Usually one would wait until the semi-final or final stages of the Europa League to pay attention to the Champions League’s sister competition, but recent fixtures have proven that’s the wrong way to go about it. Certainly from the fixture sheet presented by the Round of 16 draw, one cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the Europa League any longer.
In this article I’ll be previewing the North-Western English derby we all love: Liverpool vs Manchester United
Date: Thursday, 10 March
Time: 10:05 PM
The last time these two teams two took to the ring, it was in the Premier League on the 17th of January and Man United came out 1-0 victors thanks to a lone Wayne Rooney goal. In fact, Liverpool hasn’t managed to beat Man United since their 3-0 win away from home in March 2014.
All that could change in a matter of 2 legs when the sides meet for the first time ever in a European Cup tie. Hard to believe that the two most successful English teams (both domestically and in European competitions) have managed to avoid each other for so long. Although we all would have preferred the Champions League anthem to go with this special occasion, we’ll have to make do with what’s at hand.
These two teams have been having a rollercoaster season thus far, filled with highs and some very forgettable lows for the loyal fans. Liverpool saw the introduction of the long awaited Jurgen Klopp to Anfield in the latter stages of 2015, replacing Brendan Rodgers from the hot seat. Manchester United, on the other hand, were getting their second bite at the Dutchman’s spell who still seems to be settling into the Manchurian ways (we’ll call them philosophy adjustments).
Domestically, Man United have the upper hand over Liverpool (stats wise) as they lie sixth on the table but anyone who’s familiar with the Red Devils’ traits will tell you that’s far from convincing. Liverpool aren’t too far behind in 7th with a game in hand and just three points behind.
Team News & Injury Updates
Liverpool is missing Lucas Leiva and Daniel Ings due to muscle injury and cruciate ligament respectively. Sakho picked up a knock to the head during the Cup final and wasn’t too happy about the forced first half substitution (sorry, Mamadou, doctor’s orders). Other than that, Liverpool have the full squad to call upon.
Manchester United’s injury list is a growing pain with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw still out. Van Gaal’s injury woes never seem to end with his players taking turns to visit the doctor every weekend. However, there’s been a positive outlook for the Dutchman in recent weeks as a number of his injured players returned to the training field.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The 3-2 win over Arsenal showed exactly where the Manchester United strength lies, on the wings. Despite fielding a very inexperienced side against this season’s title hunters, Van Gaal’s army was able to employ the manager’s tactics and came out on top.
By using pace on the wings and the striker’s ability to re-position and find gaps, they were able to pick apart Arsenal’s best duo in the backline. Expect the same sort of approach to this game as United look for an away goal to take to the Theatre of Dreams.
Clyne and Moreno will have to be watchful of Depay’s shiny footwork as well as Anthony Martial who loves to drift out wide and then cut back in when the defence seem to be sleeping.
Despite being able to keep De Gea in their goalpost this season, Man United still have troubles at the back. There’s a lack of communication between the midfield and the defence and this brings massive problems to the flow of the game. These are just some of the factors that have made Man United’s fear factor seem to diminish overnight.
West Brom, although having a man advantage, were able to expose the Man United defence and claim their first victory over the Manchurian outfit for the very first time in the Premier League era.
Liverpool’s key to success this season has been their ability to play as a unit, which is what Klopp brings to the table. They look a lot more convincing going forward but tend to leave gaps in the back when pressing forward. Not afraid to stick a leg out or go full force into a 50-50 challenge. As soon as the team loses the ball they immediately swarm the opposition to get the ball back in the least amount of time possible.
Klopp’s team have looked fierce one minute and then gone on to squander all the hope they had built for themselves as soon as the next game. A great example of this is the 4-1 win over the champions, City and then losing to Newcastle 2-1 the very next match.
The Reds have managed to bounce back after the Cup final loss with a 3-0 thrashing versus City and a follow up victory over Crystal Palace, although it wasn’t a convincing performance, overall Liverpool showed their fighting spirit coming from behind to win with one man less on the field. They’ll need all of that and a whole lot more to win both legs in order to progress.
Consistency is key for the Reds which means they can’t dwell too long in their victories because fixtures are coming thick and fast at this stage of the season and you could pay a hefty price if you’re caught daydreaming.
Although this is a European cup tie where the away goals seems to matter the most, home ground advantage still plays a huge role especially in a derby like this one. Expect the Anfield faithful to be at full voice, backing their team and doing their best to instill a sense of not belonging to the Manchurian visitors and with the animated Klopp on the touchline, we are bound for an exciting fixture nevertheless.
FORM (Last 5)
Man. United: WWWWL
Written for The Pundits by @blxckpegasus