The two most celebrated, most supported and most successful (in trophy respects, certainly) clubs in England renew their rivalry this weekend in what promises to be an intriguing clash. As far back as two weeks ago, Man United manager Jose Mourinho admitted ahead of the Chelsea clash (perhaps as a mind game of its own) that the Liverpool game was a more important one to him than the visit of the Blues. The significance of the fixture usually writes its own story without needing any added fuel to the competitive fire.

Manchester United vs Liverpool Preview and Predictions

And yet this one already feels more important than recent clashes. Both sides come in with healthy form, Liverpool having earned 13 points from their last 6 and the Red Devils 12 from the same sample. Outside of Manchester City, Man United are the best English Premier League side at home, while Liverpool are tied (with Man United) as the best away from it. The prize for 1st place seems all but won, but the prize for 2nd has taken more focus in recent weeks, with a three horse race between these great rivals and Spurs forming for the lucrative runners up spot.

So much at stake. Below BetXChange previews the huge top of the table clash between classic rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.

Man United: Great Expectations?

There’s a sense that winning cures all, and whatever malaise seemed to permeate the Man United team in respect of playing style and defeats to Spurs and Newcastle have for the moment, at least, been forgotten. The Red Devils have escalated fan demands considerably with their win over Chelsea, and with their schedule largely favourable (the Champions League notwithstanding), expectations are starting to soar up as they often do for the traditional giant of English football.

That said, Mourinho’s tactics very much remain the chief concern in the spotlight for the upcoming fixture. The Portuguese manager’s last fixture against Liverpool was lamented for being far too conservative, far too reliant on what Liverpool were doing, rather than what Man United should have done. It’s a reasonable criticism too, given that their record against top 6 rivals is the best of their peers, and that’s with two remaining games at home (this one against Liverpool, and one in April against Arsenal).  Whichever way it’s sliced, the Red Devils will be expected to win; be it home ground, the old rival against which defeat is unacceptable, the need to hold 2nd place… all these reasons won’t have escaped Mourinho and his technical team.

Liverpool: Optimism Soaring

After his side managed to interrupt the potential appeal by Manchester City to match Arsenal’s Invincibles, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was doubtless tearing his hair out in frustration at Liverpool’s bizarre defeats to Swansea and WBA in the league and FA Cup respectively. But Liverpool’s recovery has turned from erratic (they were arguably fortunate to claim a 2-2 draw at home to Spurs in early February) to ruthless (5-0 and 4-1 demolitions of Porto and West Ham respectively). The optimism has grown considerably. Injuries are under control, the front 3 of Salah, Mane and Firmino is still scoring at an irresistible rate, and even the defence looks healthier, with Lorius Karius looking far more reliable between the sticks and new signing Virgil Van Dijk making a clear impression on the Reds’ defensive organization.

Liverpool’s football has certainly caught the imagination due to its entertainment value, but it’s the extent to which it can deliver in big matches that’s been lacking this season. Only Arsenal can claim a worse record against top 6 contenders than Liverpool, and the Reds cannot hold anything for granted in a match which they may likely need to win to ensure the best possible chance is taken to compete for 2nd place come the end of the season.

By the Numbers

In Head to Head respects, Old Trafford is a perennial fortress for the hosts in this fixture. Liverpool’s last win at Old Trafford in official competition came 4 years ago in March 2014, where the title challenging Reds secured an easy 3-0 away win courtesy of past heroes Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. Coincidentally, a title challenging Liverpool produced the other “recent” victory in 2009 at Old Trafford with a 4-1 win. Only in recent years have we seen draws in the fixture; beyond that, Man United’s home dominance over their rivals has been altogether obvious.

Matches at Old Trafford since 2008:              Man United won 9 of 13

January ‘17 Premier League Man United 1-1 Liverpool
March ‘16 Europa League Man United 1-1 Liverpool
September ‘15 Premier League Man United 3-1 Liverpool
December ‘14 Premier League Man United 3-0 Liverpool
March ‘14 Premier League Man United 0-3 Liverpool
September ‘13 League Cup Man United 1-0 Liverpool
January ‘13 Premier League Man United 2-1 Liverpool
February ‘12 Premier League Man United 2-1 Liverpool
January ‘11 FA Cup Man United 1-0 Liverpool
September ‘10 Premier League Man United 3-2 Liverpool
March ‘10 Premier League Man United 2-1 Liverpool
March ‘09 Premier League Man United 1-4 Liverpool
March ‘08 Premier League Man United 3-0 Liverpool

Source: soccerway.com

Man United remain the most difficult defence to penetrate at their home ground, having conceded just 6 goals. The Red Devils are also currently unbeaten in 6 matches at home, having also won 12 of their last 15 at Old Trafford. Their last home win of course, would have boosted confidence considerably given that it came at the expense of top 4 rivals Chelsea.

Mourinho’s record against Liverpool is well populated (only Barcelona has faced the Portuguese manager more often) and offered a decent return of 1.62 points per game, but curiously, his record against Jurgen Klopp is not as robust. Mourinho averages marginally less return per match against Klopp (0.88 points per game) than he does Guardiola, as a reference (0.90 points per game). The German has a small sample of games against the Red Devils, but his points return against them (1.17 points per game) is fairly close to his record against former Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich (1.07 points per game).  His record against Mourinho makes for far better reading, however.

