John Aldridge: Victory over Red Devils could give Pool the boost that United got from early-season win
Anfield victory for Jurgen Klopp’s men can change the season
ManchesterUnitedand Erik ten Haghave a lot to thankLiverpool for this season.
As the Dutch manager and his United players danced around the Wembley pitch after their Carabao Cup Final win last Sunday, it was easy to forget how this season started for them.
A home defeat against Brighton and a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Brentford in Ten Hag’s opening two matches as manager highlighted the scale of United’s fall from grace.
Then everything turned for him, when his United side started to emerge from their shell by beating Liverpool in their third match.
That 2-1 defeat for Jurgen Klopp’s side at Old Trafford shocked me, because Liverpool have set such high standards over the last few years.
It turns out that what we saw on that night in Manchester was a sign of things to come for both teams.
A United team that started without Cristiano Ronaldo confirmed they didn’t need their fading star to succeed.
And Liverpool also gave a worrying glimpse of what was to come in this curious season.
Now the rematch has come around this afternoon – and all the pressure has flicked from United to Liverpool.
Back in August, no one would have imaged that Liverpool would be out of the title race and all but out of trophy contention this season by the time United came to Anfield.
Yet unless Klopp’s side come back from 5-2 down to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League this month, a top-four finish is all they have to play for.
Liverpool’s alarming slide has come at a time when Ten Hag has got United back on track in impressive fashion.
I have to be honest and admit I didn’t see this United revival coming so soon into the reign of this latest manager. They were an absolute mess over the last few seasons, with big egos dominating the dressing room and failing to deliver on the pitch.
Ten Hag is the manager they needed, as he has stood up to the clowns like Paul Pogba and Ronaldo – and got players focused on what matters.
Their League Cup win last weekend was a reward for the progress Ten Hag has made – and I’m convinced they are contenders for the Premier League title as well.
Marcus Rashford is firing again and he always plays well against Liverpool, while this United side have the confidence and belief they have been lacking for a long time.
There is no doubt that they have a side capable of winning at Anfield this afternoon, with their ability to hit teams on the break at pace not what Liverpool need. Real Madrid exposed the defensive holes in Klopp’s side with their thumping Champions League win last month.
Liverpool need to guard against a similar story today, with the midfield battle likely to be crucial to the outcome today, and Virgil van Dijk must play well.
The demise of this great team has baffled all of us this season, but I have come to the conclusion that last season’s exploits are at the heart of their problems.
Klopp needs his team to play with a high tempo and to run through walls for him, but that takes its toll on players.
Having played every game possible last season and come so close to a quadruple, the kick-back appears to be a team that has run out of gas. Alex Ferguson used to change his team consistently during his successful reign as Manchester United manager.
He did that even when they were winning trophies, but Klopp has struggled to refresh his team after all the success of recent years. He knows that a pretty radical rebuild is needed this summer, but that prospect is on hold for the next few months.
All that matters over the next couple of months is trying to find a way to secure a top-four finish and beating United today will be crucial to that ambition.
Anfield will be rocking today as the visit of United is always a special occasion.
Whatever cash Manchester City, Chelsea or Newcastle spend with their sugar-daddy owners, they can’t buy the history or global fan base Liverpool and United have built up over decades.
This will always be the biggest game in English football – and while the title is not on the line today, this latest meeting is massively significant to both sides.
As United proved at the start of this season, winning this fixture can transform a season.
Now it’s Liverpool turn to do just that.
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