Perhaps some of the individual encounters are forgettable (like the last one!), but there’s something about the rivalry between the red halves of Manchester and Liverpool that somehow capture a collective imagination of football fans. Even if both teams haven’t been recently as successful as the tapestry of trophies woven by both their histories, they still draw the eyeballs, and this weekend, 15 January 2017, will be no different as 2nd placed Liverpool make a trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United.

It’s an intriguing match-up too – while the tepid goalless draw at Anfield in October drew frowns for the manner in which Mourinho’s side managed to stifle the free scoring Reds, this fixture could be a massive statement win IF the Red Devils take all the points.

Below we briefly preview Manchester United vs Liverpool EPL Fixture taking place Sunday 15 January 2017.

Manchester United Preview

Improving in form, emerging in belief

With the Premier League taking a break this past weekend for FA Cup fixtures, it’s allowed some time to reflect on the form United has gathered in recent weeks. The dull start of the season has given way to real hope of resurgence and even, as United legend Paul Scholes recently remarked, tenacity for a late title challenge if the wins keep coming. The numbers support some of these positive sentiments:

  1. United are currently unbeaten in 11 league games.
  2. At Old Trafford, they’re unbeaten for 8 league games with their last defeat in September vs Manchester City.
  3. They’re currently enjoying a streak of 6 league wins in a row, but despite that, have remained in 6th place since their win over Swansea.
  4. 7 of their 11 league wins have come in the last 10 games. They also haven’t failed to score in the same 10 game period.
  5. They’ve only conceded 2+ goals in a match 3 times this season, and only once has that happened at Old Trafford (in their 1-2 defeat to Manchester City).
  6. By contrast to their away form (3rd best in the league), their home form is only the 7th best amongst their peers, undermined by 4 draws.

There’s a number of theories as to what’s the key behind United’s improvements, but without resorting to cliche, it seems very much about the team’s collective convalescence, as opposed to being solely about individuals. That said, it’s hard not to pay attention to the contributions of star signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose inclusion as a starting player in the lineups has coincided with a far better win rate. Similarly, veteran midfielder Michael Carrick’s playmaking leadership has been equally integral to the upturn of form since late November.  The other veteran, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has 10 goals in all competitions since the 4-0 win over Feyenoord in the Europa League as clear evidence that his 35 years speak few limits over his current abilities.

United, like Liverpool, won’t have much joy with fixture congestion. They’ll host Hull City on Tuesday in the 1st leg of their EFL (League Cup) semifinal. Mourinho has the advantage of a day’s earlier rest and no need for any travel, and these slim advantages may be critical in giving his squad the lift they need to get a key win over Liverpool on Sunday. Unlike the goalless stalemate at Anfield in October, there’s a thought that any negativity in United’s approach would be against the grain, given their form, their scheduling advantage and the chance to claw back some league table ground on their long-time rivals.

United will have challenges of their own in squad respects though; it’s unclear which centre back pairing the prolific Liverpool attack will likely get the chance to play against. Eric Bailly has left for African Cup of Nations duty, and Marcus Rojo is reportedly nursing an injury sustained against Reading, so Mourinho will likely have some tricky choices to make in configuring his defence.

Liverpool Preview

Liverpool’s best ever Premier League campaign?

In contrast, Liverpool have by and large remained mostly consistent. The Reds have kept themselves in title contention despite the incredible form of Chelsea, who only recently tied the record for most consecutive wins (13) before finally losing to Tottenham. Liverpool’s numbers characterise what has been a very positive first half of 2016/17 for the Reds:

  1. Despite the concerns with Liverpool’s defence, in comparison to United at least, the Reds have 6 clean sheets to United’s 5, with 5 of them achieved in the last 10 league games.
  2. Nonetheless, the weakness here is clear for the Anfield club – they’ve got the 7th best defence in league (1,15 goals conceded per game) compared to United (3rd).
  3. 16 of the 23 goals Liverpool have conceded have been suffered in away games.
  4. By contrast, Liverpool have the best ranked attack in the league at 2,4 goals scored per game (United are 6th in this statistic). This drops marginally when playing away (tied for the 2nd best attack at 2,2 goals scored per game).
  5. Liverpool have scored 2+ goals in a match on 14 occasions in this league campaign, and have won 9 of the 13 games when both themselves and opposition have scored at least once.
  6. Liverpool are currently unbeaten in 6 league games; their last away defeat was early in December to Bournemouth in a disappointing 3-4 thriller).
  7. At the halfway stage (19 games), Liverpool’s 43 point haul is their best ever in Premier League football, and only the 2nd time the Reds have accumulated 40+ points after 19 league games.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool thus far have proved a powerful opponent, and while they’ve been undermined by various setbacks of defensive frailty (characterised by a 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth and frustrating draws vs West Ham and Sunderland, both 2-2), they’ve compensated with huge wins over Arsenal (3-4), Chelsea (1-2) and Manchester City (1-0) to keep the title race in reach.

January looks to be a critical season defining month for them, though. Klopp wisely rotated his squad in the 3rd round FA Cup tie vs Plymouth, but the 2nd string wasn’t able to open up the disciplined lower league side. Liverpool will play the 1st leg of their EFL (League Cup) semifinal on Wednesday away to Southampton, and given Klopp’s hunger for silverware, it’s expected that the Reds will likely field a fairly strong side. On a whole, Liverpool will play 8 matches in January, culminating in the huge visit of Chelsea to Anfield on the 31st.

This makes the squad rotation all the more important. It’s anticipated that Liverpool will be boosted by the timely return of Philippe Coutinho, who could be the perfect tonic to the departure of top scorer Sadio Mane. Where United would love to beat Liverpool to draw themselves into the title challenge, Liverpool’s manager has spoken in recent weeks of his side’s obligation to keep the pressure on Chelsea. With Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson having recently recovered from injuries, due to follow Coutinho into squad contention, Liverpool may feel that they have just enough of the wheels they need in place to drive themselves closer to Chelsea.

Prediction: Another stalemate potentially on the cards?

Granted, Liverpool don’t travel well to Old Trafford. Their last win there was the 3-0 in March 2014. They’ve conceded 3 on both of their last 2 league visits to United. In general, in the last 5 league games between the two, United have won 4. But there are many other dynamics at play in this encounter; both the form of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s record against United suggest the Reds will be far more competitive than in recent years. United have form as well, but that tends to be away from Old Trafford. They also arguably enter the fixture with more disruption to their first team. Both clubs will also have an eye on their semifinal first legs in midweek.

It’s also the kind of game where form “goes out the window”, and inherently it’s about who wants it more. United’s defensive strength could be nullified by the absence of a stable centre back pair, but likewise Liverpool will need to find a suitable configuration in the absence of Sadio Mane. United’s attack is improved, but so is Liverpool’s defence, on the whole. Many of these factors could simply cancel each other out and make for a (hopefully more entertaining) share of the points on Sunday.

But then again, there’s the presence of so many potential match winners, the dichotomy of the managers on the touchline, and the general unpredictability of a game like this between two huge rivals… either way, whatever the result, here’s hoping for another classic in the ongoing Manchester United – Liverpool drama.