When the draw for the Premier League 2017/18 season was published, Jose Mourinho and other prominent members of Manchester United football club probably thought that this would be a good season for the Red Devils. United started with a home game against West Ham, an away fixture at Liberty Stadium in Swansea and another home game against Leicester City. It was virtually impossible to present Man Utd with easier fixtures at the start of the Premier League season.
West Ham went into the game as an injury-hit team whose most prominent striker was Javier Hernandez, someone whom United sold to Real Madrid in 2014. His attacking partner was Marco Arnautovic, who had just arrived from Stoke City. It was hard to imagine that this newly-assembled striking duo would possess any challenge for Mourinho’s built defence, especially at Old Trafford. It was an easy win in the end as the Red Devils won 4-0.
It wasn’t very different during United’s away visit to Swansea. The Swans, who fought to avoid relegation last season, started this one with a changed side, determined to avoid another relegation battle but the Welsh side just weren’t good enough for Man United. This resulted in another four-goal win for United.
On the last day of August, United welcomed Leicester City in a fixture that the Red Devils had lost just once since 1998. The 2-0 win wasn’t easy to predict and most in the football projections business had a good day with their Man United vs Leicester bet on August 26th.
In their first away fixture, when Manchester United were expected to play against a tough opponent, vs. the likes of Mark Hughes’ Stoke City, the Red Devils slipped up. The Potters held Jose Mourinho’s men to a draw in a tough game at the Britannia Stadium.
However, that was nothing more than a mere blip as during the next three fixtures, Man Utd gained maximum points, beating Everton at home 4-0, Southampton away 1-0 and the helpless Crystal Palace 4-0.
This match week represents a totally different challenge for United as they make the short trip to Liverpool to play at Anfield. This game is a start of a series of fixtures which could be considered as a little harder for Jose Mourinho’s men. The likes of Benfica in the Champions League, Huddersfield and Swansea (in a Football League Cup fixture) are waiting at home to play against Man United. On 28th of October, the Red Devils welcome Tottenham at home before visiting Stamford Bridge on the 5th of November. There is also another Champions League clash against Benfica at Old Trafford.
United’s current main title competitors have a much better programme in the Premier League, playing against Stoke City and Burnley at home, West Brom away and Arsenal at home. City also have two Champions League games against Napoli and a Football League Cup Round of 16 home clash against Wolves.
Is the Anfield visit, a business as usual for Manchester United?
United sit confidently at the top of the Premier League and even a loss at Anfield, would not stop Jose Mourinho’s side chase for the title. Despite that, Manchester City have an easier list of Premier League fixtures until the 5th of November and United have nothing to worry about, even if they drop some points in October. The Red Devils machine-like approach to Premier League games guarantees them maximum points against the lesser teams and saves United’s players a lot of effort.
Mourinho’s players have basically sat and waited for West Ham and Swansea to make mistakes during the first fixtures in the new Premier League season. Then in the closing stages of both games, United struck with two late goals (A. Martial in 87th and P. Pogba 90th) against West Ham and three late goals (R. Lukaku in the 80th minute, P. Pogba in the 82nd and A. Martial in the 84th) against Swansea.
Then Leicester City were beaten 2-0 with both goals scored in the final third of the match. Marcus Rashford opened the scoresheet in the 70th minute and Marouane Fellaini added another in the 82nd minute.
The scenario changed a bit during the 2-2 draw at Stoke, but United continued scoring late goals and thrashed Everton 4-0 at home, by netting three in the last ten minutes with H. Mkhitaryan scoring in the 83rd minute, R. Lukaku in the 89th and A. Martial in stoppage time.
Jose Mourinho’s team have scored a late fourth goal even against the bottom side Crystal Palace when R. Lukaku tucked in at the 86th minute after they were already 3-0 up from J. Mata’s opener three minutes in and M. Fellaini adding two more in the 35th and 49th minutes.
Until now we have seen Man United comfortably winning games and keeping clean sheets. I’ll quote Hiten Patel who stated: (Read article Hiten Patel’s Is the Premier League a two-horse race?).
With 17 goals scored already this season, it is the attacking formation which has seen Mourinho earn credit for changing from seasons past. No longer is his focal objective to keep a clean sheet and nick a goal when they can, he is now allowing his players more freedom to move the ball, take on varying formations during the game and get more into the box.
Players like Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are now more involved in the attacking play as Mourinho has managed to bring a top defensive midfielder in the shape of Nemanja Matic. United also have David De Gea, who is probably the best goalkeeper in the league (he left Liverpool frustrated in this fixture last season with his brilliant saves) and the most clinical striker in the English top flight at the moment, Lukaku. So, it looks like Manchester United are fully prepared for the visit to a Liverpool side who have looked less than convincing.
Is there anything that can turn against Red Devils at Anfield?
Yes, there’s one thing that Liverpool can do to outperform and eventually win their home game against their bitter rival. The Reds’ strikers are capable of finally finding the back of the net. If Liverpool score during the early stages of the game, they might get away with all three points.
It is going to be very hard game for Jurgen Klopp’s young side as Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be fighting with time to return to Liverpool from international duty with Brazil. Both strikers may not be able to train with the rest of the team ahead of United’s visit. This leaves Klopp with no other options but to play with Sadio Mane, Daniel Sturridge and Mohamed Salah in attack and to use Coutinho and Firmino as substitutes.
The game will give Daniel Sturridge another chance to prove his quality if Klopp does decide to start him in attack. Sturridge was on international duty with England but hasn’t played many minutes so he should be fresh for Saturday’s game.
Another thing that Jürgen Klopp should address is the fact that the current defensively poor Liverpool team usually play with three in midfield and will be up against four or even five Man United players in the same zone.
Even if the strikers can do their job and score one or two goals, Liverpool still have to be very careful in midfield and close spaces for United’s offensive players. This Manchester team is very good in utilising crosses and working to Lukaku’s strengths. It looks like stopping the crosses coming in is not going to be an easy task for Liverpool’s full-backs.
Games like these can be unpredictable, but not when Jose Mourinho is in charge of one of those sides. The Portuguese’s playing philosophy is all about being predictably stable at the back and we’d not expect Manchester United to take any risks at Anfield. So, the only way for Liverpool to win this game is to outperform the Red Devils. Can they do it?