Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool romped to a well-deserved 2-0 victory at Anfield last week with the German’s high pressing style of football paying dividends. They may not be quite so adventurous at Old Trafford as they look to secure passage to the quarter finals of the Europa league, but we don’t expect Klopp to abandon his principles altogether and try to shut up shop.
While Van Gaal’s united continually tried to slow the game down last week on Merseyside, they were denied the opportunity by a high-energy Liverpool performance typified by the attacking intent shown by full-back Alberto Moreno. Given the licence to bomb forward down the Liverpool left, the energetic defender attempted four tackles in the United half – just one less than the entire Red Devils team attempted in Liverpool’s half during the ninety minutes.
Alberto Moreno made more tackles in the opposition half than his own at Anfield in the first leg.
The success of Liverpool’s tendency to press high up the pitch was also notable by the number of times Man Utd lost possession in their own half – a whopping 14 times in comparison to Liverpool’s six turnover’s in their own territory.
Loss of possession in the first leg at Anfield:
Manchester United (Blue) lost possession 14 times in their own half at Anfield.
With a two-goal advantage the temptation for Klopp will be to sit on what they have and play a more pragmatic game – indeed Man Utd’s need to score goals may well force them back – but he will know that a goal here will effectively end the tie as it would mean United have to score four goals to go through. This fact will be playing on Van Gaal’s mind and although he is sure to send out a team with attacking intent, his own pragmatism may also lead him to err on the side of caution.
Eventually however, the game will have to open up and Liverpool will be primed for hitting their great rivals on the counter attack. Klopp is sure to ask the likes of Lallana, Firminho and Sturridge to pressure the Manchester United backline and while they may enjoy plenty of possession in their own third, Liverpool will engage them as soon as they venture over the half-way line. Henderson and Can will both be given orders to keep tabs on the returning Schweinsteiger if he returns to the line-up, after the German veteran produced a game-changing performance at the weekend against West Ham.
Juan Mata will also return after sitting out the FA Cup tie against the Hammers, and in the continued absence of Wayne Rooney, plenty of expectation rests on the shoulders of the Spaniard. The youngsters, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford have been the highlights of a season of struggle for United, along with the prodigious Anthony Martial.
Manchester United can gain confidence from the fact that they have beaten Liverpool 9 out of the last 10 times they’ve played at Old Trafford, and Van Gaal goes in search of his fifth consecutive win over the old adversary. They’ve also scored at least three goals in their last three home clashes against Liverpool, and they will need to do so again to have any hope of going through to the next stage.
However, the good news ends there as Liverpool have managed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last four Europa League ties, and are undefeated in their last nine in Europe’s secondary competition. What’s more is that Manchester United have conceded at least two goals in five of their last six Europa League games.
In fact, despite Van Gaal’s reputation for a tight United defence, the Red Devil’s have only kept two clean sheets in their last ten in all competitions – against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup and Watford in the Premier League. Liverpool have only failed to find the net once in their last ten in all competitions – in the 0-0 draw away at Augsburg in the last round.
Another factor in Liverpool’s favour is that they’ve had a full week to prepare for this game since the first leg, while United were pushed all the way in the FA Cup tie with West Ham on Sunday, having to come from behind to grab a 1-1 draw and force a replay.
William Hill are offering -110 about both teams to score in the ninety minutes, and that looks the bet to be on with the way this game is likely to pan out.
The longer it goes on, the more desperate the Manchester United situation becomes, and the Old Trafford crowd will stand for nothing less than a rousing attempt to throw the kitchen sink at their deadly rivals. Liverpool can kill the game off with a single strike here, and they will make every effort to capitalise on the space left in behind when United eventually go chasing the game.
Jurgen Klopp could be forgiven for taking a defensive approach first and foremost in this game, but his success at Dortmund was built on an attacking philosophy and he is trying to instil that at his new club. As United push more players up the pitch, Liverpool’s rapid attacking talent will look to force mistakes and break in numbers.
Manchester United v Liverpool Both Teams to Score
Thursday 17th March, 20:05 GMT
*Chalkboard stats from Squawka.com & Whoscored.com