Desperate Manchester United are a real danger to Liverpool in Monday night showdown
Wounded Red Devils will be a big test for Jurgen Klopp’s out-of-form team
You can’t win the Premier League title in the first month of the season – but Liverpool may be in danger of losing it if they don’t beat Manchester United tomorrow night.
It sounds crazy to suggest a title challenge is on the line heading into the third game of a season, yet these are not normal times.
For most of the 30 years of the Premier League and going back to my days playing for Liverpool, the title winners would generally end up with around 80-85 points.
Manchester United won the title with 75 points back in 1997, and Leicester needed only 81 points to clinch their famous crown six years ago.
That was relatively normal, looking back over the history of the game – as you would expect teams to lose five or six matches, and maybe draw ten games over the course of a season.
All that has changed over the last five years, and the Premier League is now operating under different rules.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have raised the bar to ridiculous levels in recent years – and anything less than 95 points will now count you out of the title race.
That means you can only drop around 20 points a season and Liverpool have already given up four in their first two matches.
I fully expect City to beat Newcastle at St James’ Park today, and that will see them move seven points ahead of Liverpool before the United game tomorrow night.
So while you can’t say Liverpool’s title hopes will be over if they fall seven points behind at this early stage, Klopp knows the pressure is already on – and his team need to bounce back.
The trouble is, Liverpool will go into one of their biggest games of this, or any season, at Old Trafford with one hand tied behind their back.
Darwin Nunez is suspended after his red card against Crystal Palace on Monday night and Klopp’s options are looking very thin in his forward line with Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota out injured.
Liverpool could play Mohamed Salah down the middle and can look for a few more moments of magic from Luis Diaz.
However, the lack of goals from the midfielders means Klopp needs his forward players to come alive – and they also need support from the rest of the team.
Klopp’s defence has looked unusually vulnerable in the opening two matches – and even though scoring chances have been missed, they need to start keeping clean sheets to get back on track.
Liverpool’s big players have started sluggishly and that can happen in the opening month of the season, but they need to snap out of it quickly and get on a winning run.
You could look at a game against a United side sitting at the bottom of the Premier League table after two disastrous defeats at the start of the season and think this is the perfect game for Liverpool to bounce back.
Alternatively, you might suggest this is the perfect game for United.
There is talk of more protests against the Glazer family’s continued ownership at Old Trafford tomorrow, but when the game gets underway and it’s United versus Liverpool, the mindset will be clear.
This is, and always will be, the biggest game in English football, with the two best-supported teams in the league going at it.
For the fans, this means everything – and when you are in the kind of position United are in, the desire to succeed is even bigger.
They will go above Liverpool if they win – and a desperate team is often a dangerous team.
It could be one of those nights when Erik ten Hag and his United players rise to the challenge and, let’s be honest, they cannot be as bad as they have been in their defeats against Brighton and Brentford.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be desperate to shine after all the criticism he has got in recent days and weeks – and Marcus Rashford is always a threat when he plays against Liverpool.
This might be the pessimist in me writing these words as, let’s be honest here, United are in a mess and shouldn’t get anywhere near Liverpool in this game.
Yet if they score the first goal on Monday night, the fans will forget all the chaos of the last weeks and months, and will be eyeing up a win that could transform the mood around their club.
This is Manchester United’s cup final and on a night when Klopp and his players are under pressure to get their first win of the season, this won’t be easy.
Get this game at Anfield and keep it at 11 vs 11 for the full 90 minutes – and I’d back Liverpool to win 99 times out of 100.
But this will be at an Old Trafford stadium that will be ready to roar – either for United if they find a way to be competitive in this game, or against the players and the owners if they flop again.
It’s up to Liverpool to make sure they don’t give them the encouragement they will clearly need, as I don’t think United will win this game without a helping hand from their opponents.
The visitors will make chances against this flaky United side, but we know that David de Gea always has a great game against Liverpool – and if they can get to the hour mark on level terms, it will be game on.
What should happen is the class team on the field tomorrow night should win – and Klopp should be reminding his players of the gap that has been evident when these two sides have met over the last couple of seasons.
On paper, Klopp’s side are a cut above their next opponents and the 9-0 aggregate win in the two Premier League games against United last season confirmed as much.
The scars of those two hammerings will be on the mind of Harry Maguire and his United defensive colleagues heading into this game, but they know they can’t take another beating.
As always, the world will be watching when United and Liverpool lock horns once more – but don’t assume Klopp’s side will run away as comfortable winners once again.
That was a headbutt by hitman Nunez
Darwin Nunez deserved to get sent off against Crystal Palace last Monday, but I wouldn’t describe his offence as a head butt.
There is no doubt he had been wound up by Palace defender Joachim Andersen and he wanted to confront him, but he bumped into him rather than butted him.
Trust me, you feel like that at times – and especially when you join a big club, like Liverpool, and you are determined to impress.
I’ve been there, time and again, when you want to give your opponent a whack, but you have to hold back, especially in the modern game where there are cameras watching your every move.
Nunez wanted to hit the ground running and start scoring goals on his first big night at Anfield, but it all went wrong when Andersen fell over and made sure Nunez got the red card.
In the end, Liverpool came away with some credit as I felt they battled hard and did well to get back into the game after the Nunez red card.
Luis Diaz’s equaliser was a work of art and they could have won it, but the point was not good enough as Manchester City are going to keep on winning at the top.
Nunez will feel very lonely over the next few weeks as Liverpool’s season progresses without him, but it is a mistake he has to learn from.
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