Manchester United-Liverpool Preview
Currently the champions-elect and unbeaten in the Premier League, Liverpool do not have to avenge any defeats through their first 21 matchdays. Jurgen Klopp's side, though, will not lack for motivation at Anfield on Sunday when they host the only club to take a point off them this term, eternal rivals Manchester United.
It is a matter of "when" and not "if" Liverpool will secure their first Premier League title in club history and first league title in 30 years since winning the First Division in 1990. The six-time European champions also have set a new standard in first-division football among the top five countries - England, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany -- by accumulating 61 points through their first 21 matches.
Liverpool (20-1-0), who are 14 points clear of reigning two-time champions Manchester City with a match in hand, laid claim to that record-setting mark with a 1-0 disposal of Tottenham Hotspur on Jan. 11 for their 12th league victory on the trot.
Roberto Firmino continued his stellar goal-scoring run with the match's lone marker on 37 minutes, and the defence was again airtight - Alisson recorded his sixth consecutive clean sheet as Liverpool have not been scored upon in 585 minutes during league play. The Merseysiders last conceded Dec. 4 when Everton's Richarlison scored in first-half stoppage time in the Liverpool's 5-2 derby triumph.
Much like getting up for a derby rival requires little motivation, the same can be said for Liverpool when facing United. The lack of a title in the Premier League era as United grew in stature with Sir Alex Ferguson has long been a sore point among Reds supporters, and after coming thisclose last term while being pipped by United's "noisy neighbours" City, Klopp is confident his club will provide their best effort.
"We know about how important it is to our supporters," Klopp noted at his Friday news conference. "But I hope people understand it, it's like we play against Everton, it's like an add-on for them. … But we said it long ago, I said it long ago, we have to write our own history.
"That means we have to play the games our way and that's what we try. So, very, very important game. We have to make it more likely that we are at our best in a game like this. For this, you have to treat it it like you treat all very, very important games for us."
Firmino's goal was his fifth in his last six matches in all competitions, and the Brazil international is capping an emotional week in which he completed a traditional Christian baptism with Alisson at his side in the pool at the striker's residence. The compatriots belong to the Hillsong Church evangelical group, of which Alisson was a member previously.
In the case of the rich getting richer, Klopp confirmed centre back Joel Matip and central midfielder Fabinho are available for selection after being sidelined with injuries. It remains to be seen if the Liverpool gaffer will prefer Matip to his current pairing of Joe Gomez with talisman Virgil Van Dijk, while Fabinho provides depth in the midfield with Naby Keita and James Milner confirmed absences.
Liverpool's 38-match unbeaten streak (33-5-0) is the third-longest in the Premier League era, but Manchester United knows a thing or two about ending such lengthy spells. United ended the only other two longer runs, stopping Chelsea's at 40 in 2005 and Arsenal's record 49-match stretch in 2004.
There are also two other lengthy streaks Liverpool are looking to extend. The Merseysiders have won 18 straight league matches at home since being held to a draw by Leicester City on Jan. 31, and the supporters have not seen a loss at the Anfield cauldron since April 2017, a run of 51 contests (41-10-0) since a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace.
This Manchester United (9-7-6), however, bears little resemblance to the Ferguson sides who lorded over the Premier League for so many seasons. Their fifth-place standing entering the match is tempered by the staggering 27-point gap between themselves and Liverpool, which is more than double the distance between themselves and the drop (13) entering this weekend's play.
Additionally, United's 34-point haul through 22 matches is their worst run of form since Liverpool's 1989-90 title-winning campaign.
What United do have, though, are a group of pacy attackers who can give Liverpool's back four all sorts of fits - especially if wide backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold get caught out bombing forward too often. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood have combined for 39 goals in all competitions, which is actually more than Liverpool's trident of Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane (36).
"The front three that they've got have been playing together for ages, well not ages, but for seasons now, and you can see the rotation, movements, understanding between them and we're hoping that our three will get that understanding in a while," United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said at his Friday news conference. "We've probably only started them once together, I think, the Newcastle one? So we've got a way to go to get to the level of the three, the understanding and consistency that Liverpool have had.
"But they scored four goals in that game, so it's probably something I've got to look at more often. So, I believe in ours, we're going to add to them, but in the years coming I'm sure we'll see lots of them three. Liverpool, they've scored more goals than us this year as well, outside of the front three, so I'm not going to say that ours are better than theirs, or theirs are better than ours. Sunday will be a game just by itself."
United showed flashes of their offensive prowess last weekend, putting last-place Norwich City to the sword with a 4-0 hiding at Old Trafford. That was followed by a 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton in a third-round FA Cup replay at home Wednesday. It was just the second time all term United have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in any competitions, and Martial sprung Mata for the only goal in Wednesday's win on 67 minutes.
Rashford, who played the final 26 minutes versus Wolves, is a major doubt for this game after aggravating a back injury. The England international has a team-best 19 goals in all competitions, including nine in his last 12 appearances. Rashford also accounted for United's goal in the reverse fixture, but all three of his goals in six league meetings versus Liverpool have come at Old Trafford.
United also said good-bye to one of their veterans this week as wide back Ashley Young left for Inter Milan. The 35-year-old and usual on-pitch talisman had become surplus to goods with both the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka before the season and more recently, the progress of Brandon Williams. Diogo Dalot could also be in the mix for a starting spot in this match, though left back Luke Shaw is out through injury.
All the talk of Liverpool going unbeaten would not be taking place had Adam Lallana not equalised in the 85th minute at Old Trafford on a cross from Robertson. The draw ended Liverpool's 17-match winning streak that stretched back to last term during their epic title race with City.
Liverpool are unbeaten in United's last four visits (2-2-0) to the red part of Merseyside and ran out 3-1 winners last term thanks to Xherdan Shaqiri's late brace. Then United-boss Jose Mourinho largely sat back and defended - something Solskjaer also did to near-maximum effect in October - as Liverpool ran up a staggering 36-6 edge in shots in that victory, including 11-2 on frame.
Updated January 17, 2020