Sports

EPL: United’s title credentials face Liverpool test

History of sorts will be made this afternoon when for the first time since 2013 Manchester United will arrive Anfield to face North West rivals and champions, Liverpool sitting on top of the Premier League table – last season when they visited, they were 30 points behind their hosts.

 

And the last time United was on top of the table, Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge of the Red Devils and he successfully guided them to their last title before bowing out. Incidentally an additional spice has been added to the mix following Monday’s FA Cup draw which pitted the English powerhouses together in the standout fixture of the 4th Round – meaning that they will clash once again in a week’s time at Old Trafford

 

Although the marathon that is the league still has a long way to go, the fact that the two most successful clubs in the competition’s history are also sitting pretty at the top speaks volumes of the performances both sides after 17 weeks of unpredictable football action.

 

And no one will be more satisfied that United manager, Ole Gunner Solskjaer, who came under intense pressure at the start of the campaign with his players unexpectedly stumbling out of the blocks.

 

In fact the Red Devils kicked off the season with a shock 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace and then struggled to beat Brighton & Hove Albion in their next game. The worries of United fans hit a crescendo on October 4, 2020 when Tottenham Hotspur, coached by their former manager, Jose Mourinho, inflicted a 6-1 humiliation on their team.

 

However, in spite of the disquiet in the ranks of United supports, the Old Trafford hierarchy insisted that they were solidly behind Ole and he rewarded their faith with improved performances from the Red Devils which included impressive wins over PSG and RB Leipzig in the Champions League and an unbeaten run in the league.

 

Although they were to later implode in Europe, United has remained unbeaten in the domestic league since their shock defeat to Arsenal on November 1 and Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Burnley means that they are now unbeaten in 15 Premier League away fixtures, winning 12 of them, with their last defeat on the road coming at Anfield a year ago – the only team unbeaten away from home in the top flight this season.

 

Ole and his wards, however, face a stern test of this record and their title credentials against a side which has not lost at Anfield in 64 games dating back to April 2017 – that’s over 1,200 days, 28,800 hours or 1.7m minutes.

 

I n c i d e n t a l l y during this three and a half year run, United has spent £400 million on new players, Chelsea have had three managers and Spurs built a stadium!

 

The Red Devils have to go back five years to January 17, 2016 for the last time they have triumphed over the Reds at Anfield and it was achieved through a 78th minute strike by Wayne Rooney.

 

Incidentally there are a combined seven players from both teams who will remember that day with mixed emotions – Liverpool has three and United four survivors

 

The Liverpool players are James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino; while David De Gea, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata are the United players.

 

In three meetings with Jurgen Klopp, the United manager is yet to get the better of the German and although both of them may be pacesetters it is the Anfield side that start as favourites.

 

One big worry for United fans though is that Ole has a generally poor record against the big teams this campaign – he lost 6-1 to Spurs and played an insipid draw with Chelsea.

 

In two games against the team from the blue half of Manchester, City he played out a goalless draw in the league at Old Trafford and lost 2-0 in the League Cup semis. In fact although they were the home team in the knock out competition, Pep Guardiola’s side was the much better team on the day and deserved to make the final.

 

However, one positive for the United boss is that it appears his charges will be all fired up for the game as espoused by Paul Pogba after his strike fetched victory at Burnley. “It will be a beautiful game for everyone,” Pogba told BBC Sport ahead of the Anfield clash. “It’s a big game coming up so let’s get ready for it.”

 

“We knew if we won tonight we would be top of the league when we play Liverpool,” Pogba said. “We have to keep calm, now it is the big moment.

 

We will see what is going to happen.” In this game, the ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ is expected to revert to type keeping it tight and hoping to hit the Reds on the break. It served him very well last season ensuring he had wins over Spurs, Manchester City and Chelsea and should he be able to leave Anfield with even a point then United’s title credentials will truly have been enhanced.

 

In other games today, basement side, Sheffield United is home to Tottenham Hotspur, while Crystal Palace is at Manchester City. Match Day 18 concludes tomorrow in London where Arsenal welcome Newcastle United.

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