Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for today's crunch match between bitter rivals Liverpool
and Manchester United
. The outcome of this one may not have a great bearing on the title race this season, but it still remains the biggest fixture in English football as the nation's two most successful sides go head to head. Neither have exactly shone so far this season, but victory over their greatest rivals could kickstart a much-needed run of form. Let's start with a look at the two teams...
Liverpool are still without a whole host of players for this match, with Skrtel, Lovren, Coutinho, Sturridge, Origi and Rossiter all sidelined with hamstring injuries, and Ings, Flanagan and Gomez also out. However, while that lengthy list may not suggest so, their injury woes have eased a little bit over the last week or so and they are at least now able to field recognised central defenders, as they did against Arsenal in midweek.
As for United, Schweinsteiger and Jones are both big doubts for this match due to knee and ankle injuries respectively, although Van Gaal did not rule them out entirely so we will find out very shortly if they have recovered in time, Carrick is also sidelined, however, while Shaw, Valencia and Rojo are all long-term absentees. Also keep an eye out for Januzaj, who could play some part for the visitors today having returned early from his loan spell with Borussia Dortmund. Team news should be breaking any minute now...
LIVERPOOL STARTING XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Toure, Sakho, Moreno; Lucas, Henderson, Can; Milner, Lallana, Firmino
LIVERPOOL SUBS: Ward, Caulker, Smith, Allen, Teixeira, Ibe, Benteke
MAN UTD STARTING XI: De Gea; Young, Smalling, Blind, Darmian; Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Lingard, Herrera, Martial; Rooney
MAN UTD SUBS: Romero, Borthwick-Jackson, McNair, Varela, Pereira, Mata, Memphis
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, there are no real surprises from either manager in truth. Starting with the hosts, Klopp has once again opted for a false nine in the form of Firmino, which worked so well against Arsenal in midweek and have also caused some of the other big teams in the league serious problems. Firmino has been inconsistent during his Anfield career so far, but he has generally saved his best performances for the big games, and today certainly falls into that bracket.
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That means that Benteke once again has to make do with a place on the bench, despite scoring a truly spectacular goal against United in the reverse meeting back in September. Interestingly, he is joined on the bench by Ibe, who drops out of the starting lineup this afternoon with Milner expected to push further up the field and play alongside Lallana and Firmino in that front three.
Lucas Leiva is the man to replace Ibe in the side as the Brazilian is recalled to the starting XI alongside Henderson and Can in the middle of the park. Can had a superb game against Arsenal in midweek and will be hopeful of another dominant showing in midfield today, while the extra energy given to Liverpool by the inclusion of Henderson, who has struggled with injury this season, was clear to see. They will look to get about what is not the most mobile defensive midfield for United.
There are no changes at the back, which is not surprise really considering Klopp's options are severely limited. Toure and Sakho continue to pair up at the heart of the defence, which means that loanee Steven Caulker is once again left on the bench. He did make his debut against Arsenal, but was thrown on up front so is yet to play for Liverpool as a defender. Behind them, Mignolet was once again criticised for his role in two goals from midweek, but Klopp has been unequivocal in his support for the Belgian.
As for United, Louis van Gaal
has opted for an unchanged starting XI for this afternoon's contest, which, of course, means that Rooney leads the line. The England skipper has been fiercely criticised this season, but he seems to be getting back to form now and, as a former Everton player and United legend in the making, would dearly love to continue that against Liverpool. He has four goals in his last three games, in addition to one assist.
Another goal for Rooney this afternoon would see him score in four consecutive Premier League games for the first time since March 2012, and it would also see him write another record into the division's history books. His brace against Newcastle on Tuesday took him to 175 Premier League goals for Manchester United, levelling Thierry Henry's record for most scored for a single club. One more and he will overtake the Arsenal legend and have the record for himself. Is there any opponent he would rather do it against?
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Behind him, Lingard will also be looking to build on his goal against Newcastle, while Martial will already have fond memories of this fixture. It was against Liverpool that he announced himself on the scene with a fine solo goal to kill off Brendan Rodgers's side at Old Trafford back in September. Herrera makes up that trio behind the striker, which means that Mata and Memphis once again have to settle for a place on the bench.
