Man Utd v Liverpool; The three key battles to look out for

Ahead of gameweek nine, Manchester United sit embarrassingly in the both half of the table in 13th place and will be taking on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who are looking to extend their lead at the top of the league as both sides will take on one another in the Sunday afternoon fixture at Old Trafford.

Without a doubt, both clubs will be aiming to make statement of their own whilst looking to earn bragging rights, in a match that will surely be watched by nearly every football fan around the world. The Red Devils have had a really good record in this feisty fixture over the last ten years or so, whilst the red side of Merseyside have surprisingly not won at Old Trafford in the league since 2014.

It’s time to look at the three vital battles that could help to decide the fate of this huge fixture…

Daniel James vs Trent Alexander-Arnold

Since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the permanent manager of the club, Daniel James has been the one attacking player that has been a constant threat for the side, through his intelligent dribbling and direct style of play. With Anthony Martial unlikely to be placed straight back into the team after coming back from injury, the hopes of the United supporters and Solskjaer himself will be in the hands of the speedy Welshman.

James will be in for a close and tight encounter with Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is seen as one of Liverpool’s key creators from the flanks as well as one of the best right-backs in the league and in Europe. The 21-year-old has played a crucial role in helping the side to have the best defensive record in the league, whilst also being seen as the main man when it comes to taking set-pieces.  

Sadio Mane vs Aaron Wan-Bissaka

It’s no secret that Liverpool’s most deadly and influential player in the final third of the pitch is none other than Sadio Mane at the moment, an individual who has an incredible burst of pace as well as the ability to take on two to three players with ease when required. If he can find the urge and desire, he normally shows when his side need him the most, he could definitely help his team to win their first ever Premier League title whilst potentially contend for the Player of the Year award.

Mane has been offering the ideal mixture of electric spark and directness from the left flank, making him the world class attacking outlet he was dreaming of becoming since his early days at Southampton. He will be up against Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has recently returned from injury and is well-known for his defensive contributions, completing a number of interceptions and tackles on a weekly basis, making him the perfect full-back that United need on both sides of the pitch.

Scott McTominay vs Jordan Henderson

Given the lack of midfield options that Solskjaer has available, as well as Paul Pogba being on the sidelines for a couple of weeks, it means that Scott McTominay has to step up and be the main man for the midfield and for the team. For sure, he may not be a talented player or technically gifted like the others, but through his aerial ability, physicality and hard work on and off the ball, it may be just enough to get his team-mates going and produce a possible shocker over long-term rivals Liverpool.

Meanwhile for Liverpool, Jordan Henderson will be potentially utilised as a box-to-box midfielder and will be hoping that his leadership, types of passing and incredible work rate will help his team to go on to win the fixture. The 29-year-old has time and time again proved himself, to be an important player within Jurgen Klopp’s system, even when he came under a huge amount of criticism from his own supporters and the English media, which has helped him to become the player he is today.

What will come next for Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool?

There has been a lot of talk over Jurgen Klopp’s future of late. The German has led Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table, holding an eight point lead over defending champions Manchester City. The Reds have still to even get their hands on the trophy – it’s not even Christmas yet – but there has been some speculation over what Klopp might want from his career next.

Every so often there are links made to clubs like Real Madrid. Club president Florentino Perez is believed to be a fan of the German coach, but then who isn’t right now? Klopp, along with Pep Guardiola, is setting the zeitgeist for the current era of the sport at the top level. It’s natural that he should be a man in-demand.

It was recently revealed that Borussia Dortmund offered Klopp the chance to return to the Westfalenstadion in the summer of 2018 after their former coach had suffered defeat in the Champions League final to Real Madrid. They never really stood a chance of luring him from Liverpool, but the fact they even tried underlines that Klopp isn’t exactly rooted to the core of the earth on Merseyside.

Now, it has been suggested that Klopp could take over from Joachim Low after the 2022 World Cup is over. His Liverpool contract would be expired by such a time and the winter World Cup means Klopp could also factor in a short break from the game before moving into his next job.

“I really can not say. I do not know if I would like to. Now, as of today, I do not feel like it,” Klopp responded when asked whether this would be something he would consider. “Stand up now, I’m totally happy with what I do and that’s important in the whole story. I also could not say one hundred percent if I was the right one [to replace Low]. If the question ever arises, I would think about it, but not now.”

Liverpool have still to even reach their peak under Klopp, but they must consider what might come next just as the man himself seems to be. There’s no immediate prospect of the German leaving Anfield to take over as Real Madrid or Germany boss. He will see the job through. But planning must start taking place now.

