Premier League: Liverpool need to lay down the marker for good against old foes Manchester United

  • Heading into the game, the greatest rivals in the Premier League are separated by 15 points after eight rounds of matches.

  • Liverpool are on top of the Premier League table with a perfect record and a chance to go eight points clear of Manchester City.

  • Manchester United, meanwhile, sit one point above relegation, with question marks over the future of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Sunday's visit to Manchester offers Liverpool a chance to make things right.

 Premier League: Liverpool need to lay down the marker for good against old foes Manchester United

File image of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. AP Photo

Old Trafford is where the league title was lost last season; a meek performance that gave too much respect to the opposition. Old Trafford is where the league needs to be won this season; psychologically at least, by capitalising on the Reds' obvious superiority.

Sure, you could argue that Liverpool eventually lost the league against Everton at Goodison Park. That is where the team dropped its final points last season in a 0-0 draw and fell behind Manchester City for good. Or you could even argue that either of the 1-1 draws at home to Leicester City and away at West Ham United is where the Reds' seven-point lead began to disappear and cost them dearly.

But it is the manner of the goalless draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford that proved to be the most damaging.

Liverpool were timid and toothless. Almost cowardly. They lacked the character and attitude of a team that was sitting at the top of the league and going for the trophy. Manager Jurgen Klopp and his men looked content with one point from the game, showing little appetite to go for all three. For a Reds fan, that was hard to digest and infuriating to watch.

The visitors registered only one shot on target against a United team 14 points behind them in the standings (31 by the end of the season) and a team that was forced into three substitutions before half-time. Even with a few minutes left on the clock, there were no kitchen sinks thrown by Liverpool. No grandstand finish. No penalty-box melee. No panic stations. No close shaves.

Instead, the Reds gently stroked the ball around the pitch seemingly satisfied with a goalless draw. There was no sense of urgency to claim a win. No stomach to take risks. It was a result that cut Liverpool's lead down to one point, leaving no room for error in the remaining fixtures.

An error that came at Everton a week later, when Liverpool missed several clear-cut chances. At least the Reds were on the front-foot throughout the game and created enough to win — though it is hard to praise the players when you consider that, unlike at Old Trafford, they had no choice but to go for all three points.

Heading into Sunday's game, the gap is even wider. English football's greatest rivals are separated by 15 points after eight rounds of matches — the biggest gap ever between the sides after eight matches.

Liverpool are on top of the Premier League table with a perfect record and a chance to go eight points clear of champions Manchester City. They're also the current champions of Europe. Man United, meanwhile, sit one point above relegation, with question marks over the future of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Klopp and his men are faced with the same choice. Do they go all out for the win or settle for a point? Do they play Man United for their stature or for the weakish team in front of them? This time, they need to make the right choice. Liverpool may freakishly end up with no points at all, but the team's approach to the game needs to lay down the marker for good.

Points will not come easy at Old Trafford. Or goals for that matter. For Liverpool, they almost never do at this venue.

Only three times in the Premier League era (1992, 1995, 2009) have the Reds scored more than one non-penalty goal at the home of Man United, football writer Andrew Beasley points out. Only five times in 27 visits have they won at the venue, losing on 16 occasions. Liverpool's 3-0 win in 2014 is the club's last win, and Sunday's line-up would be the strongest since then.

Liverpool's struggles at the 'Theater of Dreams' haven't stopped in the Klopp era: three draws and a loss in four visits (including a second-leg draw in the Europa League). The famous attacking trio hasn't stepped up either. Roberto Firmino has no goals at Old Trafford. Nor does Sadio Mane. And Mohamed Salah has not scored against Man United, home or away.

Add to this, the one thing going for Man United today is its defence. It is likely that Solskjaer will focus on defensive organisation over showing bravado, especially in midfielder Paul Pogba's absence. Goalkeeper David de Gea and right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been doubtful for the game for a few days but have been included in the squad. Same for Anthony Martial. If they're available, it would be a major boost for the home side.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker could return for Liverpool for the first time since opening day, while centre-back Joel Matip remains a doubt. Without Matip, one of Dejan Lovren, who started the last league game, or Joe Gomez would partner Virgil Van Dijk in defence.

Liverpool have won 17 league matches in a row. One short of Manchester City's record of 18. It is fitting that the club's record-equaling challenge comes at Old Trafford, which remains Klopp's final frontier.

Now the manager and his team has another chance to set the record straight. That is, if they are brave enough to do so.

Updated Date: Oct 20, 2019 11:11:51 IST