As expected, Schweinsteiger misses out, which means that Schneiderlin and Fellaini continue in the middle of the park, the latter of whom is still yet to really convince this season. Liverpool may be looking at him as a potential weak point if the likes of Milner and Henderson and close him down and harry him with the same energy that they did with Arsenal, which would immediately put pressure on the United defence. Speaking of which - Smalling will be looking to bounce back after a couple of mistakes during the midweek draw against Newcastle.
Neither of these two sides would exactly be delighted with their performance so far this season, but they both remain in the race for a Champions League spot. The gap for Liverpool is now eight points following Tottenham's win yesterday, but a victory here would move them up to seventh and level on points with United. Their main problem this season has been finding consistency, and Klopp's arrival has brought about little improvement in that regard.
Liverpool have won five, drawn four and lost four of their Premier League outings under Klopp, which is not good enough for them to really push for Champions League football. They have won just two of their last seven league games, picking up only eight points in that time, and the frustration will be that the fans have seen glimpses of what the team is capable of. They have been brilliant against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, but have failed to scale those heights against other teams that they might expect to beat.
Of course, their tendency to perform in the big games will lend itself well to facing Manchester United this afternoon, but in the long run Klopp needs to find a formula to improve Liverpool's consistency. The simple answer really is that they need to improve at both ends of the field - no side has conceded more goals in the top half of the Premier League table, while only two have scored fewer. Indeed, Liverpool's tally of 25 goals is fewer than relegation-threatened Sunderland have managed.
They have now scored 17 goals in 13 league games under Klopp, but 10 of those goals came in the matches against Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal, meaning that they have found the back of the net just seven times in the remaining 10. Indeed, those games against Chelsea and Man City are the only ones that they have won by more than a single goal all season.
It is a similar story at home, where Liverpool have not won a game in any competition by more than one goal since April, when they beat Newcastle 2-0. They have played 17 matches at Anfield since then and, in the 15 this season, they have only found the back of the net more than once in four of them. Fans will be hoping that Wednesday's thriller against Arsenal is the beginning of something a little more exciting, because Liverpool certainly need to improve on the goal trail.
In general, though, their home form has not been terrible. They are unbeaten in their last five at Anfield in all competitions, with their most recent defeat coming against Crystal Palace on November 8, and that is their only home reverse in their last 13 home outings. However, they are also yet to win consecutive home league games this season and, with United, Everton, Man City and Tottenham to come in five of their next six home matches in the top flight, that does not bode well.
The games will at least become a little more spread out over that period, although the Europa League begins again in February so Liverpool's fixture schedule will not ease up that much. It really has been a trying period for the Reds recently. This is their sixth match in the last 18 days and they could still have four to go this month. Should they beat Exeter in their FA Cup replay next week then they will play nine games in January alone.
United's fixture list is not quite as harsh, although they also have the Europa League to look forward to in February following their group-stage exit from the Champions League. That is just one of the reasons why Louis van Gaal
finds himself under pressure going into the match, with some reports a week ago claiming that defeat to Newcastle and Liverpool would spell the end of the Dutchman's tumultuous tenure at Old Trafford.
The speculation is not quite as intense as it was over the festive period, when his departure seemed inevitable, but his job is by no means safe either. His side didn't lose against Newcastle, but the manner of their 3-3 draw, which they really should have won, would have felt like a defeat. A loss at Anfield is always a blot on a United manager's copybook and does more damage than most defeats, so a bad result here would really crank the pressure up on Van Gaal.
It was only a couple of months ago that United actually climbed to the top of the Premier League table, but they have only managed one win in their last eight Premier League games, picked up eight points from 24 available in that time to slide down to sixth and perhaps out of the title race altogether. West Ham's defeat yesterday means that victory would take United up to fifth today, but they start the day five off Spurs in fourth and 10 behind leaders Leicester.
