Liverpool travel to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon hoping to both boost their mildly flagging title aspirations and tarnish Ole Solskjaer’s biggest game yet as Manchester United boss. Though arguably Liverpool’s toughest away trip left this season, where many would see a point as a good result versus an ever resurgent United, unfortunately for Klopp’s men good probably won’t be quite good enough if they want to achieve what they have threatened to do for large spells of this season.
This clash of familiar foes has been given an intriguing twist since the last time these two met back in mid-December, even though it seems a lot longer ago than that. Since that humbling 3-0 loss at Anfield, Jose Mourinho’s shock exit prompted a turnaround in fortunes that not even the most stupidly optimistic United fan could have envisaged. Other than a 2-0 home defeat to a world class PSG side, under the guidance of their former striker United have gone two months unbeaten. Beating Spurs, Arsenal and most recently Chelsea along the way. Meaning they come into Sunday’s clash with Klopp’s Liverpool side as a completely different animal altogether despite being the same group of individuals who were stuttering so badly under Mourinho’s reign.
Make of United’s transformation what you will yet it’s clear that Solskjaer is doing much more than patting the odd back and saying ‘go and express yourself lad’ from time to time. A developing tactical prowess has been evident in recent weeks despite that deflating home defeat to PSG. United’s boss is seemingly utilising the tools at his disposal far better than his famous predecessor. This is evident all over the pitch, United’s talented front-line is firing, while Paul Pogba is currently one of the form players in Europe let alone the premiership. United’s defence, though not without blunder, is visibly more organised and tougher to break down, something that has gone slightly under the radar since Solskjaer’s arrival as interim boss.
So naturally in the build up to this one, much of the focus has been on the team 14 points behind the other in the table. Many in the media have claimed that if Solskjaer can inspire his team to beat Liverpool then he should he offered the job permanently. Which is certainly difficult to argue against looking at the current state of United as a footballing force compared to late 2018. It is in this haze of excitement around United that Klopp’s side may be able to fully assert their own ambitions for glory. After a couple of average performances in the league followed by a well contested 0-0 draw versus Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, some around Old Trafford may be underestimating Liverpool more than they would have a month or so ago. And the hype around the possible ramifications of a United victory has perhaps taken the focus away from a Liverpool side that only Man City have beaten domestically this season.
Some will of course assert that Solskjaer would never let his side underestimate Liverpool and indeed its extremely likely they will. However his side, in trying to go for the jugular and completing an historic win for their new manager’s might find themselves bitten by the electrifying quality that Klopp’s side still possess. This possible naivety might be something that the United no longer possess yet Klopp will surely ensure that United’s apparent new make up is tested to its very limits and it’ll be fascinating viewing seeing how the home side cope.
The return of defensive talisman Virgil Van Dyk will boost the visitors hopes’, in fact other than Joe Gomez, Klopp’s will essentially have his first choice eleven to choose from. Something that should give Liverpool the boost that they have lacked domestically in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the home side will hope that Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard are available for selection with Alexis Sanchez being one of the few players Solskjaer has been unable to galvanise since his arrival. With Liverpool’s high intensity approach especially early in games, Solskjaer-eqse super subs could prove to be crucial in the final third of the match for United.
With a Manchester City side, that seems to be back to somewhere approaching it’s best, busy at Wembley on Sunday Liverpool have the chance to make a real statement of intent versus their bitter rivals. On a day when many are wondering if Ole and United can do the same.
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