If anybody is to beat Manchester City to the Premier League title this season, everything points to Liverpool, rather than Man United.
There’s still some uncertainty surrounding Jose Mourinho. He’s hung Luke Shaw out in the press and then had an angry exchange with the analyst Giovanni Cerra before the Europa League tie with Zorya. There seems to be a lot of tension there, while at Liverpool it’s all plain sailing. The Reds have come through some tricky games – they’ve beaten Chelsea and Arsenal away, drawn with Tottenham at White Hart Lane and beat Leicester 4-1 at Anfield. Six of Manchester United’s seven games have been against sides 10th or lower in the table and yet they’re still a point behind Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The way Liverpool are going they can beat anyone, and after Monday night’s clash with the Red Devils, they don’t play a top seven team until the week before Christmas. The games against the weaker teams have sometimes tripped Liverpool up, but if they can get some consistency they can build some serious title momentum.
Although the Liverpool fans want to win every game, they want to beat United even more. I had very good memories of playing against Manchester United for Liverpool in the early 2000s – of the 12 times I faced them we won seven so that’s always nice!
As a player you want to prove yourself against the best, and when I was at Liverpool there was no better centre midfield pairing than Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Keane played in a deeper role at that time, and I was often faced with going head-to-head with Paul Scholes. The problem with Scholes was that he was next to impossible to catch. Every time you got close enough to challenge him, he’d get rid of the ball before you got there. When he did have the time he’d take a touch and pick out a deadly pass. He played the game at his own pace, but he was such an intelligent player and so technically gifted it was a real challenge to take the ball off him. His finishing was exceptional as well, and for a small man he won an incredible amount of headers. You could never take your eye off him. If the ball went wide to David Beckham or Ryan Giggs you had two fantastic crossers of the ball, and Scholes would always be a danger – even in the air!
Liverpool are favourites for Monday’s game and rightly so. United have the edge here in recent years, including that dreadful 1-0 win last season, but so far this season Liverpool have been nothing but impressive. Sadio Mane has made a massive impact, Georginio Wijnaldum has played a vital role, and we haven’t seen the best of Daniel Sturridge yet. They don’t have the distraction of European football during the week either and while that’s a blessing, it could also be a curse. The biggest problem for Klopp is going to be keeping everyone happy. While other managers use the midweek games to rotate the squad and keep the team happy, Klopp can’t do that.
The question about whether Wayne Rooney starts for Man United is an easy one. He has to play. Rooney is a big asset to everyone on the pitch and importantly he has the mentality of a winner. Getting dropped will hurt him and he will be chomping at the bit to answer his critics. He has to start as a number 10 off Zlatan Ibrahimovic though. You can’t play him any deeper as he’s not equipped to play as a holding midfielder, full stop.
I wouldn’t be in a rush backing Liverpool at Evens, as going away from home plays into United’s strengths because of the pace in that squad. The draw at 12/5 is a far more attractive bet. These are the games in which you want to prove yourself. Liverpool away is one that will be getting talked about around Manchester United for months – These are the matches neither team can lose.