As hard as that 3-3 draw with Newcastle was to take, United are at least still unbeaten in four games now since their 2-0 defeat to Stoke on Boxing Day. Van Gaal appeared to be a goner after that result, but a draw with Chelsea and victory over Swansea, which ended their eight-match winless streak, bought him some time. There is a crucial period coming up for his side though, with Liverpool Southampton, Stoke and Chelsea in their next four Premier League games, in addition to an FA Cup tie with Derby County.
In that run, the matches against Liverpool today and Chelsea are away from home, where United have struggled this season. They are winless on the road in their last five games in all competitions, stretching back to their 2-1 win at Watford when Troy Deeney's late own goal handed them the win, while they have not won consecutive league games on the road since March. Their ongoing winless streak is their longest since the very start of Van Gaal's reign, when he failed to pick up an away win until November.
Perhaps more worryingly heading into today's game is that they have failed to win any of their away games against sides currently in the top nine of the table, picking up just two points from 12 available. They have already won on Merseyside, with a 3-0 victory over Everton, but their away record against the sides in and around them in the table has not been very impressive this season.
Van Gaal spoke after the Newcastle at how his side need to control matches better, but one of their problems earlier in the season was that they controlled possession without every really going anywhere with it. There was at least excitement in the Newcastle game, which has been lacking all too often for the Red Devils this season. Van Gaal is struggling to get that balance right, though, and he may be tempted to go back to his early-season formula of defence having seen his side concede 10 goals in their last six league games - the same number as they conceded in the first 15.
The problem with doing that, though, is that the boring style United have been guilty of at times this season is as much the reason behind fans' frustrations as the result. There is no getting away from the fact that United have amassed just 34 points so far this season - their lowest after 21 games of any Premier League campaign - but the anger surrounds the style of football that has been played as well.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes away from kickoff at Anfield, which means that it is time for a prediction! You can throw the form book out of the window for this one - not that it would have been much help anyway. Both sides should be fired up for this one as they look for a morale-boosting victory over their fiercest rivals. They may have claimed the same result in midweek, but Liverpool will be feeling much better about theirs and so should have the edge in confidence heading into this one. Coupled with their big-game performances this season and home advantage, I can see Klopp's men running out 3-1 victors here.
United have dominated the recent history of this famous fixture, winning six of the last eight Premier League meetings, including two of the last four at Anfield. They have emerged victorious in each of Louis van Gaal's three games against Liverpool, although this is the first time that he would have come up against Jurgen Klopp
in the Premier League.
The pair are no strangers, however, having both managed in the Bundesliga at the same time. Indeed, Van Gaal actually inflicted Klopp's heaviest defeat as Dortmund manager during his time in charge of Bayern Munich, running out 5-1 winners at Signal Iduna Park in September 2009.
The reverse fixture in September saw United run out 3-1 winners, with Benteke spectacular bicycle kick getting Liverpool back in the game before Martial's memorable solo effort clinched the points for the Red Devils. There was an even bigger talking point in the corresponding fixture at Anfield last season as Steven Gerrard, in his last taste of the fixture, came off the bench at half time and was sent off inside 40 seconds for a stamp on Herrera. United went on to win the match 2-1 courtesy of a Juan Mata brace.
You won't need me to tell you that this has been a fiery fixture down the years. Only the Merseyside derby has seen more red cards than the 16 dished out between these two sides in the Premier League era, while only Liverpool vs. Tottenham has seen more penalties awarded.
KICKOFF: Here we go then! Liverpool get us underway for the 194th meeting between these two greatest of rivals. There may be a little less at stake than recent meetings, but the atmosphere and intensity has not lessened one bit.
As expected, Liverpool are looking to make a similar high-octane start to the one against Arsenal here, pressing United deep when they get the chance. The visitors have settled pretty quickly under the circumstances, though.
Martial wins an early free kick for his side having been brought down by Henderson, and it is a chance for Blind to whip the ball into the box, but Sakho is on hand to clear.
