13 October 2017

Liverpool v Manchester United 10.15.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 01.15.17
0-0 (h) 10.17.16
1-1 (a; Europa League) 03.17.16
2-0 (h; Europa League) 03.10.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Newcastle (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 3-2 Leicester (a)
United: 4-0 Palace (h); 4-1 CSKA Moscow (a); 1-0 Southampton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 4; Mané 3; Coutinho, Firmino 2; Henderson, Sturridge 1
United: Lukaku 7; Fellaini, Martial 3; Pogba, Rashford 2; Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Valencia 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Coutinho

The international break was good, because it was nearly two full weeks without Liverpool drama. That's always welcomed.

The international break was bad, because it claimed yet another casualty, as it always seems to do. Sadio Mané, with a hamstring, in the conservatory. He'll be out for around six weeks. I doubt I need remind of Liverpool's record without Sadio Mané.

Mohamed Salah will make it less likely that Mané's absence leads to what happened when Mané was absent last winter. But we'll still probably see a more conservative, more defensive, more grinding, and less potent Liverpool – as we saw when Mané was absent at the end of last season. A stretch where Liverpool won five, drew two, and lost just once.

We'll probably see Coutinho move back into the front three, with Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Can in midfield. There are a couple of other less likely options, and we'll probably see all of them over the next few weeks, even if infrequently. Firmino going to the left with Sturridge or Solanke central. Oxlade-Chamberlain in the front three with Coutinho in midfield. A switch to 4-2-3-1, with either Wijnaldum or Can making way for Sturridge or Solanke up top. But we'll probably start with Coutinho in attack, because that seems the XI with the highest possible ceiling.

There's also the question of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Gomez at right-back. Both quick enough to deal with Rashford or Martial, but one ostensibly more attacking and one ostensibly more defensive. Which would suggest Gomez in this fixture, but Trent Alexander-Arnold's a Scouser. There needs to be a Scouser when these sides meet.

So I'm not incredibly excited for this fixture. Not that I ever am.

Liverpool do not have the best results following international breaks: 3W-4D-1L, although they've been mostly difficult fixtures, against Tottenham (twice), City (twice), Leicester, Southampton, Everton, and United. Liverpool do not have the best results in early kickoffs: 7W-5D-8L, although 15 of those 20 games came away from Anfield.

And, as we're all aware, Liverpool have not had the best results of late.

Meanwhile, Manchester United have scored 21 goals through seven league games, behind only Manchester City. United have scored six via set plays – more than any other side in the division – with three from corners and three from crossed free kicks. Romelu Lukaku is the league's top scorer.

United have conceded just twice in the league, both in a 2-2 draw at Stoke, the only league match where they've dropped points this season. They're level on points with Manchester City, five points ahead of third. They're unbeaten in both Champions League matches, each a three-goal win.

At least United didn't come out of the international break unscathed either. Fellaini strained knee ligaments, and will be out for the next few weeks. With Pogba and Carrick already missing, United's midfield has to be Herrera and Matic. Phil Jones pulled out of the England squad, but will probably be available here. Rojo and Ibrahimovic remain long-term absentees.

Which makes tomorrow's likely XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Young; Matic, Herrera; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Lukaku. Maybe Martial starts in place of Rashford, maybe Jones can't go and it's Smalling instead. Those are pretty much the only alternatives.

We know what we're getting with Jose Mourinho's side. And we know what we're getting with Jose Mourinho. United have become a lot more potent this season, mainly thanks to Lukaku, but they're still low-block-and-counter rather than blitzkrieg. Strangle then garrote, rather than Liverpool's ideal fist-to-the-face-and-don't-stop-punching. Only six of United's 21 goals have come in the first half. 10 of the 21 have come after the 80th minute. Which *glances at Watford and Sevilla's equalizers, and Leicester in the League Cup* isn't ideal.

This may not be the ideal fixture for a fresh start, but it's a fresh start all the same. Yes, results were bad over the last month, but the play really wasn't. Yes, United are playing depressingly well. Yes, Liverpool tend to stumble in early kickoffs and after international breaks.

But this is what it is. Liverpool have to deal with it, Liverpool have to overcome it.

I know I am pessimistic far too often for most folks' liking. And I am admittedly pessimistic about tomorrow. But a good performance certainly isn't out of the question. And a win certainly isn't out of the question. We've seen Liverpool storm out of the blocks in a big game at Anfield. We've seen Liverpool convert the chances we saw Liverpool create but fail to convert over the last month. We've seen Liverpool keep an in-form Lukaku completely under wraps.

Liverpool can; we know Liverpool can. The question, as always, is whether Liverpool will.

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