Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Palace (a); 3-0 City (h); 1-1 City aet [1-3 pens] (n)
United: 0-1 West Brom (a); 1-0 Watford (h); 3-2 Arsenal (h)
Previous EL rounds:
Liverpool: 1-0 Augsburg (h), 0-0 Augsburg (a); 0-0 Sion (a); 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Kazan (h); 1-1 Sion (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
United: 5-1 Midtjylland (h), 1-2 Midtjylland (a)
Liverpool: Lallana, Milner 2, Benteke, Can, Ibe 1
United: Memphis 5; Rooney 4; Herrera, Martial, Rashford 2; Fellaini, Mata, Smalling 1
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Sakho Moreno
Milner Firmino Coutinho
Deep breaths. It's just another European Round of 16 match. It's just another European Round of 16 match. It's just another...
Screw it, that's not working.
Liverpool versus Manchester United. In Europe. For the first time. Sigh. Doesn't matter that this is the younger brother of European competitions, it's still European competition. And still against the Evil Empire. Who Liverpool hasn't beaten since David Moyes was manager.
One team's coming off a massive, unexpected, confidence-boosting win. The other's coming off an annoying, unexpected, unnecessary loss. But regardless of United's form – or Liverpool's, for that matter – this fixture has gone badly in recent seasons. Van Gaal's beaten Liverpool at each time of asking: twice last season, twice this season. Liverpool's last loss was especially dispiriting: an 0-1 defeat at Anfield where Liverpool dominated, took 20 shots to United's eight. Liverpool only put four shots on-target, but United only had one, and not until the 78th minute. Of course, United scored from that one. Of course, it came from a corner.
Timely reminder for #LFC vs LvG:— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) February 26, 2016
Shots: 53 vs 33
SOT: 18 vs 14
In Box: 26 vs 15
CCC: 0/6 vs 6/8
Goals: 2 v 9
Points: 0 v 12
Yikes. Plus 20 on shots, minus seven on goals. Six clear-cut chances missed by Liverpool, six of eight scored by United.
To be fair, three of those four matches happened under Liverpool's previous manager, but Liverpool's lone loss under Klopp was as infuriating as the others, even if in a slightly different way. Will tomorrow be any different?
I suspect Liverpool will revert to the XI we saw in the League Cup final, except with Lovren keeping his place in defense. Sturridge returns in place of Origi, Coutinho returns in place of either Lallana or Milner, most likely the former. There remains the possibility of a curveball: two strikers up front with a diamond midfield – something like Coutinho at the apex; Henderson and Milner/Lallana on the sides; Can at the base – or maybe a more orthodox 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 with Sturridge and Origi up front, and Coutinho and Firmino "on the flanks" but we've rarely, if ever, seen either, with the diamond midfield most often used as a mid-match tactical change.
With almost everyone fit, Liverpool's line-up has become fairly settled. It all depends on whether Liverpool can create and take chances, as well as how the opposition line up to deny Liverpool said chances.
United's form, last Sunday notwithstanding, actually isn't bad. Four consecutive wins prior to the loss at West Brom, which is easily explained by Juan Mata's early red card and Tony Pulis still being Tony Pulis. But prior, a routine win over Shrewsbury, an impressive second-half comeback against Midtjylland, a surprise victory over Arsenal, and a very United eked-out win over Watford. The loss to West Brom dropped them to sixth, three points off fourth, but still three points ahead of Liverpool.
United are still missing multiple players, dealing with an injury list similar to Liverpool's during those winter doldrums. Valencia, Jones, Rooney, Schweinsteiger, Shaw, and Young will be absent. Jesse Lingard's also suspended.
Now that Martial's fit again, what will van Gaal do with Marcus Rashford? The hero of Midtjylland and Arsenal, another United striker from seemingly nowhere, the new Federico Macheda. Does Martial play from the left with Rashford up front, as against West Brom? That'd seemingly mean Memphis Depay – United's best player in Europe this season – gets left out. My suspicion is that Rashford is on the bench, to be used as substitute if and when needed, but it's only a suspicion.
Otherwise, the aforementioned injuries make United's XI somewhat easier to predict. De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schneiderlin, Carrick; Mata, Herrara, Memphis; Martial. That same XI could be 4-3-3/4-5-1 rather than 4-2-3-1. Mata could play in midfield with both Memphis and Martial on the flanks, although neither of those players often feature on the right. Fellaini is also an option in the middle, I guess, given how susceptible Liverpool are to height and strength, especially on set plays.
I can't help but think back to 2005-06, exactly 10 seasons ago. Liverpool hadn't beaten United in the last four league matches. Liverpool then drew Manchester United in the Round of 16 in the FA Cup, to much consternation. But Liverpool won, 1-0 thanks to Peter Crouch's goal, at Anfield. And then Liverpool won the competition – the Steven Gerrard Final against West Ham.
I wouldn't mind a little bit of history repeating. Because beating United is the most glorious of feelings. And losing is the absolute worst of them.