Manchester United face Liverpool in an intriguing and mouthwatering top-of-the-table set to at Anfield on Sunday. A match which history dictates will surely disappoint but one where the plot and subplots could overspill. Or simply where both sides are uninhibited in a classic.
A draw would arguably suit United, even at this stage of the season which is effectively still December. A draw wouldn’t, however, provide any evidence of where each team is at at the moment – especially a goalless one.
Liverpool beating United would simply reaffirm what many, including Paul Pogba, will concede – that they are the better team and remain so until United win the league.
What Pogba’s downplaying, though, is the significance of United winning on Sunday and the pressure it heaps on Liverpool to assert the recent status quo this weekend and beyond. Winning the league is an achievement – retaining the league puts you in another bracket entirely. An obsession of Jürgen Klopp’s, no doubt.
Pretty disturbing to hear that from someone who refereed during Ferguson’s reign, admitting there used to be bias towards Man United https://t.co/wmZWCxk7RT— Didi Hamann (@DietmarHamann) January 14, 2021
Meanwhile, eyebrows will raise across the country and paranoia will run rife in Merseyside should United come away with a victory.
None of the overhyped, unrewarding 0-0 nonsense, then, thank you very much. Not with a three-point cushion.
From the manager and the players. Take none of Klopp’s needle, Pogba can go full peacock if he wants. Full mast at Anfield. *Go out and enjoy it* and “...walk off the pitch with no regrets.”
Seeing Eric Bertrand Bailly and Jacob Harry Maguire’s new partnership stress-tested successfully.
A dilemma for Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but one which might be solved higher up the field.
Nemanja Matić was calm, composed and effective midweek against Burnley but played the full 97 minutes. Scott McTominay and Fred were both (mostly) unused substitutes and have been trusted against better sides in big games where United have looked to counter rather than dominate.
With Anthony Martial subpar of late and limping off midweek, United may need to reshuffle creatively. In this instance, Mason Greenwood would normally swap in but he, too, hasn’t been at his best.
Pogba could play left of the three behind the striker, with Marcus Rashford the other side of Bruno Fernandes. Solskjær opted for this setup and personnel in midfield against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup semi-final and, despite the performance, may give it another go.
Pogba would naturally be drawn into the middle to get on the ball, compensated by Luke Shaw – much improved recently – overlapping. These games are often won and lost in midfield and neither Fred nor McTominay will want to protect the defence on their own.
An unchanged side instead would be risky with the relentless domestic schedule and points elsewhere up for grabs.
Edinson Cavani gives United much-needed options and experience up front. And Rashford is still more effective starting from the margins. But Solskjær should be prepared to switch it up early if whoever is leading the line struggles.