Manchester United v Liverpool - A Season Defining Clash?

This Sunday, the 20th of October, the media are building up this massive game as the worst Manchester United team we have seen in 20 years against the best Liverpool side we have seen in the Premier League era and while it is hard to argue that point, even the most optimistic Liverpool fan will know not to expect Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side to roll over and let their fierce rivals continue their unbeaten winning start to the season.

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This section is going to be extremely one sided with Man United sitting 12th in the Premier League table after winning just twice in their opening nine games this season. A 1-0 defeat at Newcastle before the international break capped off a run of just one win in six games, a 1-0 home win in the Europa League against Astana. Ole's side last won a Premier League game over a month ago, another unconvincing 1-0 win at home against high flying Leicester, which is looking a better result as the weeks go on with Leicester flying high in the coveted top four. Like many football fans, I had tipped Leicester to get a result:

Changing of the Guard?

I have found Manchester United matches this season have been a good opportunity to catch up on 90 minutes of sleep, particularly in the 1-1 draw at home against Arsenal. The pressure is heating up on Ole, with rumours of a number of managers being lined up to replace the ex-Man United striker, which would come as no surprise considering his side could be sitting just a place above the relegation zone coming in to this game if results go against them. It seems strange, or maybe comical depending on your supporter status, to be talking about results going against Manchester United bringing them closer to the relegation battle - but they need to turn the corner quickly and what better way than to beat your greatest rivals? 

Liverpool sit top with eight wins from eight after an impressive start which has seen them win at Chelsea, at home against Arsenal and scoring 20 goals while conceding six. There have been a few eyebrows raised in defence with plenty of nervous moments at the back compared to last season, particularly in Europe where they conceded five goals in their opening two games. Allison is in line to return in goal but more on that later. I have lost count the number of times the question has been asked - can Liverpool finally end this title drought? After last season's heroics still falling short, the start to this season has given renewed hope. In the last Premier League match day a stoppage time penalty seen off Leicester at Anfield. The previous week a howler from Dean Henderson, on loan from Manchester United, gifted the reds three points at Bramall Lane. Is this 'luck' about to run out or is this finally the time Liverpool fans can say 'this is our year' and lift the trophy after 30 years next summer? 

Recent H2H

It is widely known Manchester United have had the upper hand in the Premier League era. The popular opinion is that now Liverpool is beginning to gain the upper hand after two decades in their rivals' shadow in terms of Premier League titles. Regardless of recent form, like many grudge games or rivalries, each game is very difficult to call.

Last season at Old Trafford with Liverpool pushing towards the title and Manchester United battling Arsenal and Chelsea for that fourth place position, an injury-hit United side held their rivals to a 0-0 draw with Jesse Lingard having a chance to win the game late on. Liverpool dominated the ball but could not breach the United back line, similar to the previous visit to Old Trafford.  

However, in the meeting at Anfield last season, Lingard had levelled before half time after Mane had opened the scoring. Xherdan Shaqiri popped off the bench to earn three points with two second half strikes, which ultimately ended Jose Mourinho's reign as manager. It was in this game Liverpool fans realised they had a gem on their hands with an impressive display from Fabinho after a slow start to his Liverpool career. United had dug in, in true Mourinho style, but were ultimately out done from Liverpool who had 30+ shots during the game.

Rounding off the unpredictable nature of this fixture, Man United won at Old Trafford two seasons ago with another Mourinho like showing. In March 2018, the home side won 2-1 with Rashford bagging a double. Ashley Young kept Mo Salah out of the game as United went on to finish second in the league behind Man City, just as Liverpool did the following season, although they finished a whooping 19 points off the pace.

Team News / Key Players

Needless to say the injuries are piling up for the home side. Paul Pogba and David De Gea have been ruled out, possibly United's two best players on their day, which hasn't been for quite some time mind. Martial could feature, but Lingard is sidelined. Lingard has received a lot of criticism for his recent performances and also his numbers in regards to goals and assists, rightly so, but he has turned up for this game in recent seasons and will be a loss. Martial is a boost but with the Frenchman, Wan-Bissaka and Shaw all just returning from injury, picking a United XI is difficult. It will come down to McTominay continuing his progression in the side, while the likes of Pereira and Juan Mata will need to step up and prove they are Manchester United players. All eyes will be on Marcus Rashford who has looked disillusioned up top this season but is off the back of a goal scoring display for England and has three league goals this season. Defensively, Maguire and Lindelof have shown to be a solid partnership but they will be tested to a different level against the Liverpool front three and they struggled at times at home to Leicester so it will be interesting to see where they are with their partnership. 

All eyes will be on the front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino as they have the ability to make this game more comfortable than the recent head to heads. Firmino in particular has been earning rave reviews this season - I done a piece on the Brazilian front man a couple of weeks ago:

United are the only Premier League side Salah has played against more than once and not scored against so he will desperate to put that right this weekend. Mane has developed into one of the best finishers in the game this season, while the return of Matip and Allison is just in time for Liverpool and they should feature alongside the world's best defender in Virgil Van Dijk. Adrian has deputized well in place of Allison this season after a shaky start but having one of, if not the best, goalkeeper in world football in your side is always a boost. The defence has been a bit off in Europe this season, but then again it had its moments last season too, but the idea that the defence has been underperforming this season is a small bit of a myth. Six goals conceded in eight games including a howler by Adrian is not a bad return considering the high pressing attacking style implemented by Jurgen Klopp. Xherdan Shaqiri has barely featured since the game last December, rumoured to be due to ongoing injury concerns, but maybe the stage is set for the Swiss International to make his return to slay United once again - presuming he is fit of course. 

What do the Media think? 

Who Wins? 

They key to victory or a result for Manchester United for me is the same way they managed the previous two home results, sit in and dig deep for a result. The centre backs are capable of having a game and a half on their day to frustrate Liverpool and if Wan-Bissaka is passed fit this will be a huge boost. Rashford and/or Martial if he is passed fit must take whatever opportunity comes their way as I believe they will not see a lot of the ball. McTominay in the absence of Pogba will have huge responsibility to break up play and bring the ball forward against the energetic Liverpool midfield. Can they pull it off? It wouldn't be a massive shock with the history of this fixture but they are going to have to put in a performance at least five times better then they have done all season. If they go out and attack Liverpool from the first whistle and go shot for shot, they will be beaten. This might frustrate the fans but considering the injuries and poor performances going forward this season, a so called negative approach is the way forward. 

The away side just need to be relentless and give the home side no time on the ball. United are coming into this in terrible form with a lot of uncertainty around the club. Some of the players might feel the pressure and an early goal might kill off any belief heading into this one. The pressure is also on the Merseyside club, but they can lose this game and still stay top of the table. Trent-Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson must be tracked by the wide players but they are an obvious threat to any side against the European Champions. One to watch out for is Fabinho. He excelled at Anfield last season and has grown into one of the best holding players in Europe for me over the last few months. Without a need to keep an eye on Paul Pogba he will have the opportunity to bring the ball forward and open up what I suspect might be a wall of United defenders camped outside the 18 yard box. 

I can see an away win - but as I said no result would surprise me. What do you think? Drop a comment below or alternatively let me know on Facebook by giving us a like and dropping a comment. You can also contact me directly on Twitter.

 Let's sit back and enjoy the game - it could very well be a season defining one!