Saturday 18 January 2020

Man Utd face the most daunting challenge in world football against Liverpool

Just how do you solve a problem like Liverpool? When Manchester United emerge into the Anfield cauldron in just over 24 hours time, they face the most daunting challenge in world football.
There cannot be a more difficult place to visit right now than L4 0TH, and I've never felt less confident going there than I do this time.

A team that haven't been beaten at home by anyone for two months shy of three years sit top of the Premier League by a country mile, 14 points clear of Pep Guardiola's back-to-back title winners. The numbers for Jurgen Klopp's side are frightening. 20 wins from 21 league games, 50 goals scored and only 14 conceded. The reigning European and World champions look on course for their first ever Premier League title - their first league title win for 30 years - an unstoppable juggernaut that have swept all before them this season. Oh, and they're unbeaten in 38 league games - the equivalent of an invincible season - across the last two campaigns. Even United during our most dominant days never saw anything like this.

Surely its merely a case of when, rather than if, they win it. Even our jointly held record of the earliest Premier League title win could be under threat. Saturday marks 1,000 days since the team last lost at home in the league, at the hands of Crystal Palace and former striker Christian Benteke in a
1-2 reverse on 23rd April 2017. One.Thousand.Days.

The only team to take points off them so far? Well, that would be us. But that came at Old Trafford and we had a full-strength team for the 1-1 draw in October. We were five minutes away from victory, only for substitute Adam Lallana to salvage a point, the only time the Reds from Merseyside have failed to secure a league victory. Liverpool have often struggled on our own patch but it will be so much harder stepping into the fortress. But we won't be going there with fear and its a free hit.

All this, and United face going there with no midfield and potentially no attack, with top scorer and talisman Marcus Rashford a major injury doubt for the game. Our chance of pilfering even a point can be downgraded from slim to none should our no.10 - who scored in the reverse fixture - miss out. Even if he defies the odds and plays, it's the biggest ask an opposition side can face.
Even setting aside things like the 'history' of the fixture (irrelevant) and 'the football gods (also irrelevant) there is one thing weighed in our favour - we have an exceptional record in the biggest of games and are unbeaten against the sides in the top four this term.

We know that this United side are capable of upsetting anyone on its day and victory at the Etihad will give the players the belief that anything is possible. United showed what we can do but will need to be even better and then some to replicate that in this one.  City's shaky defence laid the platform for United to seize the initiative and go on to victory. I don't see that with Liverpool. There doesn't seem to be any weaknesses, nothing to exploit. Even that win seems a long time ago now, as does any thought of Liverpool not cantering to that first triumph since 1990. It hurts to say it but you have to face facts.

Armed with one of the best pound for pound centre-backs in the world - there are few better than Virgil van Dijk - and two outstanding full-backs in Trent Alexander - Arnold and Andy Robertson, their defence is solid. On the odd occasion that you do get past that exceptional quartet, goalkeeper Alisson, one of the best in the business, often bars the way.
Their front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane speaks for itself, and whilst on paper their midfield might lack the stardust of the rest of the team, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson provide the brawn and Alex Oxlade - Chamberlain the brains with the likes of Lallana, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and new boy Takumi Minamino waiting in the wings as cover.
You simply can't see how this United side are going to find a way through the best team on the planet.
I hope I'm wrong.

Even for a club that makes the impossible possible, this one is too big an ask.
We're simply not strong enough in midfield, we get overrun in there every week and they'll just have too much for us. As they have for everyone else.

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