Fresh off being absolutely useless in a mid-week loss to Valencia — albeit one that followed a comprehensive beating of the worst team in the league — Manchester United have the unenviable task of traveling to Anfield to face table-topping Liverpool on Sunday. While United’s hated rivals have genuine designs on the Premier League title, the Reds’ best hope this season is perhaps a top four finish
if they sack Mourinho before it’s too late. Our colleague Mark Kastner from The Liverpool Offside stopped by to discuss Liverpool’s season and preview the match.
The Busby Babe: Annoyingly, you lot seem to have improved since last season, and you’re now both good and fun to watch. Even worse, you’re now a real threat to win the league. What do you see as your biggest improvements from last season to this?
The Liverpool Offside: A bit surprisingly, it’s been the defense. I would say the improvements actually started last January with the arrival of Virgil van Dijk. There was a reason why Klopp wanted to wait for him. Other than that, Alisson has been immense both with his goalkeeping abilities, but also his usefulness in possession and distribution has helped connect the team from back to front.
A word must be said about Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, as well. These two youngsters have proven to be much better than the senior players in their positions.
The Busby Babe: Alisson has obviously been a massive upgrade in goal, but your other signings haven’t had as smooth starts. Keita - who I rate highly - has been in and out of the side, and Fabinho - who was linked with United for ages - barely plays. What’s going on there?
The Liverpool Offside: Keita’s slow start has been down to rhythm. He actually started the first 3 games of the season, and subbed on in the 4th. But since then, he’s dealt with a back injury and a leg injury that’s kept him in and out of the side. But he’s returned to the side in recent weeks and looks fit and firing.
Fabinho, admittedly, has had a slower start to his Liverpool career than I would’ve liked. He’s had a run of games recently and has looked quite good. Klopp mentioned (and keeps mentioning) back in preseason that Fabinho, essentially, played a completely different position at Monaco than how he sees Fabinho fitting in at Liverpool. I don’t know if Klopp fully trusts Fabinho to play in the preferred 4-3-3 formation just yet. We’ve mainly seen him play in the 4-2-3-1. It also doesn’t help that the club captain plays his same position.
You may remember (or not) that both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andy Robertson had slow starts to their Liverpool careers last season, but by the Spring, they were in the first choice XI. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a similar situation with Fabinho.
Also, Shaqiri has been excellent. I wasn’t expecting to see him become so important to our success.
The Busby Babe: My personal nightmare scenario is that Liverpool win the league and City win the Champions League while United finish mid-table after Mourinho gets a full season to suck every ounce of joy out of life. What are your minimum expectations this season? Does Klopp need to deliver a trophy for this year to be a success?
The Liverpool Offside: Minimum expectations? Top 4 and a Champions League Quarter Final appearance. Even given our incredible start, if that’s what we end up getting this year, I think it’s a successful campaign.
Since I don’t think many Liverpool fans really care about the FA Cup, I think there’s a very real possibility where Liverpool finish trophy-less, again, and it’s still viewed as a successful season.
But here we are, in mid-December, sitting 1 point ahead of City and will probably be 2 points behind them come kickoff on Sunday (Never, under any circumstances, trust Everton). If before the season you’d offer me the chance to be within 5 points of City at the start of March, I would’ve absolutely bitten your arm off for that to be reality. I still would.
The task at had is incredibly monumental. In something like 15 of the last 18 Premier League seasons, Liverpool would be sitting comfortably at the top of the table, a lot like City was last season.
If Klopp can somehow guide Liverpool to glory this season in these circumstances, he’ll obviously cement his legacy as a legendary Liverpool manager. But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The Busby Babe: United are clearly going nowhere this season, but Mourinho still has a knack for turning it on in the big games and is yet to lose to Klopp. What kind of match are you expecting on Sunday?
The Liverpool Offside: It’s going to be ugly. Every time Mourinho shows up at Anfield with United, it’s been the same approach. I’m not expecting more than 2 goals, tops. Mourinho only has one trick left in his locker, and that’s exactly what I expect him to use on Sunday.
The Busby Babe: Last season’s Liverpool had something of a soft center that really good teams could get at. But that’s been addressed at least in part by the additions of Van Dijk and Alisson. If United are to get on a result on Sunday, what weaknesses would they need to exploit?
The Liverpool Offside: Liverpool have a bit of an injury crisis on their hands at the moment. Both Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are out for 6+ weeks. Trent Alexander-Arnold is out for, maybe, two weeks and certainly won’t feature on Sunday. Even castaway Nathaniel Clyne isn’t 90 minutes fit.
All of this means that Dejan Lovren and James Milner will probably be starting at the right centerback and right fullback positions. Lovren, the self proclaimed best defender in the world, has a mistake in him. James Milner, while he played left back for all of the 2016-17 campaign, isn’t a natural fullback. That’s where the weakness is for Liverpool.
The Busby Babe: And finally, prediction for the final score?
The Liverpool Offside: The ugliest 1-0 Liverpool victory.
The Busby Babe: Thanks for the chat, Mark!