By Demola Ojo
Perennial rivals Manchester United and Liverpool clash today in a high stakes match at Old Trafford. Apart from bragging rights, crucial points are up for grabs as sixth place United can get within two points of Liverpool who started the weekend in second place.
United’s morale is high but they started the weekend 10 points behind Chelsea, so José Mourinho’s men need to win to have a chance of taking the title. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool can lose and still be in the race even though both Tottenham and Arsenal have leapfrogged them in the table with resounding 4-0 wins against West Brom and Swansea respectively, yesterday.
United hope to have Zlatan Ibrahimovic available after the striker missed the 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final first-leg win over Hull last Tuesday due to illness. He will be assessed before the match at Old Trafford.
Without the talismanic Swede in midweek, United extended their winning run in all competitions to nine games as goals from Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini secured victory.
Klopp’s side have not won in three matches in all competitions and have failed to score in their last two. They were held to a goalless draw at home by Plymouth in the FA Cup and then beaten 1-0 by Southampton in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.
Klopp says United are “better” than they were earlier in the season when a defensive display led to a stalemate at Anfield.
“They are more used to each other,” he said. “To use only one example, but I think Henrikh Mkhitaryan is an important example, it took a little bit of time – that’s normal. Now they can use his outstanding quality.
“[They are] more confident. It’s a different side, if you want. There was no doubt about the quality of the players when they played here. But it was not that tuned, maybe. [Now], it is. So that’s a different thing.”
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and defender Joel Matip are back in training and could be in contention to start today. Henderson has missed the last three matches with a heel problem while Matip has been sidelined for a month with an ankle injury.
Playmaker Philippe Coutinho could be in line to start after making a 30-minute comeback appearance against Southampton in midweek after ankle ligament damage, while Simon Mignolet will return in goal.
This will be the 50th Premier League meeting between Manchester United and Liverpool – United have won 27 of the previous 49 (D9 L13). Liverpool have lost 11 of their last 14 visits to Old Trafford in the Premier League, winning the other three.
Liverpool have lost more Premier League matches (27) and also the most overall league matches (67) against United than versus any other opponent.
This clash has seen 16 red cards shown in the Premier League – only Everton v Liverpool (21) has produced more dismissals.
United had just 35 per cent possession vs Liverpool at Anfield in October, their lowest total in a Premier League match since Opta began recording this data in 2003/04.