Are Liverpool the real deal this season? Monday’s Anfield clash against bitter foes Manchester United promises to provide definitive evidence.
Jurgen Klopp’s team are within two points of the top, despite playing only two of their seven games at home so far because of stadium improvements. They’ve often looked dynamic and exciting, and away wins at Arsenal and Chelsea already suggest that Klopp might do for Liverpool what he did for Borussia Dortmund: win trophies.
But now comes another confrontation with Jose Mourinho, who has plenty of experience managing against Liverpool at Anfield going back to those thunderous Champions League nights in his first spell at Chelsea. Remember him fuming over Luis Garcia’s so-called “ghost goal”? (He’s still upset, by the way.)
More recently, it was Mourinho who — with little to play for — left a gaping hole in Liverpool’s title challenge under Brendan Rodgers on the day of the infamous Steven Gerrard “slip.”
Going into Monday, you can bet that the Manchester United manager will have worked on a cunning plan, knowing how high the stakes are piled in a rivalry like this. The question is whether United are good enough to suppress an attack that has rattled in 18 goals already.
Not to say Liverpool don’t have issues of their own. Injuries to Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum will disrupt the side, while both Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have been away with Brazil during the international break. The later Monday kickoff (3 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. BST) will work well for those two. But this could mean a start for Daniel Sturridge, who cuts a somewhat frustrated figure at Anfield these days, or even Divock Origi.
What to make of Manchester United? The impression so far is of a work in progress, with Mourinho unsure of his best starting XI and results erratic. Might there be a temptation to recall Wayne Rooney, or even Michael Carrick, for their experience in battles like this?
More likely, United will stick with the players who should have won easily against Stoke but surrendered a late equaliser. Anthony Martial came off the bench to score in that game , so you would imagine he might be pushing for a start. If Paul Pogba can impose himself against Liverpool’s clever players in midfield, United are capable of winning. They will certainly need to be way sharper than they were in losing to Manchester City last month.
The form book says Liverpool are currently a bit too hot to handle, but the suspicion must be that Mourinho will have his team drilled to foil, frustrate and counter. A victory for Man Utd will not be a surprise.