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Liverpool can’t get comfy… they have defensive problems too

Five games played, five points clear at the top of the table… Jurgen Klopp must be privately smug about Liverpool’s start to the 2019/20 Premier League season. The German must have watched with a trademark Cheshire Cat grin painted across his face as defending champions Manchester City suffered a shock loss in East Anglia last weekend.

However, that grin might have been wiped away by what Liverpool suffered themselves in Italy on Tuesday night, with Napoli exposing the defensive vulnerabilities of Klopp’s team to claim a 2-0 victory on opening night of the new Champions League campaign.

In isolation, the defeat to Napoli is nothing to worry too much about. Carlo Ancelotti’s team also beat Liverpool in the Champions League group stages last season and it didn’t stop the Reds from going on to win a sixth European crown. But the result and performance must serve as a warning to Klopp and his players.

Indeed, Liverpool can’t afford to get comfy in their current position. They might have won their opening five Premier League fixtures, but there have been signs in their performances over the past few weeks that defensive vulnerabilities are starting to creep into their game. The lapses made against Napoli didn’t come completely out of the blue.

Norwich City troubled Liverpool on opening night of the 2019/20 Premier League before they toppled Man City a month later. The 4-1 scoreline somewhat flattened the Anfield side. Southampton also gave Liverpool something to think about and perhaps should have taken points off last season’s Premier League runners up. Even Newcastle United manager to take the lead against the Reds on Saturday before eventually succumbing to defeat. They could have scored a second as well.

For all that Liverpool’s attacking potency makes them the team they are, it was their defensive record that last season provided a basis for a challenge both in the Premier League and Champions League. Virgil Van Dijk has made a profound impact since arriving at Anfield from Southampton 18 months ago.

But cracks are starting to appear in that basis. So far, Liverpool have been able to absorb this, as demonstrated by their current position at the top of the Premier League table. But Klopp must recognise the recent shortcomings of his team, what the defeat to Napoli signified and how Man City’s troubles could also afflict them.

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Simon Mignolet’s comments underline importance of Liverpool’s next investment

There are few facilities in English football as historic as Melwood. It was on the pitches of Liverpool’s training ground that the great Bill Shankly introduced and refined the ‘pass and move, keep it simple’ philosophy that came to define his legend at the club.

It was here that Gerard Houllier set about bringing Liverpool into the 21st century, where Rafael Benitez persuaded Fernando Torres to make the move to Merseyside from Spain after showing him all the depictions of history on the walls and where Jurgen Klopp has educated his players over the past few years.

But Melwood has fallen behind the standards expected of a Premier League training ground over the past decade or so. Compare the facilities there to what Manchester City have at the Etihad Campus or what Tottenham have at Spurs Lodge. It’s no longer at the cutting edge of the sport.

Simon Mignolet was quick to outline this when talking about how the facilities of his new club Club Brugge measure up. “This is better than Melwood, the training ground of Liverpool, better than that of Sunderland and the training complex of the Red Devils in Tubize,” he said. “There is really nothing missing here.

“If you are present somewhere every day as a player, the defects quickly come to light. In Liverpool there was no swimming pool, in Sunderland, for example, no hotel rooms. Everything is there to get better as a player.”

Of course, Liverpool know this. They are currently in the process of leaving Melwood, with a new £50 million training ground under construction in Kirby. Mignolet’s comments underline just how important this investment will be for the club, further accelerating their growth and development over the past few years.

The new training facility will help Liverpool attract an even higher calibre of player in the transfer market and should, in theory, aid their development of young players through their academy, although City’s sprawling Etihad Campus hasn’t exactly forged a route into the first team for their youngsters.

Under FSG, almost every area of Liverpool has been modernised. There will therefore be certain symbolism to the opening of the new training ground in Kirby when it is finished. It represents one of the final big investments left for them to make in the club. But in the end, the money spent on these facilities should at some point have an impact on the pitch.

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No reason to believe Liverpool can’t defend Champions League title

There was an air of familiarity about the draw Liverpool were handed for the group stage of this season’s Champions League on Thursday. Jurgen Klopp’s side were drawn alongside Red Bull Salzburg and Genk, but the Anfield side will also face Napoli for the second successive campaign.

Despite going all the way in the Champions League last season, Liverpool enjoyed mixed success against the Serie A side in the group stage, suffering a defeat in the away game and only winning 1-0 at Anfield. Of course, a patchy group stage was just the precursor for a glorious charge from the Reds as they went on to claim their sixth European Cup.

Now that the group stage draw has been made for the new season, those associated with Liverpool will start to plot a route through the tournament. And there’s no reason to believe Klopp’s men can’t go all the way for a second successive season. There’s much more to their challenge than just the omen of drawing Napoli again.