United will be relatively pleased with the start they have made to the match here. They are showing none of the nervousness that Arsenal did in the opening exchanges and have enjoyed a decent amount of the ball so far.
Most of Liverpool's possession so far has come inside their own half and amongst the defenders, with Sakho in particular seeing a lot of it. United are going a good job of preventing them from moving any further up the field.
Fellaini needs a bit of treatment here have been clattered into by Lucas Leiva, who was a fraction late when going for an aerial ball. He should be fine to continue here, but it was a hefty blow.
CHANCES! The first chances of the day fall to Liverpool! Lucas sends a fine ball over the top for Lallana through the middle, but he can't steer his header past De Gea, who comes right out to the end of his area. Lallana gathers the second ball and gives it to Firmino, but his low striker goes just past the post with De Gea out of position.
CHANCE! Another opening for Liverpool, with Firmino acting as provider this time. Milner is in acres of space on the right and Firmino spreads it out to him, but Milner doesn't take it straight away and United are able to get across to him as a result. The angle is also widening before he eventually goes for goal, sending his effort well wide of the near post.
Flash point here as Fellaini clashes with Lucas on the touchline having initially been involved in a tussle with Milner. Clattenburg is quickly on the scene, and we await to see what action the referee will take here...
Fellaini is a little fortunate to get away without punishment for flinging Milner to the ground and having a little hit out at Lucas. Clattenburg lets both go without further punishment.
Lucas is walking a bit of a tightrope himself, coming in late on Herrera and getting a stern word from Clattenburg. That's his final warning before he goes into the book.
Very ambitious from Henderson as he lines up a shot from a good 35 yards. It would have to be a stunner to beat De Gea from there, and I'm afraid it isn't. He slices it well off target.
It's been a rather feisty opening 20 minutes, with Fellaini and Lucas in the thick of the action, but the only chances so far have fallen the way of the hosts. Nothing much for United to shout about yet.
Positive play from Can as he charges into space, linking up with Clyne and Henderson before getting the ball back in an advanced position down the right. However, his first touch is poor and takes the ball out for a goal kick.
We're midway through the first half now and it is United who are edging the possession stats, but they are yet to have a shot here. Both sides will be relatively content with the start to this match, although there hasn't been a great deal of quality on show just yet.
Really good play from Darmian as he steps in to nick the ball off the toes of Milner before striding forward down the left. He looks to slide a pass down the channel for Rooney, but Toure is there to intercept.
Liverpool's front three have chopped and changed a lot of times already this afternoon. Milner is popping up all over the place, while Firmino and Lallana seem to be playing up front in turns.
Good attack from Liverpool as they make progress down the left, but the cross into the box doesn't find a red shirt. They keep the attack alive and get it back into the middle, but Henderson's attempted shot on the turn is deflected, which takes all of the power off it.
United have their first shot of the afternoon, but it isn't a great one. The ball comes across the midfield from left to right, but he slices his effort well off target.
CLOSE! Lovely football from Liverpool as Lucas, Henderson, Lallana and Firmino all combined with one-touch passes into the area. Firmino slides the final ball in to Henderson, who drags his low effort narrowly past the far post.
SHOT! Yet another shooting chance for Henderson as the ball bounces to him in space over on the right, but the captain's volley is well off target once more.
United come forward this time and Fellaini makes a rare break into the box. Rooney lofts a cross out to the Belgian at the back post, but his header back into the middle is blocked by Milner.
Great running from Henderson as he chases a clearance down and puts Young under pressure. He very nearly steals in as well, but Young hoofs it out of play just in time.
Liverpool are on top right now and are beginning to build a bit of momentum. They are getting particular joy down the right flank, with Darmian's positioning being an area of concern for the visitors at the moment.
CHANCE! Penalty shout for Liverpool as they break quickly from a United corner, with Can leading the charge. He eventually squeezes it to Lallana, who helps it on one more to Firmino inside the box. The Brazilian is just winding up his shot when Martial gets to him and makes a crucial challenge. The referee is right to wave away any claims of a penalty, but Firmino really should have taken his shot earlier.
