Sunday’s meeting at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Liverpool will be the 50th between these two sides since the Premier League began.
The hope is that this eagerly awaited fixture will be an improvement on the sides’ previous meeting last October when Anfield played host to an uncharacteristically sterile goalless draw.
Much has changed since then with Jose Mourinho’s expensively assembled side finally beginning to gel. Fourteen wins from their last 20 matches, the last nine of which have been victories, suggest that the Portuguese is finally getting to grips with the unique demands of the Old Trafford hot seat.
United’s fine run of recent form has made them slight favourites for Sunday’s fixture with a best priced 6/5 available, while Liverpool are 5/2 to win and a draw 12/5.
Liverpool, too, have been on something of a roll since the last meeting. Jurgen Klopp’s men have risen to second place in the Premier League on the back of ten wins in their last 16 matches.
Klopp will be buoyed by the fact that he has lost just one of his six meetings with Mourinho (W3 D2 L1), with that defeat coming in 2013 via a 2-0 away defeat for Borussia Dortmund against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final second leg.
Historically, though, this is a match United relish, winning 11 of their last 14 matches at Old Trafford in the Premier League, with Liverpool prevailing in the other three. The importance of sunday’s fixture cannot be overstated as both teams are desperate for the points; second-placed Liverpool as they pursue league leaders Chelsea, while United are currently languishing outside the automatic Champions League places.
If there were to be no repeat of the snore draw in October, then the player most likely to break the deadlock would appear to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Those who doubted the Swede’s ability to adapt to the demands of the Premier League have been forced to eat their words as the veteran striker has begun his United career in impressive fashion. Ibrahimovic has scored 13 goals in his first 19 Premier League appearances for Manchester United. The only player to score more in their first 19 PL apps for the club was Ruud van Nistelrooy with 15. No surprise, then, that the United striker is the short-priced favourite to score the opening goal on Sunday.
For Liverpool, a punt on in-form Adam Lallana to open the scoring at 10/1 looks an inviting bet. Similar odds are available on Philippe Coutinho, who was eased back into first team action in the midweek EFL Cup tie against Southampton after a six-week injury lay-off. This and more odds can be found at www.casinopapa.co.uk/compare/football.
United will still be without Eric Bailly, who is on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast, and there are question marks surrounding Marcos Rojo’s fitness. Wayne Rooney, who is one goal away from beating Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record for United, is expected to start on the bench as Mourinho persists with the players who have done so well lately.
Klopp will have to cope with the absence of top scorer Saido Mane, who is currently on international duty representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. However, Coutinho could start for the first time since 26 November and skipper Jordan Henderson is likely to play against United having been out of action since limping off against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. One other player returning to full fitness is Joel Matip, but the defender is unlikely to start the match having missed the last seven games due to an ankle injury.
Possible starting line-ups
Manchester United XI: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Blind; Herrera, Carrick, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Ibrahimovic.
Liverpool XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner, Lallana, Can, Henderson, Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.