One of the most anticipated fixtures of the Premier League season takes place on Sunday when Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield. The local rivalry between the sides is usually enough to whet the appetite but with just nine games to go and the race for a top-four finish hotting up, the outcome of Sunday’s game will give a big indication as to which teams will grab those elusive Champions League places.
Manchester United currently lie in fourth and have been in the top-four for the majority of the season. Despite criticisms of their style of play, constant changes to their formation and bad luck with injuries, Louis van Gaal has found a way of grinding out results without getting the best out of his team. It seems miraculous to some that a win on Sunday could push United up to second place should Manchester City and Arsenal drop points.
Understandably, United fans were apprehensive before last weekend’s game against Tottenham. The Red Devils had had a lot of luck in recent weeks and continued to be criticised for a lack of attacking football on show, despite their wealth of talented forwards. All of those thoughts quickly went out of the window following United’s most impressive performance of the season which resulted in a 3-0 win.
More satisfyingly, the victory came against a top-four rival and has given the players much needed confidence ahead of the trip to Anfield.
United fans can rightfully sing their player’s praises following the win but should be wary of defining the match as a ‘turning point’. They face their toughest away fixture of the season this weekend and face an in-form Liverpool side who are unbeaten in the league since the 3-0 defeat to United at Old Trafford in December.
The Reds have turned their fortunes around following their poor early season form and have found a winning momentum. Brendan Rodgers’ side look unstoppable at the moment and are showing the form which almost secured them their first Premier League title last season. The feat has been made more impressive given the loss of Luis Suarez and the absence of Steven Gerrard from the starting line-up in recent weeks.
Rodgers has now found his best system and is managing to get the best out of his players. Another important aspect Liverpool found during their 1-0 win over Swansea on Monday night was luck. Jordan Henderson’s fortunate goal secured the three points for the Reds which looked unlikely at half-time having been outplayed in the first period.
A Liverpool win on Sunday would see them climb above United into fourth and is an incentive for the players to put in their best performance of the season.
As for United, a win would put them five points clear of their rivals and dispel any doubts pundits have of them slipping up during a difficult end of season run-in.
Predicting the outcome of the contest between English football’s two most decorated clubs is never an easy task. A win for either side provides a valuable three points in the top-four ‘rat race’, but which side will be victorious on Sunday is impossible to predict.