15 October 2016

Liverpool v Manchester United 10.17.16

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 03.17.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.10.16
0-1 United (h) 01.17.16
1-3 United (a) 09.12.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Swansea (a); 5-1 Hull (h); 3-0 Derby (a)
United: 1-1 Stoke (h); 1-0 Zorya (h); 4-1 Leicester (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Milner 4; Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Mané 3; Henderson, Lovren 1
United: Ibrahimovic 4; Rashford 3; Mata 2; Martial, Pogba, Rooney, Smalling 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Henderson Can Coutinho
Mané Sturridge Firmino

Like last month, the international break was unnecessary and boring but not too harmful. Three players suffering with minor problems had more time to recover, and only Gini Wijnaldum picked up an injury.

So it appears that Liverpool have just two of the usual starters doubtful for this, the most important and anxious of fixtures: Wijnaldum after this week's hamstring pull and Lallana still bothered by the groin problem suffered at Swansea. If either are available, Sturridge is probably left out. I've no real idea, but it seems safer to guess that both are out, which would almost certainly require Coutinho to play in midfield – as he did after changes at Swansea – with Firmino and Mané flanking Sturridge. If possible, Lallana seems marginally more likely to play, just because his injury came a few days earlier.

Lovren and Clyne also dealt with knocks over the international break but are much more likely to be available. But maybe that's just hope, because I don't want to see what happens to Liverpool's defense with both of them missing. Not that I really want to watch Liverpool's defense in any match.

Liverpool have only played two home games this season, but we've seen Liverpool at its best in both: 4-1 over Leicester and 5-1 over Hull. An immediate Liverpool onslaught, opening goals within 20 minutes, a second to extend the lead within 35. Because Liverpool, a concession to give the opposition a modicum of hope, but Liverpool's class winning out, Liverpool's blitzkrieg adding more.

Doing that again would obviously be helpful. But Liverpool matches against Manchester United rarely go according to form or plan. Which may well benefit United. Because we've seen all facets of United's form so far in this short season.

Manchester United are still fighting with the demons accrued over the last couple of years, Louis van Gaal's two seasons still linger. They've underwhelmed at times, they've underperformed at times, and they've looked bang back at it at times.

They started the season as they hoped, with a Community Shield victory followed by three successive league wins. But then the Manchester Derby happened. Then two more consecutive losses happened, including a loss upon return to Europe and an embarrassing 1-3 defeat at Watford. That was followed by a bounce-back against Leicester, a 4-1 win that flattered but still impressed. Then a narrow but routine 1-0 in the Europa League. Then a home match against Stoke where United played even better than they did against Leicester, but drew 1-1 because of finishing and because of Joe Allen.

Swings and roundabouts and peaks and valleys already, under a new manager with different needs and a slightly different system, and still only three points behind Liverpool. It obviously helps when you have the money to spend more on one player last summer than Liverpool have in the last four seasons (net spend, of course).

We pretty much know what we're getting with United's XI. 4-2-3-1: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Martial, Mata, Rashford; Ibrahimovic. The big question, as for United as it's been for England, is what to do about Wayne Rooney. Both club and country have been better without him this season, but he's still Wayne Rooney, who still loves playing against Liverpool. I wouldn't be surprised to see him, in place of either Martial or Rashford, with Mata moving out to the right. United's one other line-up decision is Fellaini or Herrera: the more cohesive midfielder (and the better player) or the more physical? Outplay and out-pass Liverpool on their own ground or unsettle Liverpool with height and elbows?

I doubt I need remind how Liverpool routinely struggled against van Gaal's United, at least in the league, with four consecutive league losses against United: three under Rodgers, one under Klopp. Fellaini was a big part of most of those, but Liverpool were a big part of most of those, especially in the one meeting under Klopp. Control the game but don't take your chances and inevitably concede, often on a set play.

United are still bigger and taller than Liverpool, and United are still dangerous on set plays, with four goals from free kicks and corners.

But we also saw what Liverpool were capable of in last season's Europa League meetings. A thorough 2-0 win at home that would have been so much more if not for De Gea, a 1-1 draw away from home where United faded and collapsed after Liverpool's equalizer. That's what Klopp's Liverpool can do to Manchester United, that's what Klopp's Liverpool can do to almost any other side.

Still, this is a different season. It's a different Liverpool – still dangerous at the back, but much much more dangerous up front – and a different Manchester United. With new players bought at eye-watering prices, and a new manager who's consistently foiled and flummoxed Liverpool throughout his career.

But it's still Liverpool and it's still Manchester United. It's still Liverpool versus Manchester United. Just remember to breathe.


Anonymous said...

What to do with Rooney? He'll be a 65th minute sub most likely. The ball will hit him in the ass off a corner and get redirected towards our goal. Karius has to make the save.

Our big chances in the first half last year we were scuffing and hitting wide. Should have been 3-0 at the half. We need to strike clean and smart and put the ball in the net. If Lallana plays he needs to take his chances. We won't have Gini to get into the box set him up like he did at Arsenal and against Leicester. Mané should be uncontrollable up against Blind. Bobby Firm should be dangerous too. Hope Studge is able to solve his "England issues".

sbjensen said...

"Just remember to breathe."
Great advice. For some reason I fear I won't be able to follow it.
Indeed, I'm already having some difficulty, and the match is a full 24 hours away.