Paul Ince: Liverpool-United is no foregone conclusion – anything can happen in a derby

Incey looks ahead to Sunday's big game at Anfield...


Anything can happen in a derby. Form really goes out the window. It’s all about what happens on the day rather than across the season. Who’s going to win their battles? Who’s going to keep their head and not get sucked-in emotionally? There are always players getting sent off, but that just gives the advantage to the other team.

There are a lot of things that need to be done in a derby. So even though people are saying this one is probably a foregone conclusion, you can never know.

All season people have been saying United are not playing well and are very inconsistent. But if you take into account things like going to Juventus and getting a result there, that has to give United fans a lot of hope. It just depends how Jose Mourinho sets up his team. Is he going to go to Anfield and go head-to-head and try to outplay Liverpool? Or will he go there and be hard to beat, try to nick a goal and take it from there?

Much will hinge on Mourinho’s mindset and what personnel are available. I don’t think United are at the stage where they can go to Liverpool and try to play them off the park. I can see it going like last year, where they just tried to shut up shop and hope for one or two moments in which they can win the game.

Mourinho hasn’t really had his best eleven on the pitch regularly this season, which will always lead to inconsistency. Compare that to Liverpool: you could probably name their team each week unless they’re resting players. That’s part of United’s problem.

Having said that, it’s a one-off game. If United can win, it will make a statement to a lot of people.

I live up in Liverpool and many people are saying, “We’ll beat United” – but you just don’t know in these games. When I played in these matches, it was all about who you were up against, making sure you win your battles. Whoever I was faced with, whether it was Stevie G or Roy Keane, you just say to yourself: “Win your battles.” If six or seven of your players do that on the day, normally you’ll win the game.

Everyone has to perform at their optimum. You can’t carry any passengers.

When you compare the two teams, you have to do so based on the form of the players. At the moment, you’d probably say that in Paul Pogba United have the best midfielder between the two sides. But he’s not performing well. Alexis Sanchez is out – he’s meant to be world class.

If any United player could get into Liverpool’s starting XI, it would probably be David De Gea. Then again, Alisson has been outstanding, so perhaps not even De Gea would make it. I don’t think Klopp would swap any of his players for United players. That says a lot.

When you look at Liverpool, they have a strong squad and a strong bench. They’ve got players who can come on and make a difference. As for United, if they’re missing a few players they have to call for Marouane Fellaini and start launching it long. Liverpool have the stronger squad as a whole. Hence why they’re doing so well.

On the day, Mourinho will know how Liverpool play. He knows they come out of the traps fast and counter-attack well. José will let his players know what to expect and will tell them to keep it tight for the first 20 minutes, stay in the game and quieten down the crowd. If Liverpool get an early goal, then it could be a long long day for United.

Sometimes you look at these derbies and imagine it’ll be a great game, two heavyweights going head-to-head. But then it turns out to be a drab, terrible game in which they both cancel each other out. If Liverpool were playing Man City, you’d know it would be a spectacle with both teams playing attacking football. United don’t play that way: Mourinho’s more conservative and all about getting a result. I think he’ll go into this one with a deep block and try to use the break.

It’s important for United and Mourinho that they don’t get blown away. There’s been so much negativity, the last thing they want is to lose by four or five at Anfield.

Regardless of what happens, it won’t mean the end of Mourinho. United can’t win the Premier League now, but they’ve still got the FA Cup and Champions League to play for – if something is to give, it’ll happen at the end of the season. Should Liverpool win by a big margin, however, you know there’ll be people calling for Mourinho to step down. I’m not one of those people. Let’s see how they get on in other competitions.

Liverpool are 8/15 favourites to beat Manchester United on Sunday

What do you think?