Today’s Liverpool-Manchester derby is not only a big game, in comparison to most games in the league. It is a huge game for two giants of English soccer. A win is vital for both team, especially in terms of the media narrative that will follow the game. Looking ahead to the derby, what are the key factors to pay attention to?
While much has been made of Liverpool’s press, and rightfully so. It’s one of the best in the league and has been utilized to a devastating effect in many games. What hasn’t been discussed is Liverpool’s finishing. The major difference between Liverpool-Burnley and Liverool-Chelsea was Liverpool’s finishing when it mattered. Jose Mourinho will more than likely be looking to stifle Liverpool in the attacking third, so Liverpool’s ability to finish when the opportunity strikes will be instrumental in whether or not they win this vital derby matchup.
As for Manchester United, their midfield will be equally as important. We mentioned it above, but Liverpool’s press should and will be a focal point of this match. Whether that is a positive or negative focal point for Manchester United depends entirely how their midfield reacts and handles the pressure from Liverpool. This should not make light of the challenge ahead of them. Should they withstand Liverpool’s press, they will be the first team to do so this season. Yes, even Burnley (who won through sheer force of will in defense but submitted to the press early) and Tottenham (who could have easily lost if not for some very smart tactical decisions from Mauricio Pochettino). Manchester United’s success in this game will largely depend on the functionality of their midfield.
Liverpool’s ability to maintain the press must be questioned at this point, however. Two instrumental players in Liverpool’s gegenpress, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum, might miss the match through injury. Usually, missing out on two important players would harm any team, but, in this case, the two players are important to the press that Liverpool look to implement in each match. Most likely, should both players miss out, they will be replaced by Coutinho and Emre Can. In terms of quality, Liverpool won’t suffer much, but, in terms of the press, the strategy will have to be augmented slightly. Will this change the way Liverpool, and Manchester United, approach the game? This will be an important question going into the game tonight.
The final important factor to look at ahead of the game is what style does Manchester United play in this match? Whatever Mourinho ultimately goes with will be very telling about Mourinho’s thoughts on this squad. More than likely, Mourinho will choose to sit back and defend, choosing to try to catch Liverpool on the counterattack. The problem with this, however, is threefold. The biggest concern is a tactical one. Do United have the players to withstand Liverpool, who happen to be the in-form attacking side at the moment. We must remember that David De Gea, who is an amazing goal keeper, has been having a tepid season thus far, and their defense isn’t the most solid. If they allow Liverpool to have the ball too much, it could only be a matter of time until the ball ends up in the back of the net. To add into this, Manchester United may not have the midfield to be a solidly defensive team. They lack a true defensive midfielder and have yet to find a midfield that can get the best out of Paul Pogba. Do they try to pack the midfield with players who are tactically sound and play against Pogba’s strengths or try to get the most out of the most expensive player ever and have a midfield that won’t suit the rest of their game?
The other concern is about their attack. Do United have fast enough players to effective on the counter? They definitely have a few quick players in their team, but they are younger players, usually, and United’s more established starters are certainly a bit slower. There are definite doubts about whether they can act in an effective counterattacking unit. If Manchester United’s counter isn’t effective, yet they still plan to defend, they will only have half of a winning strategy and will most likely be playing for the draw.
Finally, we have to address how seeing a Manchester United squad essentially ‘give up,’ because that is how it will be seen, to Liverpool at Anfield under the lights on a Monday will galvanize the home fans and draw a ton of pressure from their own fans. The fans may not play the game, but they definitely effect it. Ignore that factor at your own risk.
Today’s match up between Liverpool and Manchester United promises to be a hotly contested affair that both sides can easily win or lose with the flip of a coin. Whoever comes out of this game the victor will be determined by who handles these key factors the best.