John Aldridge: The five factors that will decide Liverpool v Man United
IT IS always one of the most anticipated games in any Premier League season, but it feels like there is a little more riding on tomorrow night’s Liverpool v Man United game than has been the case in recent years.
The hype ahead of this game has been building for a few weeks now, with the presence of Jose Mourinho in the United dugout this season adding to the tension that will always be present in this encounter.
Liverpool fans hated Mourinho when he was at Chelsea and they hate him even more now he is United manager, so they would love nothing more than to ram a defeat down the Special One’s throat at Anfield.
So many voices have passed judgement on this game already and here are my key points on the match that will bring the football world to a standstill tonight.
1. The managers
Would you rather have Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho managing your team?
It will come as little surprise that I am going to pick Klopp in this battle, but it is not just my allegiances to Liverpool that bring me to that conclusion.
Klopp is a vibrant, fresh manager who is still enthused by his arrival in English football and what is still a relatively new challenge for him at the top level of the game.
On the other side, Mourinho looks a little tired and stale to me. What happened to him at Chelsea last season took away the aura that he had built up and we don’t see him smiling much now.
I wonder if he has lost some of his enthusiasm for the game and that is why I suggest Klopp is a manager on the up and Mourinho may be heading the other way.
2. The tactics
I don’t expect Mourinho’s United to take on Liverpool with an attacking game plan.
Mourinho’s Chelsea teams always had a set formula when they came to Anfield and while I wouldn’t describe it as entirely negative, it was certainly designed to nullify the threat posed by the home team. Annoyingly, it worked to perfection.
Liverpool fans recall with real pain the 2-0 defeat against Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2014, when the Premier League title was in touching distance for Brendan Rodgers and his team.
Mourinho had his team superbly well drilled to get men behind the ball and that was exactly what they needed that day, safe in the knowledge that he had players who could do damage in the attacking third if the chance arrived.
Expect something similar tonight, with Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the rest of United’s attacking players more than capable of taking chances if they come their way.
3. The weak spots
Liverpool still appear to have a major problem defending set-pieces and Mourinho will look to exploit it.
I was hoping the arrival of Joel Matip at the centre of the defence would help this ongoing issue, but the last game against Swansea showed that the old problems remain.
Man United will have been focusing on this area in their preparations and they have tall players in their team who could exploit Liverpool’s major weak spot.
United’s defence may also be an area for Liverpool to target and we have seen Man City and Watford cause them problems in wide areas or with quick passing through the middle.
Well, Liverpool are strong in both of those areas and I am looking forward to seeing how United get on if Klopp’s team click into top gear at Anfield.
4. Wayne Rooney
I think what has happened to the Man United and England captain in the last few weeks has been a disgrace.
Okay, Rooney is not in great form and maybe doesn’t deserve a place in the starting line-up, but show some respect to a player who has been a hero for so long.
This guy has given so much for club and country over the last decade and more, yet we hear United and England fans jeering and booing him at the back end of his career.
Liverpool fans would never have booed Steven Gerrard if he went through a difficult spell and England fans should also be ashamed of themselves for turning against their nation’s all-time record goalscorer.
I don’t expect Rooney to return to the United line-up for the Liverpool game, but he has handled his demotion at club and country with dignity.
5. The key men
I think Sadio Mane could be the match-winner for Liverpool.
He has been impressive since his arrival from Southampton during the summer and his pace in wide areas could trouble a United side that will be fully tested by Liverpool’s quick-footed forward players.
One big question mark hanging over this game is whether Daniel Sturridge will play and, with Adam Lallana struggling to make the match due to injury, I suspect Liverpool’s top striker will get the nod.
However, Liverpool are not relying on one forward to win them matches as the goals are being shared around and that is a quality United will be wary of. There are goals in a variety of areas in Klopp’s team and it makes them tough to defend against.
As for United, I think their key man in this game could be David de Gea.
The Spanish keeper has been sensational in recent matches against Liverpool and he may need to be on top form once again at Anfield.
And the verdict...
The excitement surrounding this game could encourage you to believe that this is make or break for both teams, but the winner will not be any more realistic title challengers than the losers.
It feels like a big chance for United as Liverpool have had all the momentum so far this season, but you don’t get season defining games in October.
I think Liverpool will shade this game as they are overdue a Premier League win against their old foes.
Liverpool have had chances to beat United over the last couple of seasons and, while they did a convincing job of seeing them off in the Europa League last season, United have won the last four Premier League ties.
While I’m not convinced Liverpool will keep a clean sheet, I fancy them to sneak a win by the odd goal.
I will be the first man at the bar to toast that result if I am right tonight!