it weren’t for the rivalry with Liverpool; just like the one they lost at home to Leicester City on Tuesday didn’t.
However, United played Aston Villa on last Sunday, three days after their second leg against AS Roma in the Europa League semifinal in Rome, then came the Leicester match on Tuesday, than this one on Thursday. It’s practically four games in a week, and it was only to be expected that Solskjaer would give a lot of his players a break against the Foxes and enable them to stay relatively fresh for Liverpool.
United are firmly in second place, 10 points behind the newly crowned champions and four ahead of Leicester now, and they have a game in hand over the Foxes. All the while, they will be keeping one eye on the Europa League final against Villarreal, set to take place on May 26th.
But this will still be a very important game for United. By winning it, they would likely condemn the Merseysiders to a season out of the Champions League, impacting their transfer aspirations and financial abilities in the upcoming transfer window.
United’s last-six run in the league begins with a 2-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion, then they triumphed over Tottenham Hotspur in North London by 1-3, then 3-1 at home against Burnley. Then came a goalless draw away to Leeds United and a 1-3 win away to Aston Villa, before Caglar Soyuncu’s header saw them lose to Leicester at home by 1-2.
Captain Harry Maguire has been ruled out with ligament damage in his ankle, which means Victor Lindelof will return to take his place in the heart of defence alongside Eric Bailly instead, with Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the defensive flanks.
Apart from Maguire, winger Daniel James, forward Anthony Martial and defender Phil Jones are also unavailable.
Solskjaer may choose Dean Henderson over David De Gea in goal, but midfielders Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, as well as forwards Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani, are very likely to start after being named on the bench against Leicester.
Points from this match may not mean much to United, but for Liverpool, they are absolutely crucial after the result on Tuesday. Leicester are now nine points ahead in third place, though the Reds have two games in hand on the team under the command of their former manager Brendan Rodgers. Chelsea (seven points ahead) and West Ham (one) are wedged in between.
But Liverpool’s biggest problem remains their troublesome form. They triumphed over Southampton at Anfield on Saturday by 2-0, but their performance certainly wasn’t great and they could easily have dropped points again had it not been for a superb Alisson Becker between the posts. In the end, goals from Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara proved enough to keep their chances of Champions League football next season alive, at least in theory.
Apart from the Southampton clash, Liverpool’s last six league matches consist of wins 0-1 away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, 0-3 away to Arsenal, 2-1 at home against Aston Villa, and 1-1 draws away to Leeds and at home against Newcastle.
After the trip to Old Trafford, they are still to face West Brom at the Hawthorns, Burnley at Turf Moor and Crystal Palace at Anfield.
Manager Jurgen Klopp is still without his first three centre-backs, Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, as well as captain Jordan Henderson in midfield, and that will remain the case for the rest of the campaign. January signings Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies were also absent against the Saints, as were midfielders James Milner and Naby Keita.
Nathaniel Phillips is a nailed-on starter for this match, though it remains to be seen if Klopp will put his faith in young Rhys Williams again or opt for midfielder Fabinho to step into the centre-back role. Thiago will also start in any case, probably with Georginio Wijnaldum in the middle of the park as well.
Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Mane are set to start upfront, leaving Diogo Jota and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench.
Alternatively, Klopp could go with a 4-2-3-1 shape and pull Firmino back to the No.10 role, with Jota on from the start. That would likely mean Fabinho playing in defence and the midfield pair consist of Thiago and Wijnaldum.
At the moment, United certainly seem like the better team of the two, and with their practically whole starting XI rested against Leicester, they aren’t likely to let the busy schedule affect them too much. But Liverpool will surely fight back with everything they’ve got, and they just might end up getting something from the match.
With Maguire out of the picture and Liverpool’s defence as questionable as it is, there will likely be goals aplenty.
Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 7/10
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