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They certainly do not come any bigger than this. The showdown against Liverpool is always the first game all players and fans look for when the fixtures are released at the start of every summer, but with the circumstances the way they currently are for Manchester United, the magnitude of this game has reached a new level.
The two teams couldn’t be any further apart in terms of overall quality and league rankings. Liverpool are in dreamland. They have gathered all of the points that have been up for grabs in the league so far through eight game weeks, and they sit atop of the Premier League with an eight point cushion over second placed Manchester City.
You have to scroll down a little to locate Manchester United who currently sit at No. 12, 15 points behind their arch rivals from Merseyside. The gulf in the table is quite frightening, and the worst part is that it doesn’t get any smaller on the pitch.
Although Jurgen Klopp’s side hasn’t been dropping 10/10 performances week in week out, they have been doing enough to put teams away and to grind out results, and that’s something that would suggest that they may be on their way to claiming their first Premier League title. United are on the polar opposite of that spectrum.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have not been doing enough in terms of performances to earn positive results, and they have also struggled to grind out wins from games that were there for the taking. As a result of this, Sunday’s hosts find themselves two points out of the drop zone in the middle of October. Now there is a transition period, and then there is this.
It’s no surprise that alarm bells are beginning to ring louder among the fans. The common belief is that the majority of supporters were prepared to be in for an up and down season, possibly finishing between the sixth and eighth position, but all that while laying the foundations for the upcoming few transfer windows.
That was not too far fetched at all. United got rid of a lot of deadwood without replacing them, and a few windows were always going to be needed to get the squad back up to scratch. But what nobody could have predicted in their wildest nightmares was a potential relegation battle.
But all of a sudden, here we are. Of course, it is incredibly unlikely that United will hang around the bottom half of the table for too long, despite everything that has been going on. But, it is worrying nonetheless if you consider where a loss on Sunday could potentially leave the Red Devils.
When it comes to Derbies, everyone knows that form usually goes out the window. That’s what makes this game so important for both teams.
Make no mistake about it, there is nothing Liverpool want more than a convincing victory which would compile United’s miseries. The visitors could potentially stretch their lead at the top, drop their bitter rivals into the catacombs of the league table, and refill their already high title hopes. There are plenty of incentives for Klopp and his men going into Sunday.
The stakes are monumentally bigger for United. A win, any kind of win — be it in style or after a scrappy penalty following a horrendous performance — could potentially flip United’s season back onto its feet. Nothing can boost a human’s self esteem quite like a victory over a rival. And especially a rival that is dominating. Everyone is well aware that a win over Liverpool on Sunday may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. United could very well go away to Norwich next week and return to losing ways. But, for the short-term stability of the club and the morale in and around the dressing room, it would be massive.
Solskjaer’s side is still peppered with injuries. Despite potentially being boosted by the returns of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Martial, United are set to be without Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Eric Bailly, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
On the opposition’s side, if their form wasn’t enough, Liverpool also boast a near flawless bill of health. Mohamed Salah’s injury scare against Leicester ended up being nothing serious, and the visitors are also set to be rejoined by their first choice goalkeeper, Alisson. The only potential absentee from Klopp’s side is Joel Matip.