The Premier League kicks off with an absolute thriller this weekend in the form of the Northwest derby.
There’s little love lost between Liverpool and Manchester United and the latter will see victory at Anfield as a huge endorsement of their Premier League title credentials, while the former know they can’t afford to fall ten points behind the division’s summit so early in the season.
So, how will this one pan out? Here’s a look at everything you need to know before kickoff…
These figures would likely be completely reversed if we were looking at the 1980s but since the incarnation of the Premier League, Manchester United have largely reigned supreme in this fixture.
In fact, they’ve won almost half of their 25 visits to Anfield in the Premier League and have picked up 14 more victories over the Reds overall, while scoring 17 more goals. Most intriguingly, however, United’s dominance of this fixture wasn’t necessarily during their title-winning days.
Since 2011, Liverpool have only beaten United three times in the top flight, compared to seven wins for the Red Devils and three draws. With history on their side, United will fancy their chances of claiming another win on Merseyside this Saturday.
Martin Atkinson’s more lenient style, ranking in the bottom half of the Premier League’s 19 referees last term for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and yellow cards per game, seemingly suits Manchester United more.
We’re expecting a defence-comes-first approach to the Anfield clash from Jose Mourinho, who would love to come away from Merseyside with a clean sheet, and it’s also worth noting United rank significantly higher than Liverpool in the Premier League’s foul charts this season.
That suggests far more physical challenges that blur the line of acceptability from the visitors than the home side, who will likely be allowed to control possession, and the 46-year-old appears unlikely to clamp down on that.
Additionally, Liverpool haven’t won the last three Northwest derbies Atkinson has officiated – another bad omen.
The big casualty facing Jurgen Klopp ahead of Saturday’s clash is of course, Sadio Mane. Liverpool’s win rate dropped by 26% across all competitions without the Senegal forward last season but he looks set to be sidelined for the next six weeks after suffering an injury on international duty.
The likeliest solution is Philippe Coutinho returning to the left forward role he occupied last season, with the Brazil international and countryman Roberto Firmino expected to be involved despite lengthy mid-week trips back to Merseyside, although it remains to be seen whether Klopp favourite Emre Can or vice-captain James Milner will be called upon to fill the void in the engine room.
Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses have been discussed frequently this season and we could see a change in the full-back slots.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit again and we’re tipping him to replace Joe Gomez at right-back, while Andrew Robertson may come in for Alberto Moreno – but don’t bank your Fantasy Football hopes on that one.
Mourinho’s biggest concern ahead of the Anfield clash is inevitably the injury crisis in midfield – the department that could well have the biggest influence on a game that looks set to be an incredibly cagey affair.
That being said, the Portuguese does have two dependable options to fall on in Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera. The only other real points of contention are left-back – Ashley Young has been fantastic in recent weeks but may not be deemed the appropriate No.3 to face Mohamed Salah – and the attacking midfield slot just in front of the engine room.
Although it’s likely Juan Mata will start, don’t be too surprised if Jesse Lingard gets the nod instead for his work-rate and energy off the ball.