Jurgen Klopp has no qualms about ‘packing the bus’ to get a result, which Jose Mourinho applied in their first meeting last October. The pressure to get a win or at least a point is now even higher and may require the packing of many buses.
United have the toughest defensive unit at home in the EPL, having conceded just six goals in 14 matches while Liverpool are the most prolific on the road, not just in the EPL but in Europe’s top five leagues with 34 goals scored in 14 matches.
The duel then is between the most miserly defence against the most exuberant attack. Mourinho revealed at his pre-match press conference that Eric Bailly is fit, which could mean he will start ahead of the mistake-prone Victor Lindelof. If Luke Shaw gets ahead of Ashley Young in the left back position, then Mourinho is thinking of attacking but if you see young then the handbrake is on.
Chris Smalling believes the two points between the teams would make Saturday’s match an intense one. “I think there’s always that rivalry, but even more this year. We’re a lot closer in the table than we’ve probably been for a while. The fact that we’re so close gives it an added intensity.”
One particular threat facing Smalling and his manager is February’s Player of the Month, Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian forward has been flying this season, having scored 24 league goals – amazing return from a player that was discarded by Mourinho while at Chelsea.
Salah told the Liverpool official website, “It’s a special game.” Even though both teams are miles behind Manchester City, the positions, the time of season and their continued involvement in Europe means this would be a massive three points for whoever wins.
“Second and third play against each other so everyone plays for the three points,” Salah continued.
“We have confidence we can play like it’s a normal game. It’s important of course but in the end our target is just one target: we need to win the game and come back with the three points.”
Current Form: Man. Utd [W-W-D-W-L]; Liverpool [D-W-W-W-W]
That duels that matter
Lukaku v Van Dijk
Romelu Lukaku can be a bully but he won’t be able to apply such dark arts on Virgil van Dijk so he has to be subtler. The Dutch defender has settled in well at Anfield but still has that momentary loss of concentration, which means Lukaku must play near the box to pounce on any mistake. This will be a heavyweight contest!
Sanchez v Alexander-Arnold
The wiliness and pace of Sanchez against the exuberance and inexperience of Trent Alexander-Arnold should be a fascinating scenario. Sanchez has flitted in and out of offensive trysts for United since his January move from Arsenal. He will be needed to occupy the young English fullback so that he does not join the attack as often as he has been told to.
Smalling v Firmino
Roberto Firmino is a master of playing in the pocket and his movement could drag Chris Smalling away from the centre of the defence, a ploy the English defender must be wary of. Firmino is good with the ball at his feet, strong and versatile while Smalling needs to prove himself in these bigger games to continue to be worthy of a starting shirt.
Head to head
Valencia v Sane
Valencia is robust and powerful while Sane is also powerful but very nimble. The Senegalese forward is just getting back to great form and will look to pin Valencia back and ensure he stays wide to create room for runners like Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Mourinho needs his captain to be strong and calculative – not giving away silly fouls or getting dragged out of defensive shape.
Young v Salah
Despite a plethora of defenders who can play wide, Mourinho has persisted with Young and has reaped the rewards. The Englishman is efficient and tenacious, offering width going forward and dogged with his defending. He will face the ultimate test of trickery and pace with Mohammed Salah. If he will succeed in his assignment – to keep Salah quiet; then Paul Pogba must be disciplined enough to lend a hand against the flying Egyptian.
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