In a word, tension.
Games between arguably English football’s two biggest clubs tend to be tempestuous affairs, and if last season’s 4-2 win for Liverpool at Old Trafford proved something of a procession for Jürgen Klopp’s men, the return of fans to the stands makes this a very different proposition for the visitors.
The form book – which favours an unbeaten Liverpool on this occasion – usually counts for little when these two teams get together.
United go into Sunday afternoon’s clash on a high after Cristiano Ronaldo’s late header completed a dramatic comeback against Atalanta in Wednesday night’s Champions League clash.
A 3-2 win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side may have boosted United’s prospects in Europe, but their league form of late has been poor.
Winless in the Premier League since the 2-1 victory at West Ham in mid-September, United’s 4-2 defeat to Leicester City last week saw the vultures start to circle over Solskjaer’s head once again.
While the win over Atalanta may paper over some of the cracks in United’s side – most notably in the centre of midfield, where none of Fred, Scott McTominay or Nemanja Matic seem capable of linking defence to attack – there is currently no better side than Klopp’s Liverpool to expose them.
The Reds had their shaky moments in their own 3-2 win in Europe on Tuesday night – they beat La Liga champions Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital – but their domestic form has been up there with the best this season.
The Premier League’s only remaining unbeaten side put five past Watford last weekend, and are playing with the same swagger that took them to their first title in 30 years in the 2019/2020 season.
There are players on top form through the spine of the side, from Alisson to Joel Matip to Jordan Henderson and through to the player of the Premier League season so far, the brilliant Mohamed Salah.
You can’t take your eyes off Salah at the moment.
The Egyptian has scored in all but one of the Reds’ Premier League games this season, when he drew a blank in the win over Burnley, and he has shown arguably the greatest form of his Liverpool career in recent weeks.
Scoring two Goal of the Season contenders in successive games against Manchester City and the Hornets may have made all the headlines, but Salah’s general play has been up there with the best in the world since the start of the season and the 29-year-old is bringing the best out of his strike partners Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino once again.
Manchester United fans may have had little to cheer about since that victory over the Hammers, but the return of Marcus Rashford has brightened the mood around the Theatre of Dreams, particularly given the struggles of Jadon Sancho to establish himself back in Manchester.
Rashford has two goals from his two appearances since coming back from shoulder surgery, bagging United’s second in the defeat to Leicester and starting the comeback against Atalanta before being taken off with a knock.
Provided he recovers in time from a dead leg to face Liverpool, the 23-year-old may feel he has a point to prove against critics who believe his campaigning against child hunger has negatively impacted his football, but the early signs are that he’s just fine doing both.
While Solskjaer may be wary of playing into Liverpool’s counter-attacking hands by ditching his trusted Fred-McTominay double pivot, Paul Pogba made a strong case for inclusion after he was introduced as a sub against Atalanta.
The only question remaining is whether Rashford can get over his knock in time, or if Sancho can finally get his United career up and running.
For Liverpool, the defence and attack picks itself, but Klopp may have been worried by Naby Keita’s evident lack of defensive solidity against Atletico - he was arguably at fault for both the hosts’ goals - despite the Guinean’s outrageous strike in the first half.
Manchester United predicted XI: De Gea – Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw – McTominay, Pogba, Fernandes – Greenwood, Rashford, Ronaldo.
Liverpool predicted XI: Alisson – Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Matip, Robertson – Fabinho, Henderson, Milner – Mane, Firmino, Salah.
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