Old Trafford, Manchester
Premier League 2016/17
Sunday 15th January 2017 – KO 16:00 [Live on Sky Sports]
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: G Beswick, M McDonough
Fourth Official: C Pawson
Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are currently on a role and have been pushing teams aside with their grit determination and sheer squad strength. However, there have been skeptics, considering they haven’t faced any “big” teams during this nine back to back victories. The timing could not have been better to prove those doubters wrong. United will host Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool, who have been the closest to the table leaders in terms of points, this weekend. However, in spite of them being second and United being sixth in the table, this game could not have been any more crucial to both the teams.
It is a two pointer or an eight pointer for these teams. A win for United will take them to only two points off Liverpool, a team which was suppose to be biggest title contenders for the most part of the season. However, a loss will take United eight points off them, effectively finishing whatever little chance they have of fighting for the league and make the top four, even more, difficult. United have a lot working in their favor at the moment, they have the momentum, a side which is only getting better and better with each passing game, with regards to the understanding and coordination amongst the players. On top of that, Liverpool are coming off their worst patch of results in the season, with only two points in the last three games. United, at this point in time, would like to believe that they have a good chance of taking these three points and reaffirming the notion that they are back to their old self.
This game, being a United-Liverpool game, has its own special emotional value to it and Mourinho clearly understands it, but would also want to focus his attention on the bigger picture, which is the three points.
“It’s three points, plus the emotional side of it. The fans and the players that are at the club for a long time understand the feeling better than I do. But I’m here for a few months and I understand, step by step. It’s a good rivalry but it’s three points and no more than that.”
Klopp, on the other hand, kept his take on the game balanced.
“We are excited about the opportunity to go there and show our best. Both teams are on a good run.United have less problems with injury but that doesn’t matter. We can win against each team – but we can lose against each team too.”
Mourinho also agreed that this team that he has is much different from the one in October, who went to Anfield and defended valiantly but could not create a lot.
“Because the results are better, and that changes a lot of things. At that time, I had less time to work together with my players, now I have a little bit more and we know each other better. We have a certain way to think and play football. In the end, it’s just one more big match – let’s enjoy it.”
With respect to the squad, United manager did confirm that both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rojo are closer to recovery and might be a possibility for the game. Who would have thought a couple of months back that fans would be rooting for Rojo to be the front-runner for a starting position in a United-Liverpool game? Both Rojo and Phil Jones have had an exceptional season so far and their resurgence has been excellent for United. In absence of both Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly, two of UNited’s first choice center halves, Rojo and Jones stabilized the back extremely well. So much so that, they were considered ahead of both of them in recent games. It’s not just the defense that has developed, though. Since United last played Liverpool, Carrick has become an integral part of this United team and that midfield three has just clicked. Those three compliment each other so well that it is almost under appreciated by the fans on occasions. But the biggest difference from the away fixture would be the emergence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He has been instrumental in a lot of United’s recent attacks and has shown how dangerous he can be. Even Juergen Klopp, his former manager, has taken a notice of how well he has played since his comeback to the United team.
“He combines technical ability and tempo. It is rare. He is a good finisher with a great attitude. He is a world class player.”
With so much riding on this game for both the teams, it promises to be a special game. The one who triumphs will have the upper hand going ahead in the season. As Gary Neville mentioned, it is a “crossroads game” and it will be interesting how both teams approach the game.
Manchester United Form: WWWWW
Hull City 2-0 W, Reading 4-0 W, West Ham United 2-0 W, Middlesbrough 2-1 W, Sunderland 3-1 W
United have been prolific in their previous nine encounters, winning all of them. But a couple of games, especially the last one did not produce the type of football United fans have come to expect nowadays. It seems that the Louis Van Gaal days of 0-0 at half time being a norm, have passed away pretty quickly. There has been excitement in United’s play in most of their games, which was seen missing in the last game and also against West Ham. But grinding out the result matters after all and that is what proves the mettle of the team. Mental strength will be needed the most for the upcoming games and Mourinho seems to be instilling it the right way.
Liverpool Form: LDDWW
Southampton 1-0 L, Plymouth 0-0 D, Sunderland 2-2 D, Manchester City 1-0 W, Stoke City 4-1 W
In spite of being at the effervescent best, Liverpool has failed to win the last three of their matches in all competitions. Two unexpected draws against Sunderland and Plymouth and a shocking loss to Southampton has left them winless for more than two weeks now. But all will be forgotten and forgiven if they manage to get those three points at Old Trafford.
Wins – 87 Draws – 63 Losses- 75
Manchester United Squad;
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Goalkeepers: David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Joel Pereira
Defenders: Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Axel Tuanzebe
Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford
Players to miss the game: Eric Bailly (National duties)
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Goalkeepers: Loris Karius, Alex Manninger, Simon Mignolet
Defenders: Nathaniel Clyne, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Tiago Ilori, Joël Matip, Connor Randall
Midfielders: Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Marko Grujić, Adam Lallana, Lucas, Emre Can, Cameron Brannagan, Kevin Stewart, Ovie Ejaria, Sheyi Ojo, Pedro Chirivella
Forwards: Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, Sadio Mané, Divock Origi, Danny Ings
Players to miss the game: Sadio Mane (National Duties)
Predicted Starting XI:
Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool