With the turn of the new year, the Premier League is now shaping up to be a thriller. Only five points separates second from sixth place, with Manchester United being the league’s form team. Match day 21 sees two old rivals facing off for the 168th time in top flight history. Jose Mourinho‘s Red Devils will be full of confidence coming off the back of nine consecutive wins, a feat that was last achieved nine years ago under Sir Alex Ferguson. Liverpool prior to the last two cup games has been impressive winning 13 out of their first 20 games and losing only two times. They have put on some thrilling attacking displays and will be confident of scoring at Old Trafford come Sunday.
Things to exploit
While Liverpool has been great in attack, they have been let down so far this season in their defense and goalkeeping. Young Loris Karius, who was seen by Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool’s number one, has been woeful since his arrival and though his defense has let him down on numerous occasions he would have looked back on quite a few blunders, hesitations and indecisiveness and think he could have done much better. Man United will undoubtedly be looking to exploit their leaky defense and indecisive goalkeeping early on through their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The ever supercilious Ibrahimovic who recently claimed “I have conquered England in 3 months” has scored 13 goals in the league thus far, one behind front-runner Diego Costa of Chelsea.
Manchester United who now looks impenetrable, are playing some of their best football in recent years, controlling games from midfield – with impressive performances from their midfield three of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and veteran Michael Carrick. Pogba, who is now finding his feet and beginning to show the world why United were willing to spend £89m to get his signature, has been dominating the opposition in midfield in recent games. Herrera, the ever energetic and precise Spaniard whose intelligence and understanding of the game has helped him to unlock some very stubborn defenses, and the old trusty Englishman Michael Carrick who was once described as a ‘Rolls Royce by former midfield general Paul Scholes. Carrick at the age of 35 is in the twilight of his career but is turning out displays like a young man in his prime.
Liverpool would want to breach United’s defense by exploiting makeshift left back Matteo Darmian. The young Italian might very well be the chink in Jose Mourinho’s armour this season and though Senegalese star Sadio Mané is not available to play due to international obligations, whomever is deployed on the wing in his absence should be looking to capitalise on the slow wing back.
This is a match up that needs no sensationalism, a virtual cup final in itself. A battle that supersedes football and dates back to the late 1800s when the rivalry existed on the docks of the North about commerce and trade in the region’s port of entry. Manchester United versus Liverpool remains one of those matches you will hate yourself for missing regardless of your persuasion. Sure, there might be no Gary Neville or Jamie Carragher…no Andy Cole or Michael Owen but even with this new crop of players the rivalry still remains deeply embedded into the fibres of the EPL’s DNA.