As we emerge from the dross that is modern international football the game that for many is one of the two most important games every year beckons. The other most important game is obviously the return fixture in what has developed in to one of the biggest rivalries in sport.
I often wonder why this rivalry is greater for many than either the Manchester or Merseyside derbies. For me it all goes back to 70’s & 80’s when Liverpool were all conquering at home and abroad.
During this time Manchester United fans always had high expectation but were confined to good cup runs as their fans watched their near neighbours collecting silverware on a yearly basis. In this time a mark of how the club were performing was whether or not they could achieve a result against the champions.
Enter Sir Alex Ferguson and the tables were turned completely. Ferguson struck a chord with United fans when he pronounced he was going to knock Liverpool off their perch. The dominance shown in the ensuing years in the Premier League was somewhat reminiscent of Liverpool dominance of old. Success by one side or the other fuelled the rivalry over the years and on the evidence of the early season it appears the Liverpool star might be rising again. It’s way too early to make any pronouncements like “It’s our year” but all Liverpool fans can take heart from the good start to the season and results against some of the “better sides”. The same can’t be said of United, it has been an unremarkable start to the season with many of the stars not attaining the levels fans believe them capable of.
Eric Bailly has had a very impressive start with a no nonsense approach and good physical presence. This is something that has been missing since the departure of Vidic. Paul Pogba has not given any displays that would allow one justify his massive transfer fee. There may be an argument to be made that he is not at his best playing as a part of a deep lying two in midfield and he would thrive if placed in what some refer to as the Number 10 position behind the striker, a position similar to that played by Gerrard behind Torres.
Up front we know we will see both Zlatan Ibrahamovic and Marcus Rashford at some stage. Both will pose different problems for the Liverpool defence, Zlatan with his power and physical presence and Rashford with his pace and goal scoring threat.
For Liverpool a massive decision has to be made in relation to who starts in goal. Simon Mignolet has not lived up to the levels expected since his arrival but then again Loris Karius has not set the world on fire in his time on the pitch either.
Whoever starts will need to step up to the mark as United will more than likely have more than three shots on target which is all Swansea managed in the last game.
Good news on the injury front for the hosts sees Nathaniel Clyne and Dejan Lovren both available for selection. Lovren is like a player reborn this season after what by his own admissions was a poor one last year. They will most likely be partnered by Joël Matip and James Milner who has adapted well to playing at left back.
Georginio Wijnaldum at the time of writing looks very doubtful so it remains to be seen what the midfield combination will be. Apparently there is a conspiracy whereby Danny Blind (father of United player Dailey) who is the Holland manager left him on the pitch despite being told at half time by the player that his hamstring was tight. Sure don’t we all love a good conspiracy ?
Starting Lucas might be a good plan as he will get stuck in and battle with the opposition midfield. He can if necessary go man to man on Pogba. I expect Adam Lallana and JordanHenderson to start also. This leaves three more places up for grabs and these will most likely be filled by Phillips Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadie Mané who are fluid enough to move around positions as needs require.
The bulk of the threat will come from this trio. Coutinho on his day is one of the best players in the Premier League. He is technically gifted and brings a threat from open play and set pieces. Mané brings the pace and power which will test the opposition defence.
Jürgen Klopp will set out his team to work hard and press. This is key to his philosophy as to how the game should be played and it worked so well with Borussia Dortmund. It requires 100% commitment and work ethic from the players which might explain why Daniel Sturridge won’t start the game as his style isn’t suited to this and Klopp is about the players adapting to the system rather than adapting his system to suit a player as naturally talented as Sturridge.
I would not be so bold as to predict as to how José Mourinho will set up his team. He has some big calls to make at centre half and midfield. Fosu-Mensah may well get the nod at right back amid some indifferent performances from Valencia.
If Luke Shaw recovers and gets picked then the choice of Chris Smalling or Danny Blind to partner Bailly will be crucial. Either way a full back pairing of Shaw (just back from injury) and Valencia/Fosu-Mensah is no doubt something Klopp will look to target.
The Rooney situation will be interesting with the majority of United fans preferring to see him on the bench than starting. Rooney’s days as a starter look numbered, Zlatan is the main striker and barring injury that will not change soon.
Jesse Lingards work ethic has seen him retain his position and now Rashford seems to have the edge over an out of sorts Anthony Martial. Key to United getting a result for me is whether or not Pogba can start producing what he was signed to do, dominating at midfield. At Juventus he had Vidal doing a lot of the hard work for him now it remains to be seen if he can start earning some of the massive wages and transfer fees he as commanded.
I expect a tight game between these two sides on Monday. A win for Liverpool really sets them up for what should be five wins from their next five league games ahead of the Merseyside derby against high flying Everton. A win for United should give a confidence boost ahead of a tough schedule of games including an away day at Chelsea and then home to Arsenal as well as the distraction of playing Europa League games and the small matter of a league cup game against Man City.
My verdict however is a draw.
Written by @wjhoran