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Why Man United’s surprise key figure is vital to thwarting Liverpool

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is badly in need of a win against Liverpool this weekend, but do Man United fans believe that will happen?

The Reds go into Sunday’s game with a four-point advantage over their biggest rivals, well aware that victory would deliver a crushing blow to their Premier League title hopes.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men are in impressive form at the moment, not suffering defeat since way back in April, so they will fancy their chances.

Too many of Liverpool’s performances at Old Trafford have been disappointing under Klopp, though, and that needs to change this weekend.

Ahead of the game, we spoke to the always-fair Kadeem Simmonds (@KadeemSimmonds) to hear about United’s struggles, Solskjaer’s future and much more.

 

How would you assess Man United’s start to the season?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 2, 2021: Manchester United's captain Bruno Fernandes during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Everton FC at Old Trafford. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s October, it’s been a less than ideal start given United have yet to play any of the title challengers.

On paper, given United’s aims, they should be sitting on six wins and two draws – United winning eight of eight is a very tough ask.

The defeats to Aston Villa and Leicester mean that while they aren’t out of the title race, they have left themselves very little room for error from now until May.

 

How positive has Ronaldo’s impact been?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 2, 2021: Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Everton FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Off the field, it’s been amazing. The atmosphere in the crowd has been excellent and there was a real sense that with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the side, United had enough to win the league and make a serious challenge for the Champions League.

It’s clear that United’s game plan hasn’t adapted to cater for Ronaldo’s playing style, however, and because of that, he’s had a negative impact on the pitch over the last few games, despite the winner on Wednesday night.

It’s awful to sit on the fence but I think it’s fair to say that the answer is somewhere down the middle.

 

Is it time for Solskjaer to go?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 22, 2021: Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær applauds the supporters after the Football League Cup 3rd Round match between Manchester United FC and West Ham United FC at Old Trafford. West Ham United won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Not to push the question down the line but if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can come out the next three Premier League games with six points minimum and secure safe passage out of the Champions League group stage then he at least ‘deserves’ the rest of the season.

I’m not for firing a manager in October with the team five points off the top, but I can understand those who feel that the start of the season has been less than ideal.

I’m sure Solskjaer and the rest of the team will admit that.

If there was an outstanding candidate on the market who could step in tomorrow – I believe Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane both have their flaws – then I may be more leaning towards making a replacement.

I do believe he has taken this team as far as he can, but if things click, there is all the talent in the team to suggest that they ‘surprise’ everyone and win the league.

 

Who do you see as United’s three most important players?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 7, 2021: Manchester United's Paul Pogba, with dyed blue and white hair, during a pre-season friendly match between Manchester United FC and Everton FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Not a popular choice but Paul Pogba is at the top of my list. His ability to make passes others can’t see can change the way this team plays.

I know he’s been inconsistent and has slowed down since the start of the season in terms of assists, but nobody else has stepped up and is it just a coincidence that his downturn in form coincided with United’s?

It’s awful when David de Gea is important as it means the defence has disappeared, but he looks back to his best.

If United are to get anything from the game against Liverpool and beyond, the chances are he will need to be on his A-Game for 90 minutes.

While people will see Bruno Fernandes or Cristiano Ronaldo as more important, for me the third player is Luke Shaw.

He will need to keep not just one of Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah quiet but also Trent Alexander-Arnold while providing a service to Ronaldo and the other United attackers.

 

Switching our attention to Liverpool, how are you assessing their title chances?

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 16, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates with team-mates after scoring the first goal, his 100th Premier League goal, during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. Liverpool won 5-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s hard to look past Liverpool as genuine title contenders, meaning the only way to win the league is to finish above them.

Again, it may only be October but they look like the team to beat and even though they will slow down at some point, by then they could open up a fairly decent gap between them and the team in second and third.

 

Looking ahead to Sunday’s game, which Red do you fear most?

WATFORDF, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 16, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the fourth goal, the eighth consecutive game he's scored in, during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Usually, I come on here and say Mane, as Salah usually has a quiet game against United.

But in his current form, it’s hard to not mention him as the player I, and other United fans, fear the most.

Even with a fully fit team and defence, Salah looks unstoppable and unplayable and his performance against Watford shows that he can hurt you not just in the box but from deep.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

MADRID, SPAIN - Tuesday, October 19, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 3 game between Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Metropolitano. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If we assume United start Fred and Scott McTominay in midfield, the battle for me is still Liverpool’s front-three against the back-four, or five, Solskjaer picks.

If the defence can keep Liverpool’s attack quiet, United stand a chance of winning the game.

They can’t allow Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino to get into the game and put the match beyond United.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, October 18, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp laughs during a training session at the AXA Training Centre ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 3 game between Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I can only see a Liverpool win, which probably means Solskjaer will find a way to get a result when the odds are stacked against him.

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