Battle Lines Drawn as United and Liverpool Face Off at Old Trafford
The influx of new money in the Premier League has brought new rivalries to the forefront of people’s thinking, but new or old money, or even if there was no money, the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool would stand the test of time.
The two will meet for the 228th time in all competitions on Saturday, and this one matters as much as all those before.
A mere 35 miles separates these two giants of the game and with so many workplaces containing fans of the red of United and red of Liverpool, the bragging rights that mean so much are up for grabs.
The Premier League title is out of reach for both, but the title of next best behind Manchester City is on the line and Saturday’s clash at Old Trafford has the makings of an interesting tactical battle.
In the reverse fixture in October at Anfield, United boss Jose Mourinho adopted an ultra-cautious approach that resulted in a 0-0 draw and saw the Portuguese accused of parking the bus.
Mourinho, in typical Mourinho way, turned the focus on his counterpart Jurgen Klopp by expressing surprise that the Liverpool manager did not change the shape of his side to open the game up.
The Portuguese won’t be able to offer up that defence this time, he is at home and the onus will be on his side to attack.
United went on the attack towards the end of their win at Crystal Palace on Monday, they had no other option at 2-0 down and there’s no way Mourinho will be so open on Saturday.
What he has to do is find an attacking style that still nullifies the threat of Liverpool. Klopp’s Reds will line up in a 4-3-3 – with Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane carrying the threat to the Red Devils.
How Mourinho counters that threat without looking too defensive is the conundrum the Portuguese will have been attempting to solve in training this week.
Alexis Sanchez has not yet clicked since his January move from Arsenal, but it would raise eyebrows were Mourinho to bench a man he snatched from under the noses of Manchester City.
Another poser for Mourinho is the status of Paul Pogba. The club’s record signing looks extremely out of sorts, and he was fortunate not to be hooked against Palace as he appeared to be going through the motions at times.
There’s no doubt Pogba is happiest and most effective on the left of a midfield three, but it appears Mourinho does not feel he has the resources to accommodate him in that role at present. But, again, benching Pogba for arguably the biggest game of the season would cause more than an eyebrow or two to be raised.
With United being at home, it’s up to Mourinho to take the lead and the intrigue is how far he pushes the needle on account of the substantial threat posed by Liverpool’s attacking trio.
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