Talking during the week, United legend Paul Scholes confirmed that Liverpool were viewed as Manchester United’s fiercest rivals. He concluded by saying, “We don’t really want them to win anything”.
Such comments dispel any doubts about the relevance and importance of this fixture. And, with Liverpool chasing their first top-flight title since 1990 – something United will be eager to play their part in denying them – Old Trafford on Sunday will not be a place for the unfocused or faint-hearted. This game matters.
Manchester United have been a revelation since Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over in December. Eleven wins and a draw from 13 matches since then have turned around a season that was entering crisis point.
Their only blip came at home to PSG in the Champions League on February 12th, when they lost 2-0. They will have a chance to put that right in the second leg in Paris on March 6th.
Thirty goals scored in those 13 matches show that they have also rediscovered their scoring touch, not least Paul Pogba, with nine goals in the twelve games he has played under the new manager. Marcus Rashford has chipped in with six.
While United have moved into fourth in the table, Liverpool will enter this match in second place, on the same number of points as Man City but with this as their game in hand. They have won 20 of their 26 league games this season, losing just one.
Much as they are unbeaten in their last six matches (five in the league, one in the Champions League), they have drawn three of them. In fact, they have now won just three of their last eight matches in all competitions, so have encountered a bit of a wobble.
A further possible worry is that they have scored more than one goal in a game just twice in their last eight matches. Sadio Mané has been their best striker of late, with three goals in his last four starts, although Mo Salah has six in his last ten starts – but he hasn’t scored in his last four starts.
Liverpool have kept seven clean sheets in their last 14 matches. Man Utd have kept three in their last four games and six since Solskjær took over.
Aside from the PSG stumble, United are back playing incisive, pacey, attacking football and they also look better defensively, particularly with Matić and Herrera protecting the back-four.
Liverpool’s defensive structure has been upset recently by injuries or illness at various times to Lovren, Gomez, Alexander-Arnold and Matip. Also, their best defender, Angel van Dijk, was suspended for the PSG Champions League first leg.
All bar Gomez and Lovren will be available against United, although Alexander-Arnold didn’t look at his sharpest upon his return against PSG. Such a potential flaw will be worked upon by United.
Liverpool can match dogged, pressing midfield play with flowing, quick attacks. In truth, though, neither side will give an inch, particularly early on as in these games it is important not to lose as much as it is to win. Accordingly, free-kicks and corners could prove to be key in the match.
Unusually, Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson has not looked as commanding and reassuring a presence of late so will need to rediscover those parts of his game for such a big match.
News came out on Friday that Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial “have a chance of returning” from injury for this match, which would be a huge boost for United.
Solskjær added in a press conference, though, that, “We’ve got options, it’s a big squad, good players, everyone’s eager”. It’s a side full of confidence, not least after knocking holders Chelsea out of the FA Cup on Monday.
Virgil van Dijk will return for Liverpool, but Dejan Lovren will miss out owing to a hamstring problem. Joe Gomez is still sidelined after fracturing his right leg and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is progressing well from his knee injury but is not yet fit to return.
It should be tight to start with and, if neither team scores, will probably stay that way. This said, the last ten scores in this league fixture at Old Trafford have been:
2-1, 1-1, 3-1, 3-0, 0-3, 2-1, 2-1, 3-2, 2-1 and 1-4
This means there has been only one draw in the last ten league encounters at Old Trafford and, in nine of the games, over 2.5 goals would have been a winning bet. Seven of the matches have been won by United.
As it’s a Double The Odds On First Goalscorer Bets match with us, the in-form Marcus Rashford (11/2) gets the nod to get the opener. He’s a Man Utd fan so understands more than most just how important this game is.
A suggested score is Man Utd to win 2/1 (9/1)