It is hard to put a finger exactly on why Liverpool were so poor in their 0-1 defeat to Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final in midweek. Jurgen Klopp named a strong enough side, but there was a feeling that perhaps the players’ minds were elsewhere; the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday is certainly enough of a diversion to suggest that theory is correct.
For the Saints it was the biggest game of the season, so their motivation was obvious, but why a strong Liverpool outfit failed to show up is something of a mystery. Following on from the 3-3 draw with Sunderland, and the 0-0 stalemate with Plymouth – albeit with a much-changed starting eleven, now is not the time to be having a wobble.
“I’ve tried [to explain the performance] in three or four interviews but I cannot,” Klopp told a post-match press conference. “The start was good. If we would have done this for 90 minutes, then it would have been very difficult for Southampton. But after we conceded, the game changed.
“I’m actually not used to a reaction like this from my boys but they have to accept that tonight was not good. We did not have a lot of chances – if we had some [at all]. The performance, of course, doesn’t feel too good.
The only point of consolation is that at 0-1 down, the Reds still have an excellent chance of progressing to the final with a strong showing at Anfield in the second leg.
With a line drawn under that, attention turns to Sunday. United have been excellent at home of late but we know that victory here could close the gap on leaders Chelsea, depending on their result away from home at Leicester on Saturday teatime. The scene is set for another thrilling ‘derby’ between these two fierce rivals.
Liverpool Team News
Even in the darkness at St Marys on Wednesday night came good news: firstly, that James Milner has made a full recovery from injury and was able to play the whole 90 minutes. Secondly, the return of Philippe Coutinho – the Brazilian magician playing the last half hour or so – truly warmed the cockles. It might be too early for him to start the game at Old Trafford, but his re-emergence will surely add fresh impetus to Liverpool’s title charge.
There is further positivity with the news that both Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip will return to full training today after their own injury absences. Should they both do well over the next few days, they will surely return to the starting eleven on Sunday – Henderson in his guise as inspirational leader, Matip as the dominant centre back ahead of Ragnar Klavan, who was perhaps at fault for the Saints’ goal in midweek.
If that is the case, Klopp will have an almost full-strength to choose from for what could be termed Liverpool’s biggest game of the campaign so far – Sadio Mane’s absence at the African Nations Cup being the only blot on the copybook.
So how will we line up at Old Trafford? Well, we certainly won’t deviate away from the 4-3-3 formation that has proven so successful, and the only nod Klopp will give to United is in wide areas, where he will look to counter their attacking full backs with a pair of hard-working wide men of his own. Other than that it will be business as usual for the Merseysiders, who will surely play better than they did on Wednesday night.
Manchester United Form
It’s painful to write, but United have been outstanding of late. Unbeaten since the end of October, they have won their last eight matches in all competitions, and it appears that Jose Mourinho has finally hit upon a winning formula at the club.
Their excellence has been founded on some rock solid home form: they are W5 D4 L1 this term, with those recent victories over Hull and Reading in the EFL and FA Cup thrown in for good measure.
What we do note, however, is how they have fared against the big sides this season. You will remember them parking the bus at Anfield earlier in the campaign of course to nick a 0-0 draw, but defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea, a draw with Arsenal and a narrow 1-0 win over Tottenham suggest that when they play against a side of equal or better footing, they don’t necessarily flourish.
Manchester United vs Liverpool Betting Tips
So how will this one play out? Well, like the last four meetings between the pair – which have witnessed two or fewer goals – we expect another low-scoring encounter. Liverpool’s defence will be shored up by the return of Matip, while United have failed to score more than once in a game against any of the top six: that shows Mourinho’s philosophy in such encounters.
And so, Under 2.5 Goals at Evens look a smart bet straight out of the blocks.
Even at home, we expect Mourinho’s men to be rather pragmatic in their approach – don’t be surprised if the likes of Fellaini and Rooney start over more expressive talents, and so we expect 90 minutes of watching Liverpool dominating possession and trying to break the Red Devils down. They couldn’t do it at Anfield, and they may struggle on enemy territory too.
So we’re backing the draw here at 12/5, and are happy to bolster our selection with two correct score wagers: 0-0 and 1-1 at 10/1 and 6/1 respectively.
And finally, as optimists that the Reds will improve exponentially for this clash, we’ll be backing the Liverpool +0.25 Asian Handicap at a generous 21/20.