Unlike last year’s corresponding fixture between the two sides, Manchester United head into Anfield on Saturday as slight favourites against bitter rivals Liverpool.
The Reds have a shaky defence and even their formidable attack has not been as potent as it should be, and it will also be shorn of Sadio Mane, who’s out for six weeks with a hamstring injury.
United themselves are missing Paul Pogba, who’s been out since early September, and Marouane Fellaini, but overall their squad is deeper and stronger than Liverpool’s, and in better form. Getting a result at Anfield is never easy, especially considering Liverpool’s excellent record against the rest of the ‘Big Six’ under Jurgen Klopp, but Jose Mourinho’s men will be quietly confident.
Here’s a look at three ways United could play against Liverpool on Saturday.
United have a tall, physical striker who’s good at winning his aerial duels and adept at playing with his back to goal from his time at Everton, who often used Lukaku as a old-fashioned target man in big games away from home. Last season, even United used this strategy at Anfield, with mixed results.
Fellaini started in midfield and Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the line, and United looked to find both with long balls in order to exploit their size and physicality. However, Ibrahimovic struggled with the tactic, as he’s not used to playing in teams with a long ball style. On the other hand, Lukaku is comfortable in such a role, and thus the strategy would likely be more effective with the Belgian in the side than it was last year.
Liverpool’s defence is suspect and especially vulnerable to an aerial onslaught, given their struggles dealing with crosses and set pieces so far this season. There’s no doubt that a long-ball style could be effective against the Reds, even if it will win United no fans among the neutrals.
Just like this season’s fixture, United travelled to Anfield right after the international break last season. Liverpool had 65 percent of the ball, but just three shots on target, and zero goals – and in fact, the best chance fell to United, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic missing a wide-open, point-blank header. In the end, the game finished 0-0, and Mourinho took a moral victory.
Mourinho’s side owed their draw to a fabulous (if typical) performance from goalkeeper David de Gea, as well as a near-perfect display in midfield from Ander Herrera. The midfielder is in line to start on Saturday, and he could be the perfect man to execute a defensive gameplan again.
The key difference is, last season, United went into this fixture in indifferent form, and thus Mourinho was left with almost no option but to go defensive in order to get a result.
This year, United are level on points at the top of the table, have been scoring freely (while still showing defensive solidity). Mourinho will not care for critics if he pulls off a 0-0 draw or even a counter-attacking win, but more is expected of United this season.
United have scored 21 goals in seven Premier League games so far, and have hit the four-goal mark in four of those games. Only Pep Guardiola’s high-flying Manchester City side have scored more league goals – just one more.
Meanwhile, Klopp has yet to find a solution to Liverpool’s defensive woes. Only West Ham and bottom side Crystal Palace have conceded more than Liverpool’s 12 goals.
It might be the antithesis of Mourinho’s style to let up on the brakes in a crucial away game, but the stats show it might be the best way to win the 199th competitive United-Liverpool derby.
While he might bank on United’s defence being strong enough to keep Liverpool at bay, it’s almost guaranteed that Liverpool’s rearguard wouldn’t be able to do that to United. Time for Mourinho to opt for attack, attack, attack?
Know more about Sport360 Application