Liverpool face Man United in the Europa League last-16 second-leg on Thursday, with the Reds leading 2-0 after last week’s victory at Anfield.
Man United vs. Liverpool
Thursday 16th March 2016, 20:05 (GMT)
Europa League, Last-16, Second Leg
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
Jurgen Klopp’s ever-improving side taught United a footballing lesson in the first-leg, with the eventual scoreline flattering the Red Devils.
Daniel Sturridge’s penalty and Roberto Firmino’s well-taken second-half effort have put Liverpool in pole position to reach the quarter-finals, although there is still plenty of work to do.
For all United’s woes this season, Old Trafford is still an intimidating place to go on a big European night, and there may be spells in the game when the Reds have to defend doggedly.
Klopp’s men know that one away goal should effectively end the tie, though, and the hosts having to attack means gaps should appear at the other end of the pitch.
Liverpool rarely do things the easy way, and Thursday promises to be one of those nerve-racking affairs that can be unbearable to watch at times.
The Merseysiders enjoyed the weekend off, having not had any FA Cup quarter-final commitments, but prior to that, their form had been very much on the up.
They have won three Premier League matches in a row for the first time in a year, and the last-gasp win over Crystal Palace was yet further evidence of the steel that Klopp has instilled in his squad.
Although Liverpool lost on penalties to Man City in the League Cup Final, and in extra-time to West Ham in the FA Cup fourth round, they have not been defeated in 90 minutes since Leicester’s 2-0 win over them on 2nd February.
Confidence is now ebbing through the veins of the players, and Klopp is really starting to work his magic in the Anfield hot-seat.
United did have cup commitments over the weekend, with Van Gaal’s team held to a 1-1 draw by a dangerous West Ham side.
Anthony Martial’s relatively late equaliser kept his side in the competition, but there was still something unconvincing about the performance.
They were dire at Anfield last Thursday, and the fast-paced football, team ethic and quality of the Sir Alex Ferguson era is now nowhere to be seen.
A run of four straight wins prior to the Europa League clash may have looked impressive, but Shrewsbury Town and FC Midtjylland were two of their opponents, which masks how well they were actually doing.
Form Guide (Last 10 games)
Man United: W-D-L-L-W-W-W-W-L-D
In truth, Liverpool’s record against their bitter rivals has been fairly putrid in recent years.
Last week’s success was the first time they have triumphed over United since the 3-0 away win two years ago, with four victories on the bounce for Van Gaal and his side since then.
While Anfield has seen a mixed bag of results between the two teams over the last decade or so, it has been very much one-way traffic at Old Trafford.
United have won eight of the last nine clashes there in all competitions – that aforementioned 3-0 league win is Liverpool’s only triumph there since 2009 – which outlines their dominance in the fixture.
The Reds have conceded six times in their last two visits to the so-called Theatre of Dreams, with poor finishing and shoddy defending proving to be their downfall on both occasions.
In the Premier League era, Liverpool have registered just five wins at Old Trafford, and although United are not the side they once were, it still goes to show that Thursday will be a difficult evening.
Klopp is finally in a fortunate position in terms of injuries, with an increasingly fit squad to choose from.
James Milner is available again, having missed the first-leg through illness, but the Reds’ manager will surely be considering fielding the same eleven that thrived on Merseyside a week ago.
Adam Lallana has been in superb form of late, and it would be a shock if he was replaced by Milner, and Philippe Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge will no doubt start too.
Lucas Leiva is still missing with a thigh injury, while Alberto Moreno appeared to pick up a hamstring injury in training at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
Martin Skrtel was only fit enough to feature for the Under-21 side on Wednesday evening, but the form of Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren means the Slovakian would not have featured anyway.
United are also slowly returning to full-strength, although the injury problems are a little more significant than Liverpool’s.
Wayne Rooney is the most high-profile player missing, with the captain not likely to return until the beginning of April.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones are all unavailable too, while Luke Shaw continues his recovery from a broken leg suffered in September.
What the Managers Say
Klopp says the first-leg scoreline is something of an irrelevance, and feels the travelling Liverpool supporters can play a key role at Old Trafford:
We have to forget that we have a 2-0 lead and we need to play again. Hopefully it’s a good atmosphere. I like it – even when everyone hates you. It’s not a problem.
I don’t understand what the crowd are singing so it’s pretty easy for me. We will decide how good the atmosphere is with our performance.
How many Liverpool fans? 3,000. That’s enough. That’s a really good number. If they give their best I am sure we will take this and show it in our performance.
It’s not the Manchester United crowd against the Liverpool crowd. It’s the two teams against each other.
The performance is always one reason for the atmosphere. If we do our best it will be difficult for Man United to enjoy the game. I am not worried. I am not scared or afraid. It is football. The ball is round, right?
Van Gaal believes United progressing is far from beyond the realms of possibility:
We have to deliver. But in sport you can lose and you can win; that you have to accept. It’s very difficult but you have to accept that.
Tomorrow we only have to think we have to beat Liverpool – and beat them 2-0 not 3-0 because we can do it in extra time. We can do it 2-0 and then we have a chance to reach the next round. You know we have scored goals within three or four minutes this season so it is possible.
Odds & TV Info
The bookies clearly see this as a difficult match to predict inside 90 minutes, with the first goal absolutely crucial.
United are narrow favourites to win at 13/8, with the Reds 19/10 and a draw 23/10. Basically, it really could be anything.
The Reds are enormous favourites to progress, however, with Klopp’s men 1/9 to get the job done in Manchester and secure a place in the last-eight. United are 11/2 to pull off a shock on the night.
Whichever teams finds the net first may well shape the entire match, and Sturridge is the 5/1 favourite to be opening goalscorer.
Martial, arguably United’s most dangerous attacking player, is 11/2, while youngster Marcus Rashford is 6/1 to get his side on the road to recovery.
A good bet is to back both teams to score at 4/5, with the game likely to be very open at times. That one goal for Liverpool should make everything so much easier.
The match is live on BT Sport Europe from 7:30pm (GMT) with kick-off at 8:05pm.
It was originally a 6pm start, but UEFA made the correct decision in changing it to a later time, in order for fans to make it to the game easier.
Liverpool should definitely go through, but prepare for a potentially nerve-shredding night in Manchester.
- MORE READING: Video: Jurgen Klopp on Man Utd-Liverpool worries – “It’s football, the ball is round!”
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