Manager Comparison:

Points per Game Record Goals Scored : Goals Against
Mourinho vs Liverpool 1.62 11W, 9D, 6L 28 : 23
vs Klopp 0.88 1W, 4D, 3L 8 : 12
Klopp vs Man United 1.17 1W, 4D, 1L 4 : 3
vs Mourinho 1.63 3W, 4D, 1L 12 : 8

Source: transfermarkt.co.uk

Speaking of Klopp, his Liverpool enters this match as the best away side in the league in recent 6 match form (13 points), scoring an impressive 14 goals and conceding just 5 along the way. The Reds have won 8 of their last 10 league matches, and scored at least 2 goals in 11 of their last 12 matches. Top scorer Mohamed Salah remains on course as a viable challenger for the Golden Boot, tied with Harry Kane on 29 goals, though the Egyptian’s rate of a goal every 92 minutes suggests a slight edge on the Spurs striker’s rate of a goal every 100 minutes.

A key statistic to examine for both these sides is the distribution of goals, and the extent to which they’re involved in matches where both sides score goals, and when goals occur:

  Number of League Matches where:
Matches Failed to Score Conceded at least 1 goal 1st half goals scored 2nd half goals scored Winning at halftime
Man United 29 5 (17%) 14 (48%) 15 (51%) 20 (68%) 11 (37%)
Man United (at home) 14 1 (1%) 4 (28%) 8 (57%) 11 (78%) 6 (42%)
Man United (last 6) 6 2 (33%) 4 (66%) 1 (16%) 4 (66%) 0 (0%)
Liverpool 29 4 (13%) 17 (58%) 9 (31%) 11 (37%) 7 (24%)
Liverpool (away) 14 2 (14%) 10 (34%) 11 (78%) 9 (64%) 9 (64%)
Liverpool (last 6) 6 1 (16%) 3 (50%) 5 (83%) 4 (66%) 5 (83%)

Source: whoscored.com, soccerway.com

Some key observations:

  • Free scoring Liverpool have only ever been prevented from scoring by four sides, one being against Man United themselves.
  • Man United are very formidable at home – they concede the fewest goals in the fewest number of matches.
  • Liverpool tend to be a side that favours winning off a solid start, though in recent matches they’ve tended to scoring more often in the 2nd half, and often in both halves, too..
  • Man United are very much a second half team, especially in recent form.

Tactics Board

Much of the match’s future seems to be held in the choices that Mourinho will make tactically. Man United have rotated between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 system of late. It’s likely that the latter will be employed from kick off given its recent application against both Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but it may draw concerns from the home crowd, particularly if a cautious approach accompanies the formation. The midfield trio of Pogba, Matic and McTominay has been light on creativity, and while the frontline of Lukaku, Sanchez, Martial and Lingard are well capable of goals, they’ll hardly be dangerous if unable to gain supply of the ball.  Eric Bailly is yet to re-enter the first XI at centre back, so the back 4 of Young, Lindelof, Smalling and Valencia is likely to remain untouched. It really becomes a question of how Mourinho wants to adapt to the game’s flow; one gets the impression he’ll only attack if forced, but if he does, regardless of the reason, it’s likely that impact substitutes Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw will probably enter the match alongside a shift to a more assertive 4-2-3-1, employing the use of Sanchez, Rashford and Mata to occupy the Liverpool midfield at its weakest points.

Liverpool are relatively predictable by comparison; their 4-3-3 is expected, with their “fabulous front 3” expected to run the channels and force Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia inside to their weaker sides while disrupting Man United’s defensive shape. Oxlade Chamberlain will likely play as the most advanced of the three central midfielders, supporting the front 3 in attack, with Emre Can in close proximity. The back 4 of Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip and Alexander Arnold has offered both defensive solidity and effective attacking support, even though Robertson’s quality of crossing has left a little to be desired. Loris Karius has played himself into good form, and has been a strong core of Liverpool’s strong counterattacking distribution while showing improved shot stopping ability over the erratic Simon Mignolet. The key for Liverpool, however, remains Jordan Henderson, whose defensive capabilities in particular will be the key area of focus. The Liverpool captain hasn’t been at his best against the Reds’ top 6 rivals, and given where Mourinho may focus his attention in search of a win for Man United, a good performance from Henderson could be the critical difference between a Liverpool win and defeat.

Betting Odds

  • Manchester United – 33/20
  • Liverpool – 17/10

Please note betting odds quoted are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

View the latest EPL Odds

Prediction

Where the history and the home ground heavily favours Man United, the mood and the scheduling for this game do not. Mourinho will lament having to play his strongest side at the risk of not being able to rotate as he’d like against Sevilla later in the week. Liverpool have form and confidence, but there remains inherent concerns about their ability to play consistent defensively, even if recent performances are encouraging in that respect.

Some dynamics seem rather likely; Liverpool should be able to find the net at least once, probably in the first half. But where this has often meant the Reds seem in pole position to win the game, it means little to the 2nd half prowess of Man United. And therein lies the rub; the longer the game progresses with a lack of a 2nd or 3rd goal for the visitors, the more likely sentiment will swing to the Red Devils managing an equalizer or even an outright winner. But much depends on how Mourinho approaches the game; a defensive approach may far more towards draw or defeat, especially given that it’s unlikely Klopp will adjust his side’s aggressive mindset.

Liverpool will fancy their chances of an away win, and much like when they upset Man City, they’re probably the team in the league most likely to achieve it, but the strongest cards belong to the home side, as long as they choose to play them.

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