Can United upset Liverpool at Anfield?

We preview Sunday's huge Premier League clash at Anfield
Ryan Baldi  |  14th December 2018

Manchester United haven’t lost a league game to Liverpool since 2014.

Since then, England’s two biggest and most successful clubs have faced off eight times, with three draws and five United wins.

So recent history is on the Red Devils side, even if form isn’t.

Form

Liverpool are currently top of the Premier League table, a point clear of reigning champions Manchester City and still unbeaten after 16 games.

Jurgen Klopp’s men already have 13 wins to their name, with just six points dropped and six goals conceded.

If their continue their current defensive performance, Liverpool will break the record for the fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season, which currently stands at the miserly 15 Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea shipped in 2004/05.

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This degree of solidity at the back is a relatively new development at Anfield, thanks to the £75million signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton last January and the £66million purchase of Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson from Roma in the summer.

And now that Liverpool’s attack is clicking back into gear, with Mohamed Salah back on top of the Premier League scoring chart with ten goals, United face an uphill task to come away from Merseyside with a positive result.

Defeat to Valencia in a Champions League dead rubber on Wednesday should not dishearten United too much as several key players were rested.

The Red Devils restored some momentum – and a positive goal difference – with a 4-1 thumping of Fulham last weekend at Old Trafford, snapping a run of four Premier League games without a win.

However, still only sixth in the table, a full eight points outside the top four and 16 behind Liverpool, Mourinho’s men will need a result at Anfield to keep their hopes of Champions League qualification alive.

The Big Decisions

Despite Liverpool’s fine form, Klopp still doesn’t appear to know his best team.

The front three picks itself, while the backline was as good as set in stone before Joe Gomez’s recent injury.

But in midfield the German tactician has tinkered more than most would have expected at the start of the season.

New arrivals Naby Keita and Fabinho have impressed of late, finally adjusting to life in the Premier League. But they still don’t appear to have Klopp’s full trust, with the likes of captain Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum apparently preferred in key fixtures.

And Klopp has alternated between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations this term, with the latter often sacrificing a midfielder to accommodate Xherdan Shaqiri on the right flank, which then sees Salah deployed as a central striker.

Doing so against United would be a bold move.

United are 6.35 to beat Liverpool at Anfield*

In recent seasons, Mourinho has tended to ‘park the bus’ at Anfield, opting for a cautious tactical approach which aims to minimise risk at the expense of attacking intent.

This frustrates many fans, who prefer to see the Red Devils take a front-foot approach against every opponents, but two draws from Mourinho’s two Anfield trips as United manager suggests there is merit to his risk-averse ways.

However, another draw could see United fall yet further behind the top four this weekend. It might well be the case that the 20-time champions need to record a victory over their old enemy to keep their hopes of qualifications for next year’s Champions League alive.

This is where Mourinho is presented with selection dilemmas. Juan Mata, two-goal hero of United’s last win at Anfield, in 2015, has been productive in his first-team opportunities so far this season and arguably delivers more consistently than any United attacker. But the Spaniard is often sacrificed in big games. He should be given a chance on Sunday.

The biggest question mark, however, rests above Paul Pogba’s head. The Frenchman has been dropped for United’s last two league outings after a drab, error-ridden display in a 2-2 draw with Southampton two weeks ago.

Brought back in to face Valencia in midweek, the 25-year-old was anonymous. The fact is, though, he is United’s most gifted player and is capable of things his colleagues are not when it comes to creating chances and producing unpredictable moments of magic.

Will Mourinho bring Pogba back in from the cold? Or will he opt to pack his midfield with defensive-minded battlers?

 

*Odds subject to change

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