Liverpool v. Manchester United
Before we get too far into this match up, I want to take a moment for a shout out. This is the first time I can remember where all four English teams in Champions League group stage advanced. Manchester United and Manchester City had their positions locked down much earlier. The other two (I’m talking you Tottenham and Liverpool) waited until quite literally the last possible moment. However, a full quarter of the teams in the knockout stage are English (and half are involved here), maybe it’s England’s turn to bring home the trophy again?
Liverpool managed to escape the group stage — and I do mean escape. We covered a couple games about their champions league form — and profiled the Red Star team that beat them soundly. We mentioned match week 5 PSG v. Liverpool and match week 6 Napoli v Liverpool.
Manchester United secured their advancement a little earlier and followed up with a dreadful loss to Valencia. Where Phil Jones became the first guy since… Phil Jones to score a Champions League one goal.
There’s some interesting contract news coming out of the United camp yesterday morning. They reported that Chris Smalling has signed a contract extension. Other interesting rumors abound over both Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly (and of course, Mourinho’s) futures at the club. Long story short, the transfer window hasn’t even opened and the distractions have already begun.
United finds itself currently in 6th place, which feels like a monstrous bit of luck. The gap between United and the rest of the top 4 continues to grow with the nearest place (4th) being a full 8 points out of reach. This game against Liverpool is probably not the favorite on Mourinho’s calendar. However, the next 4 matches all seem very winnable and depending on how the other sides fare between now and the New Year, Mourinho’s statements might be possible. They play at Cardiff, home to Huddersfield, home to Bournemouth and away to Newcastle after this match. One thing remains clear though, they have to stop drawing, they need to take the full three points.
Coming into this match, United have managed to find the back of the net in away games every time they’ve played this season. This team has also managed 3 losses already away from home, meaning that tie last season’s form — they can draw 1 more game and lose two more. After that, they would all have to be wins. They have almost already conceded the same number of goals they had for the entirety of last season, and today’s game might have them inching closer. Manchester United haven’t had great away form all season and this is reflected in the number of goals scored per match (1.75) and the number conceded per match (1.88). They face a Tottenham side that allows few goals against at home, and definitely have an uphill battle. And, to complicate matters even further — the number of injuries reported yesterday has grown to 9 in various stages of healing and severity.
This Liverpool side spent heavily in the offsesaon in order to bring trophies (namely the Premier League Title) back to Anfield. Liverpool have the opportunity to return to the top of the league depending on the outcome of today’s match, as Manchester City currently leads them by 2 points (with another game played). I think the expectations would have been much greater if Klopp’s side hadn’t managed to squeak into the knockout rounds. They did so, just barely, on goals scored but Klopp will want to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the Premier League so 3 points is the prescription he’s likely to have.
While the total number of goals scored by this Liverpool side is only marginally more than United (6), they’ve allowed almost a fifth of the goals United has, 6 and 26 respectively. At home, they’ve only allowed 1 goal to be scored against them — and have scored 15 goals. As a result they are averaging 0.14 goals allowed per match at home while scoring 2.13 per match. Liverpool throughout the season have scored slightly more goals in the first half — where United has allowed double the goals allowed in the first half. From a Liverpool perspective, I think the goal will be to take advantage of Manchester United’s slow starting pace and try to get ahead early. Doing so will for Mourinho to make attack-minded changes in an attempt to salvage even a point from the match.
What to expect from the matchup
The neutrals are expecting a rather one-sided match with three or more goals scored. At this juncture they are mostly expected to go the way of the sizable favorite, Liverpool.
I would be very surprised to see United win this match, despite Mourinho’s discussion of their impending return to the top 4. They’ve been poor for a United side generally, but their away form has been atrocious. Their injury list includes Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot, Alexis Sanchez, Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling and Scott McTominay — though it remains to be seen if all of them are truly deemed unfit to play.