16 January 2016

Liverpool v Manchester United 1.17.16

9:05am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-3 United (a) 09.12.15
1-2 United (h) 03.22.15
0-3 United (a) 12.14.14
3-0 Liverpool (a) 03.15.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-3 Arsenal (h); 2-2 Exeter (a); 1-0 Stoke (a)
United: 3-3 Newcastle (a); 1-0 Sheffield Utd (h); 2-1 Swansea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke 6; Coutinho 5; Firmino 3; Ings, Milner, Sturridge 2; Allen, Henderson, Origi, Skrtel 1
United: Martial, Rooney 5; Mata 4; Herrera, Lingard, Memphis 2; Blind, Fellaini, Januzaj, Scheniderlin, Schweinsteiger 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Caulker Sakho Moreno
Henderson Can
Ibe Lallana Milner

I can't foresee many changes from Wednesday's comeback draw against Arsenal, both because of Liverpool's performance in that match and Liverpool's still shallow squad.

We'll probably see Caulker replace Toure or Sakho. Both have trouble playing two matches in four days: Sakho because of knee issues, Toure due to age. Caulker has now trained for a couple of days, and is vastly quicker than Toure, which might well be necessary if Martial starts up front.

We could see Lucas for one of the attackers: Milner, Ibe, or Lallana, a formation closer to 4-3-3 rather than 4-2-3-1. An extra body in central positions, limiting the influence Rooney, Herrera, Mata, etc. might have on the match.

And there's a small chance we'll see Benteke from the start rather than as a substitute, someone to physically unsettle United's back line, and (in theory) to match Fellaini's aerial prowess on set plays. But there's no denying that Liverpool have looked much better without Benteke rather than with.

Regardless, given Liverpool's performance on Wednesday – discounting, of course, the errors which led to Arsenal's first two goals – and the continued lack of depth in the squad, I don't expect much difference between the XIs. We'll get changes when Liverpool host Exeter on Wednesday. Do what you did against Arsenal again, at least up front and in midfield. And do better in defense (*glares at Mignolet*).

Meanwhile, Manchester United aren't in the best place right now either. They're almost back on track after an eight-match winless streak – the longest in 20 years – unbeaten in the last three, but they've remained unconvincing in those three, with two narrow wins and a draw against Swansea (17th), Sheffield United (League One), and Newcastle (19th).

Tuesday's match against Newcastle was yet another example of United's imbalance. The bed sheets are too short: United can defend or United can attack. United rarely do both. It's 1-0 and 0-0, or 3-3 and 3-2 and 0-2. It's security or a scramble.

And the lineup is mostly the same whether United focuses on defense or attack. De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Young; Schneiderlin, Fellaini; Mata, Herrera, Martial; Rooney. Lingard, Memphis, and the back-from-loan Januzaj are options in attack, in place of Mata or Herrera or even Rooney, but I expect we'll see two of them off the bench at most. Carrick, Schweingsteiger, Jones, Valencia, Rojo, and Shaw are still out injured, which means that United have few alternatives in midfield or defense.

I suspect United will choose defense tomorrow after the Newcastle Incident. They'll choose safety. They'll choose careful ball control and pass, pass, pass possession. They'll try to pin Liverpool back and take all the air out of the ball, game, and stadium. Which Liverpool won't be entirely opposed to, giving the home side opportunities to press, counter-press, and counter-attack.

Liverpool's recent record against United is not good. Van Gaal's United has never lost to Liverpool, winning the previous three matches, fairly emphatically in each, with Liverpool brilliantly and frequently denied by De Gea in each. Bring back David Moyes.

And Liverpool's historical record against United ain't great either. Bob Paisley was the last Liverpool manager to win his first match against Manchester United: 3-1 at Anfield, on November 8, 1975. More than 40 years ago. Draws for Dalglish (1st stint) and Souness; losses for Fagan, Evans, Houllier, Benitez, Hodgson, Dalglish (2nd stint), and Rodgers. To be slightly fairer, only Rodgers' first match against United was at Anfield, and we're all well aware of Rodgers' record in big matches. That's still quite the ignominious streak.

But, even considering Liverpool's continuing issues, Klopp's Liverpool have been much better in big games than Rodgers' Liverpool ever was, at least aside from 2013-14. Chelsea, City, and Arsenal, and even Leicester and the League Cup semi-final at Stoke so far.

Liverpool will need to be. They don't get much bigger than this, even when it's ninth versus sixth.

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