In the early weeks of the Premier League season, plenty has pointed towards a potential title challenge for Liverpool. But you sense the most emphatic indication of their credentials to be the top dog in English football would be a win over bitter rivals Manchester United at Anfield on Monday.
A lot has aligned for the Merseyside club early on. After a tough start to the campaign, including clashes with last season’s top three and Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp has steered this group of players to 16 points from seven games, playing some pulsating football in the process.
Given the goals scored, team spirit cultivated and the free midweeks on the team’s schedule that have previously been filled by European matches, there’s a lot in Liverpool’s favor when it comes to a potential run at the championship.
More than United have in their favor currently, anyway. While Liverpool have been fluid and functional in the early weeks of the season, Jose Mourinho’s version of Manchester United have been fractured. The manager will be aware an improvement is needed if they’re to triumph at Anfield.
While the Premier League’s unforgiving nature means there are no straightforward fixtures, should Liverpool overcome their rivals on Monday, the run of games upcoming will give them an outstanding chance to build huge momentum. A memorable night in front of their fervent supporters would keep the fire currently burning under the Reds roaring.
By contrast, United still look as though they need a trigger. It could have come against Manchester City earlier in the campaign, but the Red Devils came up short in so many departments. Mourinho can’t allow another enemy to show his side up.
When and where to watch the game on TV/streaming:
Date: Monday, October 17
Time: 3 p.m. (ET), Noon (PT)
US TV: NBCSN and NBC Universo
US streaming: NBC Sports App and Sling Blue (free trial)
While Liverpool supporters have always been a fanatical and ambitious bunch, there’s credence to their untamed excitement at this point in the campaign.
On the pitch, their team is exhibiting some tremendous play at breakneck pace. On the sidelines their exuberant manager prowls and punches the air. While the stadium itself has been bolstered with the pristine, imposing main stand. Positivity and purpose have engulfed the red section of Merseyside.
So while clashes with Manchester United may have been greeted with some apprehension during the Premier League years, this one—under the lights at Anfield after a two-week international hiatus—is being looked upon with anticipation. Liverpool are a force at the moment and some supporters quite fancy the hosts to give Mourinho’s men a chasing.
Klopp has so much variety in attack. Sadio Mane has brought a vital thrust, while the intricacy of Philippe Coutinho, intelligence of Roberto Firmino and industry of Adam Lallana means there are various ways in which he can set the XI up. That’s without considering Daniel Sturridge, who has been among the goals during the international break.
There will be some small concerns for the manager, though. Coutinho and Firmino have both clocked up the air miles for Brazil, Lallana suffered a knock last time out against Swansea City, while Georginio Wijnaldum also hobbled off for the Netherlands on international duty.
It may mean some juggling in midfield positions, although Emre Can is an excellent player to call upon to line up alongside Jordan Henderson at the hub of the team. And provided the German coach can get a selection of the aforementioned attacking options in the XI, the United back four will be in for a testing evening.
Joe Allen’s late equalizer for Stoke City against United in their previous outing left those at Old Trafford feeling a little blue as they embarked on the international break. And it was a reminder that Mourinho has plenty of work to do in his new role.
There have been times during this season, most notably during the tussle with Leicester City, when the Red Devils have slipped into a devastating attacking groove. That afternoon Paul Pogba pulled the strings, Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the line brilliantly, while Juan Mata added some vital guile to the attacking forays.
However, finding that top gear on a consistent basis has been a struggle for Mourinho’s men. Against Stoke there were spells when the hosts had their opponents pinned back, but too frequently a lack of care or a streak of complacency prevented the Red Devils from putting that one to bed.
That’ll irk Mourinho, although he’ll be expecting a response from his players in what’ll be adverse conditions on Monday. Indeed, there’ll be an onus on the Portuguese himself; a staple of Mourinho’s management in recent years has been formulating a blueprint for picking up wins in these titanic tussles.
It’s a blueprint that’s unlikely to include captain Wayne Rooney, who scored the winner in this fixture last term. The striker has faced the ignominy of being dropped by both the Red Devils and the England national team in recent weeks, although Mourinho may value his experience in this frenetic fixture.
The manager will certainly be looking to his big players to perform here, whether that be David De Gea between the sticks, Pogba in the middle of the park or Ibrahimovic bullying a Liverpool defense that has looked brittle at times this term. Given United aren’t quite as slick a unit as the Merseysiders, so they may have to lean heavily on their megastars if they’re to grab a win.
Key Battle: Jordan Henderson vs. Paul Pogba
Both Henderson and Pogba will be at the hub of their respective teams’ midfield setups on Monday and head into this one on the back of intriguing international breaks.
Henderson skippered England for the first time against Slovenia on Tuesday, a reward for his fine form so far for the Reds in a deeper midfield position this term. Overall, the former Sunderland man has shone this term, enjoying arguably his best spell of form as a Liverpool player; the captain’s armband is beginning to look a more natural fit for him.
Pogba has shone in bursts for United, although that’s not enough for some after a world record transfer move in the summer. The former Juventus man looked to have found impetus while playing for France recently, though, with a rasping long-range goal against the Netherlands.
It’ll be Henderson’s responsibility to marshall Pogba when United are in possession. Should the Frenchman be afforded time on the ball in advanced areas he can punish any side and the Liverpool captain must set a furious tempo to prevent to smother the influence of the most expensive footballer ever and prevent from him swinging this one the way of the visitors.
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