Liverpool host north-west rivals Man United to Anfield on Thursday evening, in the first-leg of their Europa League last-16 showdown.
Liverpool vs. Man United
Thursday 9th March 2016, 20:05 (GMT)
Europa League, Last-16, First Leg
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)
It’s the first time in history that England’s two most successful clubs have faced each other in European competition, and the two-legged tie is sure to be full of the usual drama and tension.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds team have just started to find a little bit of form, and their late win at Crystal Palace has kept their momentum going ahead of the visit of United.
In truth, it is an impossible couple of matches to predict, with both sides capable of being either brilliant or woeful on their day.
The promise of Champions League football for the Europa League winner is huge, and qualifying for the quarter-finals is of paramount importance for both Liverpool and their greatest adversaries.
As mentioned, the victory at Selhurst Park kept up a decent run of form for the Reds, with Klopp’s men winning a third straight Premier League game for the first time in a year.
There are signs that the team is really starting to come together now, with injury problems easing and key players performing well.
Simon Mignolet and Dejan Lovren both enjoyed good showings against Palace, which was refreshing to see, while Emre Can stole the show with a magnificent display in the middle of the park.
A poor result is always around the corner with this Liverpool side, though, and that will be the concern heading into Thursday’s match.
One defeat in five is solid, and even that solitary loss came on penalties against Man City in the League Cup Final 10 days ago.
United, meanwhile, have continually struggled to get any kind of run going this season.
It looked as though their fortunes may be changing, following four straight wins, but Sunday’s 1-0 loss at West Brom dented their top-four aspirations.
Their good form is slightly clouded by who they have played, however, with wins against Shrewsbury, FC Midtjylland and an insipid Arsenal side not too much to write home about.
The bottom line is that this is an extremely average United side, and one that Liverpool should really fancy conquering over the two legs.
Form Guide (Last 10 games)
Man United: W-W-D-L-L-W-W-W-W-L
Perhaps the biggest things holding the Reds back in this tie is the current psychological edge that United have over them.
Wayne Rooney’s late winner at Anfield back in January ensured Van Gaal’s side beat Liverpool for a fourth game in a row, and the Reds have been guilty of freezing a little against their arch-rivals.
Christian Benteke’s sensational overhead kick was the only positive to come out of the 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford in September, in what was another nail in Brendan Rodgers’ coffin.
Liverpool have not beaten United for two years, when Rodgers’ title challengers cruised to a 3-0 victory in Manchester. Steven Gerrard scored two penalties and missed another that day, while Luis Suarez also found the net.
Eight wins in the last 10 meetings for United says everything you need to know about their dominance in this fixture in recent years.
Klopp increasingly has almost a full squad to choose from, barring longer-term absentees such as Joe Gomez and Danny Ings. Lucas Leiva is also out for the foreseeable future with a thigh problem.
Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge were rested for the Palace game, and will likely come back into the side at the expense of Jon Flanagan and Divock Origi. Flanagan is ineligible for the Europa League.
Martin Skrtel is back fit again, but will find it tough to usurp either Mamadou Sakho or Dejan Lovren at centre-back, while Philippe Coutinho will surely start following his game-changing cameo at Selhurst Park.
James Milner missed training on Wednesday with a virus, making him a doubt. Klopp’s team selection is relatively straight forward.
United are suffering from more of an injury crisis than their rivals, but Van Gaal is slowly seeing key players return.
Rooney is the most high-profile absentee for the visitors, with the captain unlikely to return from a knee injury until next month, while Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ashley Young are all still missing. Jesse Lingard is suspended.
The return of Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling in defence acts as a big boost to the Red Devils, while youngsters Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial will cause problems in attack.
What the Managers Say
Klopp spoke about wanting to see both fans and players up the fight:
Hopefully everybody can show from the first second that they’re really excited for this game. Everybody needs to be in shape for these two legs. I believe in the influence of the crowd.
I try everything to show the crowd that we do it for them, that we really enjoy this relationship with the crowd. That’s it, so it’s very, very important and it can be very decisive.
It’s a big part of football, and hopefully tomorrow we can set an absolutely new level in the younger history of LFC.
Van Gaal highlighted the importance of simply winning the tie:
You have to win — there is no difference [with it being a Cup competition].
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United and Liverpool is always a big game. It’s historical and even bigger now because both teams are fighting for a Champions League place.
Odds & TV Info
The bookies clearly see Thursday’s game as a tough one to call, but Liverpool are understandable favourites because the match is at Anfield.
Klopp’s side are 23/20 for the victory, while United are 29/10 to return to Manchester with a priceless win under their belt. The draw is is 23/10, which may not be a bad bet.
Sturridge is 9/2 to score the first goal on the night, which looks good value, while Martial is 7/1 to open the scoring. Coutinho scores some big goals, so backing him at 8/1 could be worth your while.
In terms of the overall tie, the bookies see it as a complete 50/50 when it comes to qualifying for the next round. Both are 10/11 to progress.
The match is live on BT Sport Europe from 7:15pm (GMT), with kick-off at 8:05pm. The return fixture starts at the same time a week on Thursday.
Who will earn the bragging rights in the first ever European clash between Liverpool and United?
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