One of the biggest English fixtures of all time returns with its latest edition this weekend as two powerhouses of football go head-to-head at Anfield on Sunday. It is the North-West Derby as Liverpool plays host to Manchester United in the Premier League.
Liverpool have had a shocking season so far given they were the genuine Premier League title and UCL challengers till last season. The UEFA Champions League finalists from last season had high hopes for this campaign, but they failed to recover from a poor start and found themselves languishing out of the European spots. However, they have hit some form over the past few weeks with wins over Everton, Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Reds are on a 4 game unbeaten run currently which is good news for the Anfield faithful as they prepare to face a familiar foe. Jurgen Klopp and his men know they cannot afford to drop points now if they want to secure UCL qualification for next season, as we head into the closing stages of the league. They were last in action against Wolves in the midweek, beating them 2-0 thanks to goals from Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah. That win brought them to 6th in the league with a game in hand over 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur who are six points ahead.
Manchester United, meanwhile, are on the up currently, having won the Carabao Cup last week and christening the Erik ten Hag era with a trophy at the first time of asking. Their win at Wembley over Newcastle United ended their six-year trophy drought and brought silverware to Old Trafford for the first time since 2017. Man United had a much more comfortable time at Wembley than they did in the midweek against West Ham United as the two clubs faced off in the FA Cup fifth round.
The Red Devils ended the night as 3-1 winners, but they were made to work hard for it. The hosts went 0-1 down thanks to a Said Benrahma strike, but were handed a lifeline after a Nayef Augerd own goal saw the scores drawn level. The hosts then kept plugging away and finally struck gold after a brilliant Alejandro Garnacho curling shot in the far bottom corner gave them a 2-1 lead in the 90th minute. United then added another two minutes from time as West Ham gave the ball away under pressure from Wout Weghorst, which fell to Fred at the edge of the box and he made no mistake putting it away.
Manchester United are in tremendous form heading into the tie and ten Hag’s men are full of confidence and belief despite their congested fixture list. They are still competing on three fronts and a win on Sunday will take them a step closer to Arsenal and Manchester City at the top.
WHEN & WHERE?
Date: Sunday, 5th March 2023.
Time: 4.30 pm BST
Venue: Anfield, Liverpool.
Referee: Andy Madley.
Assistants: Adam Nunn, Harry Lennard.
Fourth official: Chris Kavanagh.
VAR: David Coote.
Assistant VAR: Timothy Wood.
Liverpool have struggled with injuries this season, but have welcomed back a few key players in recent weeks. Ibrahima Konate made his return to action in their midweek win over Wolves after spending some time on the treatment table and was instrumental in helping the Reds keep a cleansheet.
Similarly, Diogo Jota, Virgil van Dijk and Roberto Firmino have also all returned in the last few weeks, boosting Liverpool’s squad. Darwin Nunez missed last week’s draw against Crystal Palace after a shoulder injury but was fit again in the midweek as he played the entire game before being subbed for Firmino in the dying minutes. Midfielder Thiago, defender Joe Gomez and forward Luis Diaz are all expected to be miss the derby with injuries.
Manchester United have their own list of injury concerns heading into Sunday’s game. Anthony Martial is a huge doubt for the trip to Merseyside despite the Frenchman starting individual training. It seems the forward will still be out for some more time with ten Hag refusing to give a timeline for his return. Other than Martial, midfielders Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek are definitely ruled out with long-term injuries. Jadon Sancho missed the midweek FA Cup win with an illness and it remains to see if he can recover in time for Sunday. Casemiro is set to make his return to league action after missing the last three league games due to suspension.
The old adage says, form goes out the window when derby day rolls around and it has often been the case in the Liverpool-Manchester United games. It was apparent in the third game of the season, when the two clubs faced off against each other under the lights at Old Trafford. United were the victors on that occasion, despite losing their previous two games by a margin of 6-1 overall and were 20th and last at kickoff. However, buoyed on by the Stretford End, the Red Devils rose to the occasion and got one over their old rivals.
That win was the sign of things to come for both teams. Manchester United fans will always see that win over Liverpool as ‘the day they came to life’ to quote Peter Drury, and for Liverpool that defeat was just a taste of how difficult it would get over the next months. Now the two clubs face with both in different stages of the season.
The hosts are out of running for the league, the FA cup and are on the brink of elimination from the Champions League, whereas the visitors come in the highest of spirits, having advanced to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in the midweek, which was preceded by a Carabao Cup title win at Wembley and a win over Barcelona in the Europa League that saw them progress to the next round.
Anfield will have to be at its raucous best to welcome the age-old rivals. It will be not just the meeting of two great clubs but also two great managers who are capable of turning the game around with simple tactical tweaks. Ten Hag has this season outclassed almost all managers, and Jurgen Klopp has done so consistently over the past few years. This could well be a season-defining game for the Merseyside Reds as they continue their push for the top four to salvage something from a dismal season. A loss may make an arduous journey even more formidable; a win may just give them enough hope and belief.
For Manchester United, an unlikely title dream is still alive but by the thinnest of margins. They are still in the running for a quadruple and a win at Anfield will certainly give them the biggest of boost in a jam-packed fixture schedule. Liverpool versus United is never for the faint-hearted and the background of this game promises to make it yet another classic fixture in the North-West Derby.
The Egyptian has had an underwhelming season so far by his standards, scoring 9 goals in 24 league games so far for the Reds. The Egyptian has not shown the same level of quality as he has shown in the past few seasons, but Salah is getting back to his feet slowly. He was kept quiet by the Wolves defense in the midweek until his goal in the second half and was generally stifled until that moment. His goal in the midweek meant he now has two goals and an assist in his last four league games, and he will be hoping to add to that tally come Sunday.
Getting him more involved in the attack was a huge problem for Klopp at the beginning of the season, but the German has solved the issue up to a certain extent. The United defense is very solid and will certainly be difficult to break down though Salah’s individual brilliance could muster some hope for Liverpool against their bitter rivals who look far the superior team at the moment.
The main man, the man in red-hot form, Marcus Rashford cannot stop scoring at the moment. He has transformed into a fearsome attacker under Erik ten Hag and is considered by many to be one of the best attackers in the league. The Englishman has netted a career-high 25 goals this season, breaking his previous best of 24 goals. He is on course to demolish that record by some margin given the current form he is in and defenses in the league are undoubtedly scratching their heads on how to contain the Man United number 10.
Rashford has scored 10 goals in his last 10 league games and was last on the scoresheet in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, scoring United’s second goal. He will be the primary cause of concern for Jurgen Klopp’s men and it will be intriguing to see how the German coach deals with Rashford.
Liverpool predicted XI vs Manchester United: Alisson; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Virgil van Dijk, Kostas Tsimikas; Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Stefan Bajcetic; Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez.
Manchester United predicted XI vs Liverpool: David de Gea; Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Wout Weghorst.