You can take the route Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has chosen and play it off as just another game or you can go the way of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and call it the biggest match ever — no matter how you slice it, what goes down at Old Trafford tomorrow is going to be of the utmost importance to both of them.
With nine matches left to play in the campaign, a mere two points separate these eternal enemies; a win in Stretford sees the Reds leapfrog their hosts in to second place while a win for United sees them solidify their Premier League runners-up status with pace-setters Manchester City a lock to take the title. Neither team will be particularly thrilled to finish behind Pep Guardiola’s side, but that won’t even be a consideration come kick-off time tomorrow.
That 90-minutes is all that matters; winning is all that matters.
After missing out on the Champions League outing against FC Porto midweek with a slight knock, Liverpool fullback Andrew Robertson is back in training and will almost certainly be in the starting eleven come Saturday. Loris Karius will keep his spot between the sticks and Virgil van Dijk will be marshaling proceedings in the hearts of the Reds defense, but who else will Klopp call on? Is it going to be Joel Matip or Dejan Lovren alongside the Dutchman? Will local lad Trent Alexander-Arnold get the nod on the right or will the physicality of Joe Gomez edge him out of contention?
A front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah is a given and Klopp will rely on the trio to terrorize what’ll certainly be a defensive minded United side, but who is behind them winning balls and creating chances? My guess would be Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and James Milner; although, with Georginio Wijnaldum back in the mixer and Adam Lallana looking hungry, there could be a surprise coming our way.
Infographic courtesy of Kickoff.co.uk
“It’s the biggest game I can imagine,” stressed Klopp, sounding uncharacteristically serious. “First of all really looking forward to it but as always it will be difficult. We need to be at 100% if not even a few more to get something there. But of course that’s the plan,” explained the German manager. “It’s a good moment to go there but it’s still unbelievably difficult moment. Man United have outstanding quality we all know that,” added the gaffer. “They have a home game which we would say that’s an advantage if we played at advantage, so they have that advantage and it’s our job to level that.”
Romelu Lukaku, who has four goals in his last four home games, will be United’s main attacking outlet, but if there was ever a game for new boy Alexis Sanchez to get his Red Devils career well and truly going, it’s this one. Keeping things tight at the back will be the primary concern for the hosts and Nemanja Matic will play a key role in this — though injuries to the likes of Ander Herrera and defensive trio Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Daley Blind could be telling. Liverpool, for their part, have scored a truly impressive 34-goals on the road this season.
Trips to Old Trafford are never is easy, but the fact that United have been beaten only once at home since the start of the campaign — to City, of course — ratchets up the pressure on Mourinho’s side to deliver. You can’t roll over to your two biggest rivals in front of your own fans and get away with it, can you?
Couple the fact that a win for us would push them out of second place with the fact that they’ve got a massive Champions League outing against Sevilla just over the horizon and things are looking complicated for that lot. Having been beaten only once in our last 20-matches and scoring goals seemingly at will, there’s no reason not to be bullish; the nerves will always be there, but the expectation is different now. We used to travel there hoping we wouldn’t lose — now we’re doing it knowing we should win.
Let’s have it.