SportSoccer

Curtis, Moran and McGrath answer 10 big questions ahead of huge game

SoccerBy Sunday World
Wayne Rooney's role, and future, is debated by our experts
Wayne Rooney's role, and future, is debated by our experts

The clash of Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield tonight is eagerly anticipated by all football fans. Here is how our chief sports writer and two Old Trafford legends see the game going.

ROY CURTIS

1. If you were a club owner would you prefer Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho to manage your team?

Mourinho.  Klopp is very much flavour of the month and clearly a more rounded and likeable human being.  Yet his win-rate at Liverpool remains below 50  per cent (compared to Mourinho’s very early days 63 per cent at United). Mourinho is the controversy-courting anti-hero who lashes out indiscriminately.  Critically, he is also a serial winner of trophies. 

2. Are Liverpool credible title challengers?

Road trips to Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea that yielded seven points from nine makes an emphatic case for Serious Player status.  As does a prolific return of 18 goals from seven games.  Momentum, unity and an increasingly fluent high-pressing game further embellish their case. Doubts linger about a defensive unit that has conceded more goals than any other team in the top half of the table. 

3. Are Manchester United credible title challengers?

By grasping the nettle and taking the long-overdue decision to drop Wayne Rooney, Mourinho has elevated them into the conversation.  The immediate upgrade in performance against Leicester illustrated the benefits. If Anthony Martial can locate the dash and verve of last season, and if Pogba (above) becomes consistently dominant, they have a chance.

4. Pick your combined Liverpool/United starting XI.

De Gea; Clyne, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Wijnaldum, Mata, Firmino, Coutinho (below), Rashford.  

5. Between the two clubs, who is the best player?

David De Gea is an authentic world-class operator, perhaps the best goalkeeper on the planet.

6. Where do United most need to improve?

There have been flashes of brilliance from Pogba.  But for £100m, they require stellar performances on a weekly basis.  Consistency of selection from Mourinho is also required.

7. And where do Liverpool most need to improve?

A team that has yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League clearly needs to improve defensively. Goalkeeper remains a problem position. The 2005 Chelsea title-winning side, under one Jose Mourinho, conceded 15 goals in 38 games.  Liverpool have already leaked 10 in seven, more than Burnley after the same number of games.

8. Will Wayne Rooney still be a United player in February?

His stratospheric wages and evident decline hardly make him a value-for-money purchase for any suitors. Likely to stay and stew until next summer, when Tinseltown or the Big Apple may make an offer he can’t refuse.

9.  Is the United/Liverpool rivalry as big as in the past?

With United at the dawn of the Mourinho era, with Liverpool looking as equipped as at any time in the past 25 years to launch a title challenge, it might be even bigger.

10.  What is your prediction?

A Mourinho ambush at Anfield. 2-1 United.


PAUL MCGRATH

1. If you were a club owner would you prefer Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho to manage your team?

I don’t like to admit this as a United man, but Klopp looks like the more stable choice right now. Mourinho has lost some of his confidence in the last year and he is a man under pressure to deliver at Anfield.  

2. Are Liverpool credible title challengers?

They have been very impressive this season. Some of the attacking play they have shown suggests they will be a good bet for the top four and could even go better than that.

3. Are Manchester United credible title challengers?

They have to be, it’s as simple as that. Not just because the name of Manchester United needs to be in the mix for the title, but because Jose Mourinho has been given a huge budget to work with and he needs to deliver THIS season. There is no time for next year when you are United manager.

4. Pick your combined Liverpool/United starting XI.

De Gea, Clyne, Bailly, Matip, Shaw, Pogba, Mata, Firmino (above), Coutinho, Rashford, Ibrahimovic. 

5. Between the two clubs, who is the best player?

Both sides would like to have David De Gea between the sticks. He is a top-class keeper and has proved as much in the Premier League battles against Liverpool over the last couple of years, when he has pulled off big saves.

6. Where do United most need to improve?

They need to find the right balance in midfield because they are not there yet. Mourinho had tried a lot of players, but he’s still trying to find his best side.

7. And where do Liverpool most need to improve?

You always feel they will concede from set-pieces and even though Klopp has tried to change that, it is not getting better. United will look 
to attack that area. They also have to show that they are a team that can win trophies and not just contend. 

8. Will Wayne Rooney still be a United player in February?

He should be. I’d play him at Anfield tonight, but I suspect he will be on the bench once again. In my eyes, Rooney should be given a chance to play up front with Ibrahimovic at some point in the next few weeks. I know Mourinho likes to play with one up front, but Rooney is a striker and his record playing in that role is fantastic. People who criticise him now have short memories.

9.  Is the United/Liverpool rivalry as big as in the past?

In my time at United, the biggest games always came against Leeds and Liverpool. Now Man City and Chelsea are the new teams offering a threat, but this Liverpool v Man Utd game is always a massive occasion. 
As big as ever.

10.  What is your prediction?

Playing this game under the lights at Anfield will add to the drama and the noise will be incredible. Mourinho would probably take a draw and he will set his team up in a manner that should allow him to get that at the very least.


KEVIN MORAN

1. If you were a club owner would you prefer Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho to manage your team?

At this moment in time, it feels like you would rather have Klopp in charge of your team than Mourinho, but these are still early days in the season and I would prefer to reserve judgement on that debate for a few months yet. 

2. Are Liverpool credible title challengers?

The big factor in their favour for me is the absence of European football in their schedule. We have seen how important that can be for a team looking to push for the Premier League title. Jurgen Klopp needs to make the most of the recovery time he will have with his players between matches. This is even more significant in the second half of the season.

3. Are Manchester United credible title challengers?

Possibly not yet. It feels like Mourinho is still trying to work out his best team and that process will always take time for a new manager. They need to be in the top four this season and I think they are good enough to do that.

4. Pick your combined Liverpool/United starting XI.

De Gea, Shaw, Bailly, Matip, Blind, Lallana, Pogba, Mata, Coutinho, Sturridge, Ibrahimovic.  

5. Between the two clubs, who is the best player?

You would hope that Paul Pogba could emerge as the leader of the United team, but at the moment, he is still finding his feet at the club second time around. I like Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool and David De Gea is a class act between the posts for United.

6. Where do United most need to improve?

I would say all areas and while that isn’t a criticism, it is a reality of what happens when a new manager comes into a club. Mourinho has only been there for a few weeks and he is trying to work out his best team. Let’s see where he is by Christmas.

7. And where do Liverpool most need to improve?

They still throw in the odd performance that makes you wonder whether they can challenge for the title. Consistency is an area they have improved on, but there is a feeling that they can come up short when you least expect it.

8. Will Wayne Rooney still be a United player in February?

I feel Rooney slows United down when they accommodate him in their team. He is a striker, a goalscorer and the speed of play slows when he tries to play in midfield and take on a role he is not familiar with. Mourinho clearly has doubts about him playing in a deeper role and I would back up that opinion. I don’t think they will sell Wayne Rooney in January, but he needs to get used to being on the bench. 

9.  Is the United/Liverpool rivalry as big as in the past?

You cannot over-hype this game. From my days playing for United against Liverpool and through to tomorrow night’s match, this is the one that matters for supporters of both clubs.

10.  What is your prediction?

I am a United man, but I suspect Liverpool will win.