Paul McGrath: Erik ten Hag has Manchester United primed to silence a noisy Anfield
Liverpool against Manchester United is a great game at any time of the English season.
But right here, right now, this afternoon at Anfield – boy, it is going to be some contest.
I hated the match when I was a Manchester United player.
Because you just knew the Liverpool players, and their fans behind them, would be all out for a win here.
Liverpool were the top dogs when I was playing, but while they got the medals, United always did well in the head-to-heads, even if you had to brave playing in front of the Kop to get a result at Anfield.
Today the Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object.
Thanks to the failures of Spurs and Newcastle United to kick on, Liverpool, for all their bad results this season, are right back in the hunt for fourth place in the Premier League.
The 5-2 fiasco against Real Madrid now means finishing fourth is their only way back into the big competition next season.
Liverpool may have to win every domestic match to do it, and there will be none harder for Jurgen Klopp’s team than this one.
But there are signs that Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo are beginning to develop a way of playing that is bringing Mo Salah into the match with them.
I expect Klopp to start with his ‘Big Three’ up front – and to go for the win right from the off.
Every Liverpool player knows this is the match their supporters want to win more than any other.
Yes, above even against Everton – United, at Anfield, is the match in which the Liverpool faithful cherish a win above all.
Yet for United, the timing could hardly be better either.
They beat Barcelona ten days ago, they won a Cup last Sunday, and then came from behind to beat West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday.
Now they have drawn Fulham at home in the quarter-final – and would any bookie give you any odds that anyone other than a Manchester club will win that FA Cup this season?
So they have one trophy won, and are chasing two more.
All credit goes to Marcus Rashford, Fred and Luke Shaw who seemed surplus to requirements at one point this season.
Then there is teenage winger Alejandro Garnacho, who has been a revelation.
The Argentinian started the season behind Anthony Elanga in the United packing order, he ain’t there any more.
But the two key pieces in the United jigsaw for 2022/23 have been selling Cristiano Ronaldo and buying Casemiro.
It is strange to write that getting rid of one of the greatest players there has ever been was a good thing for United.
But all the evidence is that it was just that.
Within weeks of Ronaldo departing, his Portuguese team-mate Bruno Fernandes said - “We are playing like a team now.”
That tells you all you needed to know about the Old Trafford dressing-room with the great man inside it.
Of course, when United signed Casemiro, we knew they were getting a good player.
His collection of honours won with Real Madrid told us that.
We wondered, however, if, at 30, the Brazilian could adapt his game to the special demands of the Premier League.
Not a worry, Casemiro has been brilliant, the glue that has gelled a new Manchester United to come together and go in pursuit of trophies.
And Casemiro has proved a fruitful source of goals too, something, maybe, that was not needed from his game in Spain.
Yet the man who has pulled all the strings to make it happen at Manchester United is, of course, the new manager Erik ten Hag.
I’m sure, after those first two matches of this campaign were lost against Brighton and Brentford, he must have wondered, “what have I got myself into here.”
What he is involved in is nothing less that the rejuvenation of a great, great football club.
For the first time since the Alex Ferguson era ended a decade ago, it seems that the board, the manager, the playing staff and the supporters are all operating off the same hymn sheet at Old Trafford.
Yes, many, many United fans will never be reconciled to the notion of the Glazer family as owners.
But the Glazers backed their manager when he said ‘Ronaldo has to go.’
It would have been very easy for them to think of all the shirt sales and the social media hits and interaction that Ronaldo brings.
In making that decision, the owners, for once, put football ahead of revenue.
Perhaps someone has at last advised the Americans that owners make even more money when the team is winning silverware.
And United can certainly win more this season. The two trophies they can still play for are well within their reach.
I don’t believe a title charge will happen.
Mind you, I think they’ll get a win today.
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