Monday Night Football sees a pivotal game between two of the game’s biggest rivals that could be extremely revealing about the direction of each team’s season.
Whilst only three points separate the two teams in the league table, the directions that their respective seasons appear to be taking could not be more different. Liverpool are riding a wave of optimism fuelled by Jurgen Klopp, who looks to have created a dynamic force of attacking football. They are capable of overpowering any opposition via their aggressive pressing, direct running and cohesive forward interplay. Wins away at Arsenal and Chelsea in the league this season have demonstrated the talent of Klopp’s squad in difficult fixtures, and their form has seen them achieve four straight wins to put them firmly in the top four. Title predictions may be a tad premature, but there is certainly much for Liverpool fans to look forward to as they continue their campaign.
The season for Manchester United however, appears to be stagnating after a promising start. Mourinho’s new look United invested heavily in the summer, with spending reaching over £150 million, but have failed to live up to their always lofty expectations thus far. Defeats against Watford and Feyenoord and a disappointing home draw against Stoke see in-form Liverpool enter this game as heavy favourites against a United team that have looked out of sync. But there are many reasons to be hopeful for United fans, for certain tactical approaches might prove to give their team the advantage in this important game.
Mourinho’s managerial style can be characterised as pragmatism rather than idealism. He will be very aware of his team’s limitations against a talented Liverpool side playing in front of a fired-up home atmosphere. Liverpool fans will not have forgotten how Mourinho’s Chelsea team in 2014 came to a hostile Anfield atmosphere and packed 10 men behind the ball, frustrating their opposition as they scrapped to a 2-0 victory. This was of course the game that destroyed Liverpool’s momentum which had appeared to be carrying them to a long-awaited Premier League title. Mourinho may not choose to adopt such an extreme tactic with his current United side, but it is worth considering that this is a manager who is very capable of setting up an organised defence that can slow the game down and interrupt Liverpool’s rhythm.
This could very well provide a winning strategy for United, who, if they manage the game correctly, certainly have the personnel to expose some of Liverpool’s weaknesses. If they do choose to sit deep and avoid trying to control possession, they can diminish the effect of Liverpool’s high press, forcing them to build their attacks from defence. The dynamism of whoever plays among Rashford, Lingaard and Martial may be best utilised in a counter-attacking style, as United may look to tempt Liverpool into overcommitting men to their attack.
The most potent attacking weapon for United may be their set pieces and aerial threat, which might expose a long-suffered weakness for this Liverpool team. United possess far more size than Liverpool through players such as Ibrahimović, Fellaini, Pogba and they would be foolish not to try and exploit this advantage at Anfield. This exact fixture last season was decided by a Fellaini header from a corner that fell to Rooney to win the game for United.
It will be fascinating to see if Mourinho’s side will seek to play this supposed ‘negative’ style of football to attempt to disrupt the strengths of their opponent. A win could provide his side with a much-needed boost to propel them within touching distance of the top of the league. But defeat could leave United with an uphill climb to try and retain form and catch up with their rivals.
It is relatively easy to predict the way in which Liverpool will attempt to play in this game, but United’s style of football might be crucial in deciding the outcome of this match.