Liverpool head into Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford as overwhelming favourites, and should approach the game with that belief, with Man United now inferior.
I really don’t like playing United; ever. I’ve never once enjoyed the feeling I get before this particular game. I am a nervous wreck during it, and I have too much experience of too many ruined weekends after it.
Even when we were English and European football’s dominant force in the ’70s and ’80s, and United were only slightly better than they are now, they too often found a way of either avoiding defeat or sneaking a win against us.
Last season, even with us witnessing Liverpool’s finest points total in our history, a poor, injury-hit, defence-minded United scrapped their way to a draw.
A team that ended the season with 10 defeats compared to our one, and 31 points behind us, still managed to be one of only a handful of clubs capable of taking points off us.
Jurgen Klopp, a mastermind of a manager, has not yet solved the puzzle inherited from his predecessors and win at Old Trafford.
Three draws and one defeat, or in other words three points from a possible 12; and this against a bang-average United team for each of those fixtures.
Considering Liverpool are again English football’s most successful club, with United second, there is quite the disparity when it comes to ‘head-to-head’ in competitive games: United have 80 wins to Liverpool’s 66.
I appreciate this doesn’t make for cheerful reading so far, but there’s a reason for pointing this out.
Liverpool fans—and more importantly, teams—too often approached these games with the very thing Klopp was determined to change when it came to United at Old Trafford. Doubt.
We never really collectively believed we could win. Too often, in the days when an away draw was a ‘good’ result, we too often played for one. Sometimes we achieved it, occasionally we won, but more often than not we left empty-handed.
Even recently, in the last 10 league fixtures we have played against them (five home and five away) we have W1 D2 L2 at home and W0 D3 L2 away. That’s one win, five draws and four defeats—eight points out of a possible 30.
So, having said all that, let’s get to the crux of the matter and why the past must not influence the present.
Fact 1: this is statistically the worst Man United team in 30 years.
Fact 2: This is statistically the best Liverpool team in top-flight history; 97 points in one season with a single defeat in 47 league games and 17 consecutive victories proves it.
A win at Old Trafford will give us a share of the ‘won the most successive games’ accolade, but I honestly don’t give two hoots about that. It’ll be ‘nice’, but in the big picture counts for nothing.
What is far more important is that we will have claimed another ‘big six’ scalp, and after nine games will remain ‘perfect’ having defeated two of the other big six away from home.
We will retain at least an eight-point lead at the summit of the Premier League, and that is all that matters on Sunday.
It is vital that Klopp and his team play this wretched United team for what they are: a wretched team.
They must not play the occasion or the crowd, who now treat this game as their cup final. They wanted to beat us when they were successful, but they’re even more desperate to see us fail now they are not.
The game is played on a pitch, not in the stands, and Liverpool need to treat this game like any other recent league game. A must win.
A draw is not a ‘good result’ at Old Trafford in the current climate. It will be two points lost. A defeat would be nothing short of a disaster.
This is a United team with 46 fewer points than Liverpool in the last 46 games. They have scored 74 goals and conceded 62 times in that period—a goal difference of +12; Liverpool have scored 109 and conceded 28—a goal difference of +81.
This is a United team who have already lost to Crystal Palace at home and failed to score more than one goal in any of their last seven league games and their last 10 in all competitions.
This is a United team with a defence that can be easily got at, a ponderous, lacklustre, creatively devoid midfield and an attack without a single proven goalscorer.
Their ‘most potent’ weapon, the overrated Marcus Rashford, has scored one league goal in open play in his last 18 games.
Their creative hopes out wide are relying on an unproven kid brought in from Swansea who has scored seven goals in his 41-game career; 33 games and four goals of which were in the Championship.
Even Anthony Martial, capable ‘on his day’ if he can be arsed, has never scored more than 11 goals in any one season. He scores an average of a goal every 3.2 league games.
As for Rashford, he has never scored more than 10 league goals in a season, and averages a goal every four games—and that includes penalties. He is United’s joint-top scorer this season with three goals—two of them were penalties.
The point is that they have a desperately poor attack. They don’t just score so few goals, they barely create a chance.
They have 33 shots on target this season, or 3.7 per game. If you dial that down to ‘big chances’ created the number plummets to nine.
Liverpool, in comparison, have 49 shots on target and 24 big chances created. In other words, Liverpool are creating almost three times the number of big chances as United this season.
