In any season, Liverpool versus Manchester United is one of the standout matches of the Premier League calendar, and the first meeting between the sides this season is set to be a hugely important game for both clubs.
Man City’s loss at Chelsea last Saturday led to Liverpool finishing the weekend as the league leaders. The progression of the team under Jurgen Klopp has been extremely impressive, and although the Liverpool aren’t quite at Man City’s level in terms of squad depth, it’s becoming clear that the Reds are strong enough to genuinely challenge Pep Guardiola’s side for the title.
Only 12 months ago, Klopp faced regular criticism relating to an error-prone defence which was leaking too many goals. It was argued that, having failed to sign Virgil van Dijk in the summer, Klopp should have turned to other alternatives in order to strengthen a back four which was so often the cause of points being dropped.
Instead, Klopp waited patiently for another chance to sign the player he wanted more than any other, and the result was a series of much stronger defensive performances during the second half of the season – and a run to the Champions League final in Kiev.
Having then seen two major goalkeeping errors cost Liverpool a chance of becoming European Champions, the pressure was on to bring in a goalkeeper dependable enough to help the club compete for honours. Again, Klopp was insistent on that man being Allison, and having already broken the world transfer record for a defender, Liverpool spent a world record amount on a goalkeeper to sign the player from Roma.
It’s difficult to make a case for a £75million defender or a £67million goalkeeper being considered a bargain, but given the general spike in transfer fees over the past 18 months, particularly those paid out by English clubs, neither fee appears excessive when judging the impact that the two players have already had.
Liverpool haven’t simply improved their overall defensive line, but have performed at such a high level that, in terms of goals conceded, they have matched the best performance by any top flight team at this stage of a league season.
If Liverpool shipped goals at the current rate, they would finish the season with only 14 goals conceded. It’s far too premature to discuss whether Liverpool can possibly achieve such a feat, but the fact remains that the club has invested a lot of money very wisely and are reaping the benefits of their recent signings.
A manager whose transfer policy has been less successful is Jose Mourinho. Much has been made of his frequent comments relating to a lack of support by the board in delivering the players demanded, and far too may journalists seem willing to report Mourinho’s complaints about other clubs spending large sums of money, but without scrutinising the extravagant spending which has helped to give Mourinho an advantage over rival clubs during his career.
After splashing out almost £300million in his first 14 months at Man United, Mourinho is not particularly well-placed to cry poverty. The money he has spent at Old Trafford doesn’t even include the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was brought in on a free transfer, nor a number of talented – if underachieving – players who were inherited by the Portuguese, and who subsequently played their part in United lifting silverware in Mourinho’s first season, as well as securing second place last year.
In claiming that more money is needed to compete with Man City, or referencing the recent spending carried out by Liverpool as some way to imply that he is operating at a disadvantage, Mourinho fails to recognise that he is partly to blame for the situation Man United are in.
Players such as Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were outstanding for their previous clubs, both at domestic and European level, yet Mourinho struggled to get the best out of either player. The latter was sent out to Arsenal in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, an established Premier League star, who should have been able to make a significant impact on the United team but who has also found life difficult under Mourinho.
The fee for Pogba was a world record when he signed, while the £75million spent on Romelu Lukaku was, at the time, the highest fee ever paid for an out-and-out striker.
It’s hard to see a difference in the recent approach of both Mourinho and Klopp in terms of spending big money on players to occupy positions where there are weaknesses in the respective teams. The one big difference, however, is that Mourinho’s signings haven’t proved to be as successful – hence the desire to continue spending big on further reinforcements to salvage a league campaign which has gone horribly wrong.
Whatever current problems Man United may be experiencing, there’s no reason why they can’t get a result tomorrow. Liverpool may be favourites, and have an opportunity to move 19 points clear of their bitter rivals, but Jose Mourinho has a good league record at Anfield and enjoys little more than spoiling any occasion on which Liverpool fans expect to be celebrating.
Each of the two most recent fixtures at Anfield have ended goalless, with Mourinho accused of adopting a particularly negative approach in last season’s encounter, despite United having enjoyed a much stronger start to the season.
This season’s fixture is likely to see both teams making greater efforts to take all three points. Liverpool know that they can’t afford to drop many points if they’re to keep pace with Man City for the whole season, while Man United have already conceded that finishing in the top four is the most that they can realistically expect to achieve in the league this year.
With both clubs facing a difficult task in delivering on their ambitions for the season, the match promises more drama and tension than in recent years. This type of fixture can often see a big build-up followed by a disappointing game, but the respective situations at Liverpool and Man United give this match an extra bit of spice – and hopefully the teams can deliver a classic.