Big concern for Ashley Young here as he goes down moments after receiving earlier treatment on the field. There was no collision in the latest incident, which suggests that Young's afternoon is over here.
MAN UTD SUB: There is the change, and it is a big moment for Cameron Borthwick-Jackson as he is thrown on against Liverpool in place of the injured Young.
This hasn't been the highest quality 45 minutes of football you will see this season, but Liverpool will be the happier of the two teams on the back of their performances. They have asked all of the questions in an attacking sense, while United have barely threatened Mignolet's goal at all.
Brilliant defending from Sakho to keep Mignolet untested. Martial picks the ball up on the left and races forward into the box, but his low strike is blocked by his compatriot.
There will be two minutes of added time at the end of this first half.
HALF TIME: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
Well, so far it's fair to say that this one won't be going down in the annals of this fixture. It hasn't been a match of the greatest quality, and as such it remains goalless at the break at Anfield. The hosts have had the better of things, though, and may feel that they should be in front at the halfway stage.
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Perhaps the best chance of the lot arrived on the half-hour mark when Lucas, Henderson, Lallana and Firmino were all involved in a slick move into the box. Firmino slipped it through to Henderson for the final ball, but the skipper dragged his low strike wide of the far post.
Liverpool also created a few chances in quick succession towards the start of the game, with Lucas releasing Lallana through the middle only for the midfielder to fail to get enough on his header to beat De Gea. He picked up the second ball and played it back to Firmino, but the Brazilian's low strike went just wide of the target.
Firmino had another shooting chance with a little over five minutes to go in the half when Can and Lallana combined to release him down the right channel and into the box. He should have taken the shot on sooner, but his hesitancy allowed Martial to get back and make an important challenge.
Henderson has also had a couple of long-range cracks at goal which has flown well off target, but at the other end there has been minimal threat for United. They have not created a single chance, while Mignolet is yet to be tested in the Liverpool goal. They, of course, remain in the game at 0-0, but they will need to improve in the coming 45 minutes if they are to make it four wins in a row over Liverpool.
KICKOFF: United get us back underway as they look to offer more of an attacking threat in this second half in order to climb up to fifth in the table.
CHANCE! United's clearest chance of the game so far arrives early in the second half, but they fail to even get a shot away. Rooney nips in in front of Clyne to steal the ball and race towards goal, taking it past Toure and then over Sakho. That takes it to Martial, but he turns down the first-time effort and is quickly surrounded and dispossessed by red shirts.
SAVE! So nearly the opening goal for Liverpool! The ball is poked inside for Can, who throws a step-over before beating Smalling on the outside down the left. His low shot is a good one and squeezes through the legs of De Gea, but the keeper just gets enough on it and prevent it going in.
Great pressure from Liverpool again as they continue to pour forward in the opening stages of this second half. Even Toure is charging forward deep into the United half, but in the end they have to settle for a corner.
That corner is cleared as far as Clyne, who fires an ambitious long-range effort a long way over the crossbar.
Good pressing from Liverpool all over the field here, but equally United knock the ball about with great confidence to negate that. Liverpool have their tails up here, though, and the fans are growing louder and louder.
CLOSE! United finally have their first threatening moment of the match as Martial bursts past a couple of Liverpool defenders in the box before dragging his shot across the face of goal and past the far post.
United have two penalty claims in a matter of seconds as first Sakho sticks out a leg while on the floor to tackle Martial, while Herrera then also goes down bursting into the box. Clattenburg is well placed and firmly says no to both, and on first viewing it looks like the right decision on both counts.
A shooting for Firmino as the ball drops to him around 30 yards from goal, but he lashes one comfortably over the crossbar.
This match is beginning to open up now! Liverpool come forward with pace but their attack breaks down and United immediately respond with a surge forward of their own. Rooney slides a low cross into the box, but Toure is there to turn it behind.
Sakho launches himself at the resulting delivery to clear it as far as Darmian, who lashes a long-range effort well over.
