Incentives Aplenty for United this Weekend, but Liverpool Have Dreams of Their Own
Some don’t think they’d rule if they won it eventually. Some predict the noise to be unbearable and heard from afar if they did. Some would simply prefer exile over it, and would leave the country should it happen. Whatever differing consequence was on the minds of many, the wish was almost unanimous: Manchester United fans don’t want Liverpool to win the league.
The Red Devils supporters have gained so much hearty amusement from watching Liverpool try and fail to win the league for 29 years, while they themselves have surpassed their rivals for league titles since then. Now, Liverpool have a shot at it again, arguably their biggest shot since the last time they won it. Jurgen Klopp’s side are in second place, behind leaders Manchester City on goal difference, but this trip to Old Trafford is their game in hand, and a point is enough for them to go top.
However, United will covet three of their own here, not just for the purpose of them stopping their rivals in their tracks. That in itself is enough to get them focused, but more importantly, United aim to stay in fourth place. Fourth place was a position that looked so fanciful for the Red Devils the last time they met Liverpool, a tepid 3-1 defeat at Anfield resulted in Jose Mourinho being sacked.
Since the Portuguese’s departure, United haven’t lost a league game, under caretaker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and have clawed what was then an 11-point deficit to fourth spot. In fact, United have only lost once in all competitions since that Anfield setback, in the Champions League to Paris St. Germain, and have won more games under the Norwegian this season than they did under his predecessor.
Not only have they won more games, they’ve looked much better, livelier, happier, and Old Trafford looks a shadow of the icy, laboured place it was three months ago. Talk that Solskjaer should be given the permanent job continues to grow, and while no decision will – quite rightly – be made over the managerial post, a win against Liverpool does his standing no harm. Playing a part in denying the Reds the league title will only endear a manager who’s already a well-known fan favourite, to the supporters. Finishing in the top four, after a torrid first half of the season, wouldn’t be unimpressive either, and a win in this game cements their place in the position. A chance to, if not kill, but seriously harm, two birds with one stone beckons.
But Liverpool have no interest in playing anecdote to another side’s story this season, not least a rival’s. The Reds quelled talk of any potential cracks appearing in their title chase with a win over Bournemouth a fortnight ago, and will welcome back a rested Virgil van Dijk, who missed the goalless draw against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The Reds haven’t been deterred by stumbles so far this season, and no matter United’s form, won’t be fazed here. Delivering the title after such a long wait is the aim. If they beat United, and dent their rivals’ top four chances, in the process, all the better for it.
A win for United over Liverpool would, incredibly, mean all of the top three have their title fates in their own hands, if Spurs win at Burnley on Saturday. Burnley are a different opposition to face of late, having not lost in seven in the league. But the most important issue surrounding this game is whether referee Mike Dean will issue his long-awaited 100th red card. Champagne on ice?
Leicester have gained plaudits, if not points, for their two immediate previous performances, unlucky defeats at home to Manchester United, and at Spurs. But a home game against Crystal Palace is one in which just plaudits won’t do, especially with manager Claude Puel eternally on the verge of the sack. Roy Hodgson becomes the Premier League’s oldest ever manager in this game.
And by the time you read this, two league games may have already been played, with Watford hosting Cardiff, and Fulham visiting West Ham. Because playing two games on a Friday night is an excellent idea.
Also, Everton and Brighton have the weekend off, with their respective opponents Manchester City (who’ve already played and won the game slated for this weekend against the Toffees) and Chelsea meeting in the League Cup final, exactly two Sundays after their previous encounter. Wonder how that turned out.
Bournemouth v Wolves
Leicester v Crystal Palace
Burnley v Tottenham
Arsenal v Southampton
Newcastle v Huddersfield
Manchester United v Liverpool