Klopp has built a team that is tailored for the European game. Liverpool are among the very best at opening up space in the final third and have played a role in setting the continent-wide zeitgeist of fast and furious football over the past few years. Those who embrace chaos stand a better chance in the Champions League and this is what Liverpool do best.

Of course, Manchester City must also be considered among this season’s favourites, while any team boasting Lionel Messi will be there and there abouts. If Barcelona complete a deal for the signing of Neymar before the close of the transfer window, they might be irresistible having already signed Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong this summer.

Indeed, the usual suspects will be mentioned as contenders. There are questions against both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid right now, but the quality of their squads makes them impossible to discount. Juventus have also focussed all their attentions on attaining European success these past couple years.

But Liverpool will surely be among the frontrunners for another year. They have maintained an impressive level of consistency in the Champions League over the past two seasons and their start to the 2019/20 Premier League campaign, which has seen them win three from three, suggests there will be no drop off.

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UEFA make Real Madrid unseeded in an odd move for the Champions League draw

The draw for the Champions League season 2019/20 will take place later today and sadly UEFA have made it all about them. In a stunning move, which actually feels more bizarre they have decided not to seed Real Madrid.

Now even if you are not a fan of the club, that is beside the point. Barcelona fans for example may just be laughing at the idea that Madrid have been relegated to Pot 2. However if you are a fan of football then you’ll be scratching your head and wondering why a club that has won the competition 4 times from the past 6 years isn’t being seeded.

The story has gone completely under the carpet which is a bit of a travesty really. Had Liverpool won the competition 4 from the last 6 years could you imagine the media in England? And these type of stories shouldn’t go unnoticed around Europe and only be centered on one country. All sports media should be crying out loud because this is a playing like a bad joke from UEFA. They are not rewarding success, they are making their awkward points system all about them and not the club- and then UEFA wonder why some of them threaten to breakaway and start a super league.

As news stories go, this one may not feel important, but it should be. UEFA used to respect the clubs that won their own leagues and competitions. UEFA have punished Madrid based on last season alone when they didn’t win the Champions League or the Spanish title. Punished for one season, makes little sense when they have dominated the competition for years.

However rules are rules and the likelihood is that Madrid will qualify for the knock out stages anyway.

The draw should be an exciting one as Madrid count draw one of the very big teams. Imagine for if example they came head to head with Liverpool that would be a repeat of the 2018 final. Not only would Liverpool be after revenge but how will Mohamed Salah react to having to play against Sergio Ramos. Put it this way you wouldn’t want to be Ramos when Liverpool play at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said this season will be the hardest in the Champions League ever, and with teams always improving he has a good point. Any one of 6 teams could win it this season, or perhaps we will have a major surprise.

 

The winning mentality of Liverpool looks unstoppable as they go top of the Premier League

Who is going to stop Liverpool winning their first league title since 1990? Everyone would say Manchester City, but it’s probable that not even Pep Guardiola’s stars are going to be able to do that. The reason is that they won the title last season and not Liverpool.

Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners at Anfield against a very good Arsenal side who had their chances too, but yet again it felt as if the Reds did not break out of second gear in order to do it.

Liverpool have started the season with 3 wins from three games, beating Norwich 4-1 and then Southampton 2-1 and this game and inbetween that they popped over to Turkey to win the Super Cup from Chelsea. There is just this incredible winning formula with the club and with Jurgen Klopp in charge he has so many winning qualities that Liverpool have the perfect manager.

But one wonders how and why Liverpool have started so strongly. Yes they are a great team after all let’s remember they are the European champions but after such a taxing season you could have wondered if the players would have felt at least some psychological damage. It has never been known for a club to get 97 points and not win the league, and also they lost just 1 game all season which was ironically against Manchester City.

But there is a massive hunger and passion from within the club to simply continue their journey. Their nearest rival City are a brilliant team with one of the best coaches in the history of football, but at the same time they have won the league two times in a row. What is their motivation? To win a 3rd title in a row? Well that is a good one which has only in modern history been won by Manchester United, and of course City would love to replicate that. But one could wonder if the motivation of not winning the league for 30 years is a bigger one- of course it is.

The irony of last season was that City ended up winning what Liverpool really wanted and Liverpool won what City really want. Also the quality of Liverpool and a never say die attitude is evident also. Look at the 2018 Champions League final when they lost against Real Madrid, they came back the year after and won it. Can they do the same in the Premier League? There only have one realistic challenger and make no mistake City will push them, but when the league gets down to the business end where these two teams rarely drop points don’t be surprised if it is Liverpool that find that second wind.