It’s why we have scored more than double their number of goals.
In comparison to United’s attacking players, Mo Salah scores a Liverpool league goal every 1.4 games, and Sadio Mane one every two. Even our creator supreme and less prolific of the magnificent front three scores a goal every 2.8 games.
As for their defence, I keep reading that at least they have sorted that piece of the puzzle with the signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire.
Really? Well, Leicester with Harry Maguire last season conceded 1.3 goals per game. So far this season, without him, they are conceding at a rate of 0.9 per game. Palace last season conceded 1.4 goals per game, this season it’s one.
Leicester are currently fourth and Palace sixth; United are 12th.
The ‘better defence’ claim comes because United have so far conceded only eight goals; but let’s remember that this comes with the caveat that they’ve scored only nine times.
So, is it really a better defence, or a team placing more emphasis on defence at the expense of going forward? I suspect the latter, because having watched all their games, they look very, very shaky to me.
And behind them, does anybody really believe David de Gea rates as world class these days?
Between their dodgy defence and impotent attack is, in my view, the worst United midfield I have ever seen. I’ve often referred to Pogba as ‘Pogba Pogba’ such is his influence on games.
I genuinely think the United hype machine is the only reason the words ‘world-class’ and ‘Pogba’ are ever used in the same sentence, because he categorically is not. “But he’s a World Cup winner,” I keep hearing. So is Olivier Giroud.
And then there’s Fred. Oh, how I hope this player gets the nod on Sunday. His last three appearances, all of which I have watched with keen interest, have to be up there with the three worst consecutive midfield performances by any United midfielder, ever.
Aside from the two aforementioned players they have the creative void that is Scott McTominay and the Chelsea Pensioner brothers Mata and Matic.
Making up the set are the hopelessly ineffective Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira. There is nothing to fear from any midfield permutation this United squad has to offer.
In charge of this whole mess is a tactically inept, clueless manager. Jose Mourinho did us all a huge favour when he got himself sacked; by losing the dressing room to the extent he did, his exit gave the United players a rush of adrenaline so powerful that it gave the appearance that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could actually manage. He can’t.
The fact that so many ex-United players continue to toe the party line and urge the United board to give ‘Ole’ several more transfer windows warms my cockles.
Ole is the surprise gift that keeps on giving. Since his permanent appointment, United have the fourth-worst record of all ever-present Premier League teams with 17 points from 16 games. Those 16 games have resulted in four wins.
In case you’ve forgotten, Liverpool have won all 16 games in the same period.
It all points to one, single-minded approach we must embrace on Sunday. A team who have won 39 and lost one of their last 47 league games cannot, must not enter this game as doubters.
The mindset has to be an unrelenting positive one with absolutely no fear.
The league’s best defence and second-best attack, and one that averages more than two goals per game, has no need to approach this game with any level of caution against a team who have managed seven goals in their last 10 games and failed to register a single shot on target against AZ Alkmaar.
There is another reason I feel our approach must be to go for the jugular.
Over our sensational last 18 months, I think it’s fair to say that in games we’ve approached with a ‘don’t lose’ versus a ‘must win’ mentality, our record is not good.
I would suggest this is the main reason our European away form has been at odds with our league form. Unlike the requirement in the Premier League where Man City’s record has dictated that every single point matters, it’s not the same in Europe.
As such, we have approached away games with a very different, almost cautious approach, and have lost five of our last seven away games in the Champions League.
The one major ‘away win’ we had was against Bayern Munich which, after a 0-0 draw at home, meant a positive result was essential.
When it mattered, we delivered. I would also suggest there were only two league games last season where we took—and have historically taken—a similar cautious approach: Everton and Man United away—and we drew them both.
So, no caution, no ‘playing the crowd,’ no ‘it’s like a derby so anything can happen’ mentality. The opposition simply isn’t good enough to merit such an approach.
Over to you, Reds. It’s a rarity for me to feel this confident before a game at Old Trafford. In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt this confident in all my years of living through this fixture.
As much as I’ve doubted us in this fixture over the years, this time I believe.
While the league is not won in October, and we will remain at least five points clear by the end of the weekend whatever the result, thinking in those terms misses the point entirely.
If we are to make a huge statement, if we are going to drive even more doubt into the minds of the City players and their manager, if we are going to have the watching world and every Liverpool fan and player believe that this year it can be done, then this game is nothing less than a must-win.