Friday, 9 March 2018

Match preview: United v Liverpool

This is a tie that needs no introduction as the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside lock horns at Old Trafford in the 200th competitive meeting between English football's two most successful sides.
Our storied, historical and long-running rivalry with the men from down the East Lancs Road stretches back to 1884, in a fierce feud that transcends two cities and captures the attention of the football world. That said, the last three ties have ended all square and the recent pattern is one of a tightly-contested encounter that fails to live up to the hype and expectations that precedes it. It's a game that stands out as the biggest and most important of all.

Jurgen Klopp's in form Liverpool side make the 35-mile trip to Old Trafford in third place in the Premier League, a place and two points behind United as the battle for second place intensifies.When Barcelona-bound Philippe Coutinho left in January, doubts were raised over how Liverpool would cope without their wellspring of Brazilian flair and creativity. But, spearheaded by the man they call 'the Pharaoh' - 32-goal winger Mohamed Salah - only Manchester City have scored more league goals. Part of a free-scoring, potent and prolific front three in tandem with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, it's been an impressive debut season for the Egyptian. United will have a job on their hands to keep him quiet again as he leads the race for the Golden Boot jointly with Spurs Harry Kane.

The Reds didn't exactly receive positive acclaim for our trip to Anfield in October's reverse fixture - when we earned a hard fought draw based on discipline and organisation. That extended our unbeaten run against the Scousers to an eighth game but this will be a stern test of our credentials. Anthony Martial looks set to remain sidelined after missing Monday's thriller at Selhurst Park - one of seven players who were absent. Marouane Fellaini could return to the squad and Eric Bailly is fully fit and is expected to feature but there are no other injury concerns for the Reds. For Liverpool, Andy Robertson, captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are in contention to return after recent injury setbacks, whilst right-back Nathaniel Clyne is edging towards full fitness. This game will come too soon for him, however.
The boss played down the historical context of the rivalry, and said: "In my mentality, every match is the same. I've never been very good on that culture - this match is special, this rivalry is special. I never look at one team as the biggest rival. For me it is just a big match, because we are talking about two very big clubs, not just in England but in the world also. In this moment, there are important points for the top four, for the second position which is better than third or fourth place."

This titanic tussle marks the start of a crucial three ties in a week for United, with the second leg against Sevilla on Tuesday hot on the heels of this one and the FA Cup quarter final with Brighton to follow next weekend.

Form guide: United W L W D W W Liverpool D W W W W D
Match odds: United 7/5 Draw 12/4 Liverpool 12/5
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

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