Liverpool – the Premier League’s last remaining unbeaten side so far this season – are to host their bitter rivals Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday.
Whilst Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are flying high at the top of the table, Jose Mourinho’s side have endured a campaign to forget so far. Ahead of the weekend, the Red Devils were already eight points off the Champions League qualification places.
The Reds entered gameweek 17 one point ahead of reigning champions Manchester City but the Cityzens remain favourites to retain their crown, so it’s vital that Klopp’s outfit maintain their current form, confidence and momentum if they’re to sustain their title challenge until the end of the campaign.
United, meanwhile, are facing vastly different circumstances. Already out of touch with the top four, Jose Mourinho’s team are sixteen points worse off than their upcoming opponents.
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Considering the stark disparity in each club’s recent fortunes, and given that Liverpool hold the home advantage, Mourinho will know his side are heading into this fixture as underdogs.
However, United have shown improvements in recent league outings – against Arsenal and Fulham – and Mourinho does have a long-standing habit of grinding out victories when the odds are against him. One thing Liverpool can’t afford to be is complacent.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s Northwest derby…
The enmity between these two giants of English football can be traced back over a number of decades. In the Premier League era, though, the Red Devils have largely had the better of the Merseyside outfit.
Having had more than double the number of Premier League victories over Liverpool than the Reds can claim to have had over them, history weighs in with United on this one. A 46% win rate at Anfield – compared to the Reds’ 31% win record over United in their own stadium – also lends the visitors a psychological advantage heading into Sunday’s game.
The fact that these sides have shared a whopping sixteen red cards in the Premier League also hints towards how fiery and animated meetings between them can become. Form may be on Liverpool’s side, but such things often go out of the window in such emotionally-charged and feisty fixtures.
Whereas United have the edge over the hosts in terms of their record in the Premier League, when it comes to Klopp’s face-offs with Mourinho, the German has generally had the upper hand.
Klopp has recorded three victories over Mourinho, whereas the Portuguese has only bested him twice.
In what is perhaps the least surprising couplet of stats in football history, Klopp’s teams have scored more goals and Mourinho’s boys have clung on to more clean sheets.
All in all, their record against one another is pretty close but there is one category in which Mourinho crushes his opponent. The Portuguese has a medal collection at the twenty mark; Klopp’s silverware amounts to just three triumphs. No matter the outcome on Sunday, this is a disparity that Mourinho will miss no opportunity to highlight.
Martin Atkinson will take charge of proceedings at Anfield on Sunday, and the 47-year-old can bring bags of experience to the role. With a feisty affair potentially on the cards, Atkinson may well have to exert all his authority to maintain control of the occasion.
If tempers do flare and tackles start flying in, then Atkinson certainly won’t hesitate to start showing cards. So far this season, the Bradford-born official has shown 43 yellow cards, seeing him rank seventh on a per-game basis out of the seventeen referees to have overseen a top flight match so far this season.
He has also sent one player off, and ranks fifth out of the seventeen in terms of fouls awarded per tackle and ninth in terms of penalties awarded per match.
There is certainly plenty of evidence, then, that whilst Atkinson will be forthright in establishing his control, the game could descend into a bitty, stop-start affair if the players allow their emotions to get the better of them.
Liverpool are facing something of an injury crisis at the back, with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip ruled out completely, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne all fitness doubts ahead of Sunday.
This means Klopp has little choice but to line up with a centre-back pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren. The Dutchman will likely shoulder the responsibility of organising and marshalling an unfamiliar-looking Liverpool rearguard.
The German boss also has decisions to make in the middle of the park. Club captain Jordan Henderson and Xherdan Shaqiri will both likely be itching to start in such a big game, but the recent form of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Giorginio Wijnaldum suggests that they should be the central trio to start.
The only automatic picks then – barring late injuries – are the Reds’ brilliant front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, and the Brazilian No. 1 between the sticks, Alisson.
Jose Mourinho also has injury concerns to contend with. The Red Devils’ highest-paid player, Alexis Sanchez, is ruled out, whilst their Premier League top scorer, Anthony Martial, is also a doubt.
With No. 9 Romelu Lukaku in poor form, the visitors will likely look towards Marcus Rashford for goals. The England man’s electric pace should certainly test the likes of Lovren.
Like Liverpool, United also have key absences at the back. Victor Lindelof has been ruled out, whilst Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Diogo Dalot, Matteo Darmian and Marco Rojo are all doubts.
Considering that Mourinho will likely – as is his trademark, especially away from home – set up his team to sit back and soak up pressure, he’ll need his makeshift back line to be at the top of their game. The ageing legs of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia will certainly do well to keep up with Salah & Co.
If United’s rearguard aren’t at the races – and they haven’t been on several occasions already this season – then it could be a very long night for the Old Trafford outfit.