Liverpool vs. Man U
Venue: Anfield Stadium
Kick off: 5:30PM
The biggest fixture in the English calendar will take on even more significance this afternoon when champions Liverpool host new Premier League leaders Manchester United at Anfield.
The two most successful clubs in the history of English football currently occupy the top two positions in the table, separated by only three points heading into this mouth-watering Merseyside meeting.
It is almost exactly a year ago to the day since these two sides last met, when Mohamed Salah raced clear at the Kop end to score Liverpool’s second goal in a 2-0 victory – a goal and result which was widely regarded as the moment Liverpool fans felt confident enough to unleash their first real roar of surety regarding their title drought coming to an end.
Twelve months later, the scene today will be very different; there will be no fans to witness this firecracker of a contest between these two great rivals and, even if there were, they certainly would not be making any claims that the title is already theirs.
That victory at Anfield sent Liverpool 16 points clear of second-placed Manchester City and a whopping 30 above Man United, yet this time around it is the Red Devils who go into the game as the pace-setters.
A run of 29 points from the last 33 on offer has seen Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side brush off a slow start to the campaign and soar to the top of the Premier League table, with Tuesday’s 1-0 triumph over Burnley lifting them three points above the champions and today’s hosts.
It is the first time Man United have been top after as many as 17 games of a season since Sir Alex Ferguson led them to their 20th title in 2012-13, a tally Liverpool moved back to within one of with their triumph last season.
For all of the dominant periods these two clubs have enjoyed throughout the years, they have only finished as the top two on five previous occasions, and just once in the Premier League era, 12 years ago.
With only four points separating first from fifth it is too early to suggest that that could be the case again this season, but if both sides are able to maintain their title charges then the reverse of this fixture at the start of May is likely to be one of the biggest Liverpool vs. Manchester United showdowns yet.
For Man United to even be in that conversation this season is something of a surprise, and Solskjaer has insisted that victory for his side at Anfield would still constitute an “upset” and a “shock”, regardless of what the league table says.
The visitors will undoubtedly travel to Merseyside full of belief that they can come away with a statement-making win, though, having won nine and lost none of their last 11 top-flight outings stretching back to November 1.
Away from home Man United have not lost in the league since that last trip to Anfield almost exactly a year ago – a run of 15 games which includes 12 victories, 11 of which have come in their last 12 such matches.
Another win at Anfield would already equal last season’s tally of eight away league triumphs and would also be just the second time in United’s illustrious history that they have managed to win eight or more of their opening nine away league games of a campaign.
More optimism will be gained by the fact that, just as Man United have hit top form, Liverpool have suffered one of their worst blips in recent years.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have picked up two points from their last three games and could go four without a victory for the first time since February 2017, having been held by West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United before losing at Southampton last time out.
Remarkably, Liverpool have never lost back-to-back league games under Klopp, last doing so in September 2015 under Brendan Rodgers when the second match in that run was a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Man United.
Klopp himself has not overseen successive league defeats since April 2015, during his time in charge of Borussia Dortmund.
The champions have since bounced back with a 4-1 FA Cup triumph against Aston Villa’s youngsters to return to winning ways, but worryingly in the Premier League even their goals have seemingly dried up lately.
Since scoring seven goals from eight shots on target in their obliteration of Crystal Palace on December 19, Liverpool have since only managed seven shots on target combined from their next three games, scoring just once in the process.
The Reds had scored in every league game this season prior to their back-to-back blanks against Newcastle and Southampton respectively, and they could now go three top-flight games without a goal for the first time since March 2005.
The defeat to Southampton in their last league outing also means that they have now dropped 18 points this season, which is more than across the whole of each of their previous two campaigns, and another loss today would see them begin a calendar year with consecutive league defeats for the first time since 1993.
However, it is far from all doom and gloom for the champions; their recent attacking bluntless must be balanced with the fact that they are still the leading scorers in the league, while at the other end they boast the second-best defence in the top five despite playing most of the season without their two main centre-backs.
There is also the Anfield factor to take into account for this game, with Liverpool now 67 home games unbeaten in the Premier League, winning 55 of those – and 32 of their last 34 – in a run which stretches back to April 2017.
West Bromwich Albion’s smash-and-grab draw in Liverpool’s final home game of 2020 was only the second time they have dropped league points at Anfield in almost two years, and they have scored in each of their last 42 top-flight outings on home turf, stretching back to a goalless draw with Manchester City in October 2018.
Liverpool possible XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson, Henderson, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Man United possible XI: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Rashford, Fernandes, Pogba, Martial.