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European Super Cup win proves Jurgen Klopp has banished ghosts of the past

The sight of Jurgen Klopp sprinting across the pitch at the sound of the full time whistle is one we, as football fans, have witnessed more than once over the last year or so. Indeed, the German coach has done a lot of winning of late and he kept that trend going by leading Liverpool to the European Super Cup on Wednesday night.

It wasn’t as convincing a win as the victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the final of last season’s Champions League, only seeing off Chelsea in a penalty shootout, but nonetheless, it was a result that saw Liverpool get their hands on a second piece of silverware in the space of just a few months.

Some people see the European Super Cup as nothing more than a glorified friendly. There is something in that, but victory in Istanbul on Wednesday night proved that Klopp has banished the ghosts of the past. The German has become a hardened winner over the past year to 18 months.

This was always the criticism of Klopp – for all that he had turned around the fortunes of Liverpool, he had still win a title until last season. Worse still, there was a common suggestion that the Reds froze on the big stage, that Klopp lacked the necessary quality to get his team over the line when it mattered most.

Of course, winning the Champions League last season quelled these criticisms, but beating Chelsea in the European Super Cup went some way to proving that it wasn’t a fluke. That Liverpool now have that trait that all legendary teams have – they want to collect trophies and winners’ medals.

There was mocking of Liverpool’s reaction to Adrian’s penalty save from Tammy Abraham, the moment that saw the Merseysiders come out on top, but this was the sign of a team that has grown to crave winning. They will carry that into the 2019/20 Premier League season as they attempt to catch Manchester City at the top.

Klopp has always been a master at generating a positive dressing room environment. His players want to play for him, would do anything for him. But now Liverpool’s players are playing for more than just their charismatic German coach. They’re playing to win and the European Super Cup win demonstrated that. Klopp has taken Liverpool to the next stage.

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Business as usual as Manchester City and Liverpool get off to flying starts in the Premier League

So the Premier League has kicked off and it seems that it is business as usual as both the title favourites Manchester City and Liverpool got off to flying starts. Not only did they win their respective games they scored 9 goals between them.

Liverpool got the ball rolling (pardon the pun) when they beat Norwich 4-1 at Anfield on Friday night. It was always going to be extremely difficult for Norwich who have just been promoted from the Championship to take on the European champions and last seasons runners up in the league and so it proved. With ease Liverpool scored 4 goals and Norwich showed their naivety.

At the same time it wasn’t all plain sailing for Jurgen Klopp’s team and Norwich played some tidy football and created quite a few clear cut chances. If Liverpool who have arguably one of the best defences in Europe defend like they did on Friday night against a top 6 team they will suffer. Plus Alisson went off injured and Klopp will be hoping that his Brazilian goal keeper is only out for a limited time. Still it was a great start for Liverpool who will be looking to win their first league title since 1990.

The next day at lunchtime ended up being a miss match, when champions Manchester City went to West Ham and didn’t break sweat as they scored 5 goals with no reply. Raheem Sterling was deservedly the man of the match after he started his campaign with a fantastic hattrick. West Ham were toothless and unlike Norwich gave no fight and no hope as to how they will pick up points this season. Of course the Hammers have had some hyped arrivals in the likes of Pablo Fornals and Sebastian Haller and even though Fornals only came on from the bench in the 2nd half, he made almost no impact except for a teasing cross.

City were simply breath taking on the ball and the pace and fitness was evident compared to West Ham who are set for another frustrating season. The only other story to take from the game is VAR. It was used no less than 3 times and on each occasion got the decision right but there has to still be a question of is VAR good for football? Wasn’t the game supposed to be a simple one, that would include human error? After all England would not have become world cup champions in 1966 had VAR been in place.

True there has been shocking decisions in football, but it can work for and against your team. Maybe VAR takes that moment away in football.  Now when your team score, you will celebrate but perhaps have one eye on the referee and his assistants just in case. What will happen this season is penalties being retaken. It happened in the West Ham game when players encroached the area and it will happen when the goalkeeper leaves his line, and we can expect many penalty problems as a result.

The one damning verdict of West Ham’s defeat was the roar the fans gave as if they had scored a goal. They hadn’t, instead VAR had ruled out a City goal. Is that what teams outside the top 10 will be cheering about in the future?

 

 

Huge season ahead for Liverpool’s Naby Keita

Liverpool’s Guinean international midfielder Naby Keita knows that 2019/20 could be one of the defining seasons of his career.

Keita arrived last summer after signing from Bundesliga side RB Leipzig but struggle to get any consistent game-time as he was hampered by injury for large parts of the campaign.

Liverpool’s number 8 does not have a history of being an injury-prone player at any of his previous clubs. Therefore, Reds fans should look forward to seeing much more of the midfielder over the next 9 months or so. Continue reading