CHANCE! Good opening for Henderson yet again! Firmino is the creator again, cutting inside from the left and teeing his skipper up in space on the edge of the box. Henderson focuses purely on getting it on target, however, and as a result plants it straight at De Gea.
YELLOW CARD! The first card of the game goes the way of Smalling for nibbling away at the heels of Firmino.
MAN UTD SUB: United make their second change of the afternoon as Lingard, who has been pretty anonymous today, departs to be replaced by Juan Mata, who scored twice in the corresponding fixture here last season.
SAVES! De Gea comes to United's rescue twice in quick succession. Can drives a fine effort towards the far corner from 25 yards, but De Gea is at full stretch to make a brilliant one-handed save. That turns it into the path of Firmino, whose shot/cross on the follow-up is also clawed away by the United keeper.
Yet another effort from Liverpool, this time from Lallana as he lets fly from range. This is not trouble De Gea, however, as his left-footed effort is sliced well wide.
Good spell of possession from United, but they are being hounded at every turn by Liverpool. Still no goals, but the match is being played at a decent tempo right now.
MAN UTD SUB: A third and final change from the visitors as Herrera makes way to be replaced by Memphis Depay.
CHANCE! United are only able to clear a free kick as far as Henderson, who slips a pass to Milner down the right flank. He in turn hangs his cross towards the back post where Sakho is waiting, but the ball is just a fraction too high for the French defender and he can't steer his header on target.
We have just over 15 minutes remaining in this match now, and it is still teetering on a knife edge. Liverpool have been on top for the vast majority of the contest and have created the better chances, but they will be wary of losing it late here.
YELLOW CARD! Fellaini goes into the book, perhaps a little later than he should have.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Jurgen Klopp
makes his first change of the match as Jordon Ibe comes on to replace Lallana.
GOAL! Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United (Wayne Rooney)
It is gutting for Liverpool as United take the lead through Rooney's record 176th Premier League goal for the club. Fellaini's aerial presence caused the problems as he connected with a cross into the box, planting his header against the crossbar. The ball drops to Rooney, however, and he scores for the fourth consecutive game by lashing the rebound home from close range. It wasn't the easiest finish, but Rooney was never going to miss that.
That was United's first shot on target today, which will make it even harder to take for Liverpool. Rooney, meanwhile, has now scored more goals for a single club than any other player in Premier League history.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Klopp wastes no time in responding to that opening goal, with Christian Benteke coming on to replace Toure.
Rooney looks to add a second and kill Liverpool off once and for all with a long-range effort, but it flies well off target.
Will there be another late twist in this one? There was for both clubs in midweek, but that Rooney goal does seem to have taken the wind out of Liverpool's sails a little.
CHANCE! Firmino has his head in his hands, and well he might! Can comes down the right and pulls the ball back towards the edge of the box, but Milner and Benteke get in each other's way. The ball is poked through to Firmino, who is onside around four yards from goal, but can't get a shot away!
LIVERPOOL SUB: Two Liverpool appearances, and both as a striker for Caulker. He replaces Milner for the closing stages here.
There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match. Liverpool have a free kick in a good crossing position here...
FULL TIME: Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United
It is heartbreak for Liverpool as they fall to defeat at the hands of their fiercest rivals despite dominating long periods of the match. United barely threatened at all before scoring with their one and only shot on target, while Liverpool had a number of opportunities that went begging throughout the course of the 90 minutes. It was a smash-and-grab job by the visitors, but it takes them up to fifth and closing the gap on the top four to just two points.
The goal came from Wayne Rooney, who netted for the fourth match in a row when he lashed home a rebound from close range 12 minutes from time. Fellaini had hit the crossbar moments earlier and, having drawn the defenders in to him, Rooney was unmarked to volley home the loose ball when it dropped to him. It is his 176th goal for United in the Premier League, which sees him surpass Thierry Henry's record of most goals scored for a single team in Premier League history.
That is all we have time for this afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for the latest edition of this classic fixture, and one again there was a twist as United nicked a late winner through Wayne Rooney. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction from both camps. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!