The two most successful teams in English football-Liverpool and Manchester United will go head-to-head today in the headline fixture of Week 23 Premier League. The Red Devils travel to Anfield with a hat-trick of fallen giants in their sights, having ended the unbeaten runs of Arsenal’s Invincibles and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea ended by the Red Devils in years gone by, the third-longest streak in Premier League history could be next
Liverpool boast a 38-game stint that dates back to a win at Brighton almost 12 months ago to the day. And now the threat of the Manchester United curse lingers over Anfield and Jurgen Klopp’s imperious title favourites.
In fact, Liverpool October trip to Old Trafford saw the run come under its biggest threat as Adam Lallana had to rescue a 1-1 draw just five minutes from time. That game did end the Reds’ 17-game winning streak, just one match short of Manchester City’s Premier League record.
But the top spot of the unbeaten leaderboard is now seemingly within grasp.
Chelsea strung together 40 games without defeat across 2004 and 2005 as Mourinho led the Blues to consecutive titles.
Top of the tree are Arsenal, with their Invincibles season of 2003/04 forming much of their 49 match spell to October of that year – when Chelsea’s run began.
What do those two runs have in common? United ended them.
The infamous Battle of the Buffet unfolded in the Red Devils’ favour as Ruud van Nistelrooy put his penalty demons against the Gunners aside with a 73rd-minute opener before Wayne Rooney sealed the win in stoppage time.
Mike Riley’s decision to hand United the spot-kick was criticised by many and a fight broke out in the Old Trafford tunnel – Cesc Fabregas lobbing a pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson.
It is fair to say the victory to end Chelsea’s streak in November 2005 was less controversial.
The Blues were 40 games unbeaten when heading to Manchester, where Darren Fletcher’s looping header secured a 1-0 win.
Liverpool will be clear favourites when welcoming their rivals to Merseyside on Sunday while currently 14 points clear at the top of the table.
Yet the visitors have only suffered one defeat in five Premier League trips to Anfield – a run that extends to one in seven when including Old Trafford encounters.
That one Liverpool win was certainly significant as Mourinho was sacked after the 3-1 loss to Klopp’s men in December 2018.
But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has manufactured a team that is relatively decent against the top sides, with a counter-attacking style suited to being under a bit more pressure.
Arsenal downed United at the Emirates last month but Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Leicester have all lost to the Norwegian this season.
Of course, defeat certainly does not mean Liverpool would collapse and surrender their huge title race lead.
Chelsea bounced back from their streak ending to win 10 straight games and that year’s Premier League. Although Arsenal won only one of their next five matches en route to finishing 12 points off the pace.
However, Liverpool’s victory at Tottenham last time out continued their unbeaten start to the Premier League season, their record of 20 wins from 21 fixtures the best ever start by any side in the history of Europe’s top five leagues.
Klopp’s side head into this weekend’s clash having won 12 consecutive top-flight fixtures, whilst they are 38 unbeaten in the Premier League and have gone a mammoth 51 league games without defeat at Anfield, a run stretching all the way back to a 2-1 reverse to Crystal Palace almost three years ago.
The form of the European and world champions is an ominous warning to this weekend’s opponents and those with faint hopes of preventing the Reds securing an elusive Premier League title, though United will take hope from having been the only side to take points from the leaders so far this season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side continue to produce inconsistent performances, mixing solid showings with inadequate displays. Three victories and two defeats from their previous five fixtures is in keeping with their season thus far, an inexperienced team often taking two steps forward and then one back.
Last weekend’s morale boosting thrashing of Norwich was much needed following poor displays against Arsenal in the Premier League and Manchester City in the Carabao Cup, results which were in contrast to the club’s previously impressive record against top six opposition.
Already this season Manchester United have enjoyed victories over Chelsea (twice), Manchester City, Tottenham and Leicester, whilst as mentioned earlier their draw with Liverpool is the only fixture in which the Merseyside club have dropped points.
The Red Devils pace in forward areas is perhaps better suited to games in which they concede the majority of possession, and hitting on the counter-attack with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James will more than likely be their plan at Anfield.
Meanwhile, Solskjaer believes he has discovered a ‘nice’ way of playing against Liverpool ahead of United’s clash with the Premier League leaders on Sunday. United are the only team to take points off Liverpool in the league this season after their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October. That result continued Jurgen Klopp’s struggle for victories over the Red Devils since he arrived as Liverpool boss in 2015.
The German has taken on Manchester United 10 times as manager of the Reds and won just twice, with six draws and two defeats to the Old Trafford side.
Klopp’s side have not been beaten at home in the league since April 2017, so Solskjaer has a tough task ahead of him at Anfield this weekend, but he is confident of getting a result.
‘Of course it is hard, but I’ve had Liverpool here twice, we’ve drawn both,’ Solskjaer said after the FA Cup victory over Wolves on Wednesday night. ‘Of course you want to win them games but I think we’ve found a nice way of playing against them and we’ve deserved the points in both of them. ‘Let’s just wait and see, because it’s a couple of days before I see you again so let’s talk about Liverpool then.’
Solskjaer has indeed confirmed an injury blow to Marcus Rashford, ahead of their quest to end Liverpool’s Invincibles bid with the chances of that happening have taken a significant hit as Rashford suffered an injury during United’s 1-0 victory over Wolves in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday evening.
Rashford came off the bench when the score was still goalless but lasted just 16 minutes before being forced off with a back injury, having suffered from similar knocks in recent weeks.
While there is hope that the England international will be available for the clash with Liverpool this weekend, Solskjaer stated the decision to introduce him backfired.
“Yeah that backfired, sometimes that happens. He took a knock and he couldn’t run. He has struggled with a few knocks in his back lately and there’s another one today,” he told BT Sport after the match.
The 22-year-old has been in prolific form for United recently, scoring six goals in his last eight appearances in all competitions prior to the midweek FA Cup clash against Wolves.