Everything that you need to know ahead of Sunday’s match:
(1) Manchester United travel to Anfield for a top of the table clash with Liverpool. It’s also another chance for United to shed their reputation for struggling against the Premier League’s other big sides. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have not won against any of the traditional big six this season, despite all of those matches coming at Old Trafford. If United hope to stay at the summit, that needs to change fast.
(2) Two injury concerns after the Burnley match: Anthony Martial limped off at Turf Moor with an apparent hamstring injury, while Nemanja Matić went down late with a hurt groin. While Matić is not a guaranteed starter, Martial would be a big loss for Manchester United. His speed and power play an important role in United’s counterattacking system and Liverpool would breathe a sigh of relief if he can’t go on Sunday.
Anthony Martial since the beginning of 2019/20:— UtdArena (@utdarena) January 14, 2021
⏳ 56 90s
⚽ 28 goals
0.75 goal contributions per 90 pic.twitter.com/WQDMBcJoWE
(3) Former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen spoke this week about Paul Pogba’s improving form:
I have been one of [Pogba’s] critics over the last few months because I believe we can expect more from Paul. This is the performance we all want to see, the fans want to see. He is important for the team. He drives the team on. He’s winning his duels and is important in scoring goals. That’s what you want to see.
The key for me is that we need to expect those kinds of performances from him week in, week out. He can do that, I know that. He has showed that and that is what he needs to show in the upcoming games.
(4) Sunday’s showdown will be a case of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. Liverpool last lost a Premier League match at Anfield in April 2017 — that’s a 67-game unbeaten streak. Manchester United, on the other hand, are road warriors. Their last away defeat in the league came at Anfield last season, meaning that they’re unbeaten in fifteen Premier League road matches.
(5) Liverpool’s title defense did not get off to an especially strong start, as injuries to key players piled up and that 7-2 loss at Aston Villa in October pierced their veil of invincibility. Nevertheless, after a 7-0 win over Crystal Palace before Christmas, Jurgen Klopp’s side was five points clear at the top and seemed on a glide pattern for another Premier League title. Since that result, though, Liverpool have gone three matches without a win and dropped to second in the table.
(6) Of biggest concern is Liverpool’s faltering attack. No side boasting a frontline of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah should struggle for goals — but Liverpool are. Over the past three league matches, they’ve scored just once and mustered only seven combined shots on goal.
(7) Klopp has had to juggle his backline after several crucial injuries earlier this season. Virgil van Dijk remains out long-term after suffering ACL damage during the Merseyside derby in October. Then, the next month, Joe Gomez ruptured his patella tendon and will be sidelined for months. The cherry on top came before New Year’s when Joel Matip hurt his adductor, though he’s reportedly close to a return. This injury crisis has forced Liverpool to play Fabinho and youngster Nat Phillips together at center back.
(8) Unfortunately for Manchester United, Thiago Alcantara is back and looks to be rounding into form. The Spaniard barely got started on Merseyside before testing positive for Covid-19 and later suffering a knee injury, resulting in him only playing 285 minutes so far this season after moving over from Bayern Munich. He instantly becomes one of the most talented players at Klopp’s disposal and, based on his performance against Aston Villa in the FA Cup, seems to be shaking off the rust. Thiago’s creativity in the passing game could be just the tonic for Liverpool’s sputtering attack.
Thiago's appearances for Liverpool:— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 14, 2021
️ Away to Chelsea
️ Away to Everton
️ Away to Newcastle
️ Away to Southampton
️ Away to Aston Villa
️ The Spaniard will finally make his Anfield debut for Liverpool on Sunday pic.twitter.com/26Ye7jPk5T
(9) Liverpool really miss Diogo Jota. The summer signing from Wolves injured his knee in the Champions League and will likely be out for another month. Jota hit the ground running at Anfield with nine goals in all competitions so far, but his biggest contribution was the pressure he put on Mane, Firmino, and Salah — who had all grown accustomed to being automatic starters. It’s probably no coincidence that Liverpool’s downturn coincided with the Portuguese playmaker’s absence.
(10) Liverpool have developed into more of a possession side in recent years, though they still rely heavily on Klopp’s signature counter-press to create turnovers and fast break scoring chances. With Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson pushing high up the pitch on either flank, Liverpool’s high defensive line is vulnerable to quick counterattacks. If Manchester United can cope with Liverpool’s relentless press, they will get plenty of chances to run into space.
(11) Important news from the English football power brokers about the remainder of the season:
The FA, Premier League and EFL have released a joint statement stating they are 'confident’ that the current season is on track to finish in May ✍️ pic.twitter.com/au2CLumU5O— Goal (@goal) January 14, 2021