Manchester United may never have a tougher task to beat their biggest rivals.
Liverpool have won every Premier League game they’ve played this season, are brimming with confidence and comfortably sit top of the table.
United, meanwhile, are going through arguably their leanest spell in decades. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are without a win in their last five matches and are a lowly 12th in the league.
So, no chance for the hosts at Old Trafford this weekend? Well, maybe not. Form can often fly out of the window in these derbies and Solskjaer will be devising a plan to take down Jurgen Klopp’s high-fliers.
Here are nine reasons for United fans to be cheerful and believe their side can win…
1. The Old Trafford factor
Liverpool have won just once at Old Trafford this decade. That was a 3-0 victory over David Moyes’ beleaguered United, in a game in which Liverpool were awarded three penalties.
Aside from that, the Anfield club have struggled even against relatively mediocre United sides under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. They even failed to win against an injury-ravaged United at Old Trafford last season.
A a rowdy home crowd can create an atmosphere to again make it difficult for Klopp’s men, who will be wary of losing their incredible league record this season at Old Trafford of all places.
2. The derby factor
It would be unwise to suggest form shouldn’t be considered when analysing or previewing this game. The bookmakers have United at 7/2 to win, which are long odds for a home game, so they obviously believe Liverpool are huge favourites.
But derbies can see emotions run high, composure lost and complacency can play a part. United will have to embrace the chaos of such an occasion and try to capitalise on some nerves in the Liverpool ranks, which are inevitable for such a fixture. Football can be an unpredictable game and that can only benefit the underdogs, United.
3. Mo Salah
There are fears on Merseyside over the extent of the ankle injury Salah suffered in his side’s last home game, the narrow and late win over Leicester.
So if the Egyptian plays — which he’s expected to — there’s a chance that he won’t be at his roaring best. Throw in the fact that he’s never scored against United in four attempts and Solskjaer’s side may have the perfect storm. United will have to keep close tabs on a player of Salah’s ability of course, but he could struggle to step up once again.
4. Solid defence
Statistically, United have the best defence in the Premier League this season, based on xG stats in terms of chances conceded. And that defence is likely to get a boost by the return of Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back. Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw could also be in contention to come back from injury, meaning Solskjaer may have his first-choice back line available.
Liverpool have struggled to break down similarly resolute defences in Napoli, Sheffield United and Leicester this season. Scoring goals may be an issue for the visitors.
5. Klopp’s record
As well as Liverpool’s inability to win at Old Trafford in recent years, there’s the matter of their manager’s woeful record against United.
Last season’s 3-1 win at Anfield was just Klopp’s second triumph over United in nine attempts — and the first in the Premier League and he’s yet to find a way past the old enemy on away turf. There will be trepidation in the German’s camp that United should try to exploit.
6. A game to suit United
So how can United exploit Liverpool’s weaknesses? It’s fair to say the game may well unfold to suit Solskjaer’s preferred approach — on the counter-attack.
Liverpool have the superior ball-players and a dangerous attack, so United will surely cede territory and look to sit in and frustrate the league-leaders.
That will surely give the likes of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and (if fit) Anthony Martial the chance to break at pace and catch Liverpool unawares at the back. Rashford scored a double in this very fixture in March 2018 and will be boosted by a fine goal and performance for England against Bulgaria.
United’s better performances this season have come against better sides: Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal. If they can replicate those displays, they have a chance.
Say what you want about Pogba — and many people do — but he’s a big-game player and undoubtedly the most talented footballer in United’s squad.
Solskjaer will be banking on the Frenchman producing one of his best displays. And when that happens, United tend to win, no matter who the opposition are.
8. Weakness in Liverpool’s defence
Liverpool might be eight points clear at the Premier League summit after eight games, but it’s fair to say their defence has flattered to deceive at times this term.
Any defence that concedes three goals at home to RB Salzburg is fallible. And if United can get Daniel James running at Trent Alexander-Arnold, they might find the Achilles heel of Klopp’s side. The England right-back is excellent going forward, but can be exposed running back to his own goal. So while Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip have been good this season, United could find joy down the flanks.
9. Rustiness in goal
The expected return of Alisson in the Liverpool goal seems like a boost for Klopp’s men, but there’s every chance the Brazilian’s return could actually have a destabilising effect on his teammates.
Adrian has deputised superbly in Alisson’s absence this season and Liverpool’s back line has been very settled. Alisson is prone to the odd shaky moment and cannot afford that on his return, at Old Trafford.