The biggest Premier League action of the week is taking place on Monday night (cue ESPN Monday Night Football theme music) as we get our first Manchester United/Liverpool derby of the season. This will be the first time that the “Special One” and the “Normal One” square off in Premier League action, and I’m sure that it will be one for the ages. Three points currently separate the two sides with Liverpool sitting ahead of the Red Devils, and Monday’s result could motion a huge momentum shift in this early part of the season.
One of the biggest talking points of Man U’s season has actually been the performance of a Merseyside native. Wayne Rooney has drawn the ire of United and England fans alike due to his less than stellar performances to start the season. The 30-year-old was even jeered a little bit during England’s 2-0 win over Malta last week. Rooney has been dropped to the bench for the Red Devils’ last three matches, and you could argue that United have actually looked better without him on the pitch. He just doesn’t appear to have the touch, distribution or finishing ability that made him such a prolific striker in years past. I don’t think that Mourinho will throw Rooney back into the starting 11 in such a hostile environment, but if United find themselves trailing late, don’t be surprised if Rooney plays a crucial role to close out the match.
Another Red Devil that has found himself on the wrong end of some public opinion to start the season is Paul Pogba. The world-record signing has struggled a little bit to impress fans and pundits since his return to Old Trafford, and it seems like Mourinho is still trying to figure out how to get the best out of the 23-year-old. The introduction of Ander Herrera to replace Marouane Fellaini as his central midfielder partner has given Pogba more opportunity to roam into attacking areas and create chances, and he’s come close to scoring a couple of screamers from outside of the box. On international duty, he even grabbed a goal against the Netherlands with a 25-yard strike. Hopefully that goal gives him a much needed confidence boost going to Anfield.
Now, let’s talk about the hosts. Since Jürgen Klopp took over at Anfield, you could argue that Liverpool have been one of the most exciting teams in the league. This season, the Reds currently share the league-lead in goals with 18 strikes through their first seven matches. So far, only one team has managed to keep a clean sheet against Klopp’s squad, and that was the mighty Burnley (the team that everyone was expecting). In their fixtures against the “top” teams this season (Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester City), Liverpool have outscored their opponents 10-5. That includes four-goal displays against Arsenal and Leicester. Going up against a United team that has kept just one clean sheet this season, Liverpool could very well run rampant again.
While Liverpool’s attack has been nearly unstoppable, their defense has left much to be desired. Out of the top ten teams in the league, the Reds have allowed the most goals through the opening seven matches of the season (10). Klopp’s men have failed to keep a single clean sheet, but only two teams have managed to score more than once against them (Arsenal and Burnley). Right now, the club is in the process of transitioning towards Loris Karius as the new number one, and away from a shaky handed Simon Mignolet. So far, the German has only started against Hull City and Swansea City, not really the toughest of opponents with all due respect. Against United, he’ll face his toughest test to date with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford and Pogba looking for the back of the net. Will he be able to handle the derby day pressure?
My favorite memory of United playing at Anfield has to be from two years ago when Steven Gerrard was sent off, and Juan Mata almost single-handedly drove Louis Van Gaal’s side to victory. A lot has changed since then. Both sides have new managers, and both sides have several new faces lining up for them. I don’t think that the end result will change. Final score: Liverpool 1-2 United