Who will be crowned kings of the north?
November 1st, 2020, a depleted Manchester United lose at home by a goal to nil against Arsenal and drop to 15th in the Premier League table. 24 hours later, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer becomes the most popular bet on the football betting market, 38% of all bets placed were on the Norwegian to be the next manager sacked in the league.
Fast forward to January 12th, 2021. Paul Pogba’s spectacular winner against Burnley steers Ole’s men top of the Premier league, the first time Man United have been top in January since 2013. United’s form following the defeat to rivals Arsenal, has seen them win their last 9 of 11 in the league.
Safe to say no one saw that coming…
All eyes will be on Anfield this Sunday as Premier League Champions, Liverpool hosts their North-West rivals Manchester United, in a battle for the top spot in the Premier League.
Liverpool Vs Manchester United
A packed Anfield faithful witnessed their beloved Liverpool dispose of Manchester United this time last year, Mohammed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk leading them to a 2-nil win. That win left a sorry United in 5th position, trailing Liverpool by a whopping 30 points.
A lot can change in a calendar year, the world has been struck by a global Pandemic, Donald Trump’s Twitter fingers were finally banned, and oh yes of course… Manchester United sit 3 points clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool has dominated the league for the past two seasons. The 2018/2019 season saw them finish second to Manchester City with an outstanding 97 points, which would have won them the league in 25 of the previous 27 League seasons. Last season saw Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a league trophy come to an end as they clinched the title with an astronomical 99 points.
The electric, exuberant style of Klopp’s men saw them suffocate opponents with their pressing and counter attacking football, killing teams off within the first 20 minutes of a game. Take it from me, an Arsenal fan who has witnessed one too many thrashings from Liverpool.
However, Klopp’s “Rock N’ Roll” brand of football has shown signs of weakness this season, injuries have dealt a huge blow in their aspirations of winning a 20th League title, a feat only achieved by this Sunday’s opponent – Manchester United.
Liverpool host united following a shocking 1 nil defeat at the hands of Southampton in their previous Premier League outing. Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuettl seemed the most taken aback by it all as he cried tears of joy at the full-time whistle. The red side of Merseyside will hope the form book goes out the window for this game, winning only twice from their five previous matches in the league.
Despite Liverpool’s inconsistencies this term, they have only lost twice in the league. United, on the other hand, is currently the inform team in the league accumulating 13 points from a possible 15.
United are considered genuine title contenders for the first time since Alex Ferguson left in 2013 when they last won the Premier League.
The Red Devil’s away record has been key to United’s success under Ole, they have only lost once away from home in the past year, the 2.0 defeat to Liverpool last season. Klopp’s men may feel threatened by United for the first time in a few seasons, but their record at home is not one to go unnoticed.
Liverpool have forgotten the feeling of losing at Anfield, the last loss coming back in April 2017, long before social distancing ever became the norm.
Liverpool will feel well-rested for the encounter; a nine-day break followed their FA Cup win against Aston Villa – Good job they didn’t fly out to Dubai like the rest of the UK.
The current Champions of England will continue to navigate around their injury crisis, Naby Keita has been ruled out, alongside Joe Gomez and arguably the world’s best defender Virgil Van Dijk. In contrast to Liverpool’s defensive injury meltdown, United have become far more resilient at the back, somewhat down to the resurgence of Eric Baily.
Joel Matip will undergo a late fitness test to decide whether he can take part this Sunday, but as Klopp mentioned in his press conference prior to the game. “Why play him after only two days of training, we will have to wait and see”.
Over the past two seasons, both Henderson and Fabinho have been integral cogs in the Jurgen Klopp system, dictating play from the centre of the midfield – effortlessly may I add.
However, with injuries to Van Dijk and protégé Joe Gomez, Klopp has been forced to deploy the unlikely pairing of Henderson and Fabinho at the back. Fabinho’s performances have been sensational up to date ranking first in all defensive aspects for Liverpool, including tackling and interceptions.
Do not be surprised to see the unlikely duo at the heart of the Liverpool defence this Sunday.
Bruno Fernandes goes into the highly anticipated contest on the back of winning the Premier League player of the month for December, becoming the first player to win the award four times in a calendar year.
The Portuguese maestro has helped United catapult to the summit of the league, scoring three and assisting four in December. His 15-goal contribution so far this season has got United fans off their living room sofa’s, many likening him to United legend Eric Cantona
Liverpool’s Juggernaut attacking trio is bound to cause a lack of sleep for Ole and his defenders prior to the game, Salah is in familiar territory as the Egyptian leads the Premier League golden boot race with 13 goals.
Marcus Rashford continues to shine this season, scoring 7 and assisting 5 league goals. The Englishman’s ruthlessness on the field has translated to off the field recently, leading campaigns regarding child poverty.
Quite worrying when a footballer is doing more for a nation than its leaders, the times we live in ay?
Ole can take his side 6 points clear of the table with a win at Anfield, the United manager understands the colossal challenge that awaits this Sunday. “Liverpool at Anfield is one of the great challenges, this will be a test for us to see where we are at against the best”.
Rivalry or not Jurgen Klopp insists there is no extra incentive to beat United, “It makes no difference that it’s United, we must be at our best if we are to retain the league – United will be difficult”.
Ole’s time to shine?
United have failed to beat Liverpool in their last 5 encounters, dating back to 2018. Nevertheless, their growing momentum will give them the very best chance of beating their rivals this weekend.
Despite Liverpool’s indifferent start to the season, it is difficult looking past their impressive home record in the league.
As England’s two most decorated clubs come together this weekend, the stage is set for a cracker of a contest.
Who do you believe will reign supreme in the battle of the North?
Score Prediction: Liverpool 2- 1 Manchester United
Liverpool predicted XI (4-3-3): Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Fabinho, Robertson, Milner, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Mane
Manchester United predicted XI (4-3-3): De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw, Fred, McTominay, Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford, Cavani
Kick-off: Sunday, 17th January, 16:30, Anfield.
Written by: Hassan El-gendy
First published on: TheZoneLDN