Manchester United’s impressive level of consistency has brought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to the top of the Premier League table.
This is where top teams are judged. Not via cup competitions. United are now firmly in the mix for the title race, and have a three point advantage over Liverpool.
Liverpool on their part appear rattled. Something isn’t right with Jurgen Klopp’s side, who have defensive injury problems but are also out of form, failing to beat West Brom, Fulham and Southampton recently.
United have taken full advantage, winning tricky games against Wolves, Aston Villa and Burnley to go top. You have to back to November 1 for our last league defeat.
Klopp is in panicky mood. His excuse-laden rant after Liverpool’s loss to Southampton earlier this month highlighted this, when he pinned his own team’s failure on United winning penalties. Bruno Fernandes is inside his head already.
Klopp told Sky: “I hear now that Manchester United had more penalties in two years than I had in five-and-a-half years. I’ve no idea if that’s my fault, or how that can happen.”
Two free hits
United head to Anfield with an advantage, essentially able to take a ‘free hit’ at Liverpool.
If we win, we go six points clear and inflict a psychological blow on an out of form team, already dragged down into a title battle they hoped they would be well clear of. A draw would also maintain a three point advantage.
Losing would be a be a disappointment but only in the spectre of one match. If you had said before the season, or a few games in, United would be level on points with Liverpool on January 18, everybody would have taken that.
Liverpool can only pull level, and United’s resilience shows this team can bounce back from defeats. It’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have done repeatedly. Get knocked down, and get up even stronger.
The second ‘free hit’ comes with the FA Cup tie the following week at Old Trafford.
Win, and United either keep up or recover some momentum depending on what happens in the league game.
If we lose, again it will be a disappointment, but there will be a silver lining in the early elimination from the cup by reducing fixtures and allowing United to concentrate on the Premier League.
The pressure is all on Liverpool. They are the ones defending the title, and they came into the season as heavy favourites. They have ceded this advantage.
United are playing without pressure and have two free shots at Liverpool. This freedom could be beneficial. Playing under the weight of expectation and three points behind could weigh on an anxious and rattled Liverpool.
Many pundits expect Liverpool to step up and respond. It’s their home turf, and they will be motivated to show a reaction to United’s threat.
Solskjaer’s United won’t be daunted, and instead will embrace this as a challenge. These games are the tests United have been waiting for, and if we win, great. If we lose, it will only motivate us to further improve, and we are still in an equally strong league position.
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