The 17th of October 2016 will see Liverpool host Manchester United in the first North-West derby of the 2016/17 season at Anfield and Sanjay Nair discusses what will determine the outcome.
It has always been one of those games where form counts for little and is more akin to a heavyweight bout. Winning or losing is determined by which team comes better prepared mentally and is up for a good ol’ school-style street-fight. Past matches, results of matches from previous seasons all count for nothing and the difference will be who possesses the greater desire to win.
Liverpool has lost four consecutive matches to their arch rivals, including three out of the last four corresponding fixtures (at home). A team that is currently playing some of the most scintillating football in the country will be confident about setting that record right. However, they also need to make sure this well-placed confidence does not lead to complacency, no matter how inconsistent their opponents may seem at the moment.
Mourinho is a proven master of the big games in the Premier League era and his game plan could revolve around playing the waiting game and relying on the counter-attack and set-pieces with Liverpool’s weakness in that particular area being well documented.
Having said that, the below factors could eventually tilt the balance either side:
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Battle of the goalkeepers
Neither of Liverpool’s goalkeepers has had a great start to the season when put under pressure. Whether Klopp will decide to go with the experience of Mignolet or continue with Karius is not certain. The fact that neither are first-choice for their respective countries and so were not called into competitive action for almost 2 weeks makes it tough to take a pick.
Considering the opposition, Mignolet might just about make the cut based on past experience in this fixture. However, from the 2 sides, De Gea is the more assured and has been in good form. So our forward line will have to be at their clinical best to stand a chance of scoring.
Yes, it is the understatement of the past couple of seasons that Liverpool’s defending of set pieces leaves so much to be desired. First and foremost, the aim must be to avoid conceding fouls in dangerous areas as well as keeping corners conceded to a minimum. Even then, the focus and concentration levels need to be of the highest degree.
It would not be surprising to see Fellaini given a start by United, in place of Herrera, just to create that much more pressure on our defenders. As such, Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Smalling, Rashford and Bailly will already be quite a handful with their strength and aerial presence.
Keeping Pogba quiet
Paul Pogba, over the past few weeks, has been showing for both club and country why he is the world’s most expensive footballer.
Key to Liverpool’s chances will be keeping him off the ball and if achieved successfully, it would mean a massive drying up of chances created for Zlatan and Rashford. Initially, Wijnaldum would most likely have been chosen to do the strangling job, but he seems certain to be ruled out of the match with injury.
That leaves Emre Can or Henderson to take up the responsibility of keeping Pogba quiet. Hendo’s offensive influence on the game could be limited if given this task and Can would be better choice tactically if he can keep his wits about himself for the entire duration. Either way, this could turn out to be the biggest factor in a Liverpool win.
Liverpool’s rampaging attack
18 goals in seven games, at an average of 2.5 goals per game, is enough proof of how potent Liverpool has been offensively. United, on the other hand, has conceded more than a goal per game.
The newly acquired Eric Bailly has been the only consistent performer at the heart of their defence. Even though Lallana, who was in the best form since joining Liverpool, will be sorely missed, Liverpool still possesses players of the highest quality in Coutinho, Mane and Firmino to cause considerable confusion and damage in and around United’s 18-yard area.
Given the intensity and history of the encounter, one can expect our expert penalty-taker Milner to come into play at least once during the 90 minutes.
What a difference a year can make to a stadium. What a difference an ebullient and passionate manager can make to the atmosphere within a stadium.
No disrespect to the excellent Brendan Rodgers, but while he relied on the lads alone to liven up proceedings at Anfield, Klopp has taken up most of that responsibility upon himself. As a result, the fans are once again at their best and Anfield is slowly getting back to being an intimidating ground for visiting players.
The lads are now feeding off the positive energy from the stands and vice-versa. Bigger Main Stand, more fans… Expect a lot of heckling for visiting players, with most surely to be reserved for the Manchester lot.
I’m looking forward to another miserable night for Manchester United and Mourinho in particular…
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