After a week of vacation, I’ve come back just in time for the first Manchester United vs. Liverpool derby of 2016. My beloved Red Devils are doing somewhat better to start the year than the way they finished 2015. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, on the other hand, appear to be tipping between mediocrity and revival as they struggle for consistency. When the two sides faceoff at Anfield, who will seize some invaluable momentum as we head into the second half of the season?
Apparently, Wayne Rooney can only find the back of the net when I’m not there to watch him. In the last three games, the Englishman has scored four times. Before this hot streak, Rooney had failed to score for United since November 3rd against CSKA Moscow. His last league goal came way back in October against Everton. Since an apparent change in the team’s playing style, Rooney has seemingly rediscovered the form that made him one of the most talented strikers in the league. Last season against Liverpool, the 30-year-old scored once in a 3-0 thrashing at Old Trafford, but was anonymous during the reverse fixture. Is this recent resurgence a fluke, or are we finally seeing the return of England’s all-time leading scorer?
Marouane Fellaini, why? Why do you love to break up the midfield possession that United strive for? Why do you have the constant urge to foul any, and every player that comes by? The biggest question of all, however, has to be why Louis Van Gaal continues to choose you over Morgan Schneiderlin as the anchor to the midfield. According to Squawka, in the 12 games that United have played without the Belgian, they have gone undefeated. On the other hand, they have lost eight of the 20 games with him in the lineup. A woeful performance against Newcastle midweek could see Van Gaal finally move on from Fellaini, but there’s really no telling what the Dutchman will do at this point.
As of late, goals haven’t been an issue for Liverpool. In their last two games against Exeter City in the FA Cup and Arsenal in the league, Klopp’s squad have found the back of the net five times. To put this in perspective, the Reds hadn’t scored more than one goal in match since December 16th. One of the key players to this offensive revival has to be summer signing Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian midfielder had the best performance of his Liverpool career midweek against Arsenal. Firmino netted a brace against the Gunners including a stunning curled effort. Similarly to Rooney, Firmino had been largely ineffective during the first half of the season, but his performance against Arsenal should give Reds’ supporters hope that he can pull the strings in the midfield.
Where the offense has been outstanding, Liverpool’s backline has been lackluster to say the least. Despite the five goals scored in the last two games, Klopp’s squad has drawn both of them because they’ve allowed five goals as well. The Reds lack a clear leader in defense, and none of their center backs look like world-beaters. Koló Toure, Mamadou Sakho, and Dejan Lovren don’t strike fear in top quality strikers and with Rooney in-form they will need to be at their best Sunday. With an unconvincing tandem at the heart of defense, expect Simon Mignolet to have a busy day between the pipes with United’s new, more attacking style.
I can’t write a preview for this match and not pick United to win. I would have to forfeit any fandom that I claim on the spot. With that being said, I think that the resurgence of Rooney paired with the new freedom that Van Gaal has granted his attack in the final third will prove the difference at Anfield. Final score: Liverpool 2-3 Manchester United