Why United will deliver the final blow to Liverpool's title chances tonight?

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© Getty Images

Why United will deliver the final blow to Liverpool's title chances tonight?

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SportsCafe Desk

01/15/2017

When two of the biggest clubs in England meet, it is always a spectacle - be it the build up to the match or the match itself. As Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho quite aptly put it, it is just three points but to the fans, it means much more than that.

Manchester United and Liverpool have been destined to fight it out throughout the realms of time but the next encounter, today, could be written down with some of the most important games in the history of the fixture. Both teams have been average for the last couple of years and now finally have a manager at the helm whose philosophy has been bought by the players and fans even if the expectations are very different. Liverpool are aiming for their first title in over a quarter of a century while United will just be content if they can manage to secure Champions League football for next season - even if their manager says that this match would decide whether or not the Manchester side would fight for the title.

Having said that, while the league table might suggest that Liverpool have been the better side, that does not necessarily make them favorites for this game. The Merseyside club have yet to win a game in the new year and have slipped well off the pace in the league since their win over Manchester City in the new year eve game. United, on the other hand, have been in the best form since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson winning nine games on the spin in four different competitions. Even though Liverpool are five points clear of their eternal rivals right now, they have lost their last two Old Trafford league games and another loss would put them within a defeat of the Manchester club.

Ibrahimovic has scored 13 goals compared to Mane's 9 © Getty Images

There is a very simple rule in football - goals win you games. And Liverpool lack a genuine goalscorer right now. They will even be without their main goal threat Sadio Mane - their top scorer is in Africa for the Cup of Nations. Daniel Sturridge's talent has been evident for quite a while now but inconstancy and injuries have meant that he is not the answer to Liverpool's problems. Liverpool, however, will be buoyed by the return of Phillippe Coutinho from injury as he was the protagonist of Liverpool's success in the early part of the season. On the other hand, United are a team built to bulldoze their way their way through a team that attacks them and look every bit a team that you would expect Jose Mourinho to conjure up. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United have the proper goalscorer that they have been missing since the departure of Robin van Persie and the Swede will have the opportunity to take the lead in the golden boot race should he score a brace against Liverpool.

But it's not just goals that will be on Jurgen Klopp's mind when he picks the starting eleven for the game. In midfield, the introduction of Michael Carrick has made United achieve their potential as he gives Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera the freedom to venture forward wreak havoc on the opposition defence. The stats are quite compelling as well. Manchester United have not lost a single game that Michael Carrick has played this season and it's not just the numbers. Even to the untrained eye, the difference in United's style of play when Carrick plays is evident as clear as day to when he is not playing. To add to Liverpool's misery, Jordan Henderson might miss the game which would indicate that Liverpool would lack the legs to compete with United's midfield 3. Wijnaldum and Can are excellent players but they lack the tactical nuance to dominate the game from midfield.

 © Who Scored
 Henderson has completed 1,650 passes - highest in the league © Who Scored

Adding to the midfield problem is the style of play itself. Liverpool have been one of the most watchable teams in the league this season - not at the Dortmund level yet but they are getting there. Their high pressing style have deservedly earned them plaudits from every direction. However, one of the problems that they might face in Old Trafford is that the ground is slightly bigger. Old Trafford (116 x 76 yards) is just over five meters larger than Anfield (110 x 75 yards). While that might not sound like a lot, Liverpool's style of play would mean that they would have to travel an extra 10 yards every time they try to close the ball down. Again that might not sound like a lot, but at the end of 90 minutes it will reflect in the player's game United use the full length of the field in every game and I feel that they will out run Liverpool over the course of the match.

However, the biggest difference between the two teams are the three players responsible for keeping the scores level. While United have one of the best shot-stoppers in the game, Liverpool have Loris Karius and Simon Mingolet. The former has already been dropped from the first team and the latter's past will never leave him be. Coming to the two men in front of them, United have a host of players at their disposal in the form of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, and Marcos Rojo while Joel Matip is the only one who has shown some resolve during the games where Liverpool have struggled. Klavan and Lovren have been good in patches but for a team trying to win a Championship they are just not good enough. Then there is the case for Liverpool's biggest problem - aerial balls. That combined with the fact that United have one of the tallest quads in the league to simply overpower Liverpool is enough to give Klopp sleepless nights.

Even if Liverpool somehow manage to stop the United, they have one major flaw in the team. As good as James Milner has been this season, if he comes up against Henrikh Mkhitaryan he will realize why United shelled out all the money they did for the Armenian. Not only does 27-year-old have the pace to trouble the Englishman, he has an end product that the end of it as well. Along with the direct threat posed by the Armenian, the over-lapping runs from Antonio Valencia will mean that if Milner doesn't continue to get the support from the right-sided midfielder, Liverpool will have to contend with a very fast Ecuadorian with space in front of him. The game is going to a be closely fought affair but based on current form it looks highly unlikely that Liverpool will be able to stop the United juggernaut from securing their tenth win on the spin.

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