Liverpool and Man United both sit in the top 3 of the Premier League, but who will end up with bragging rights come the season’s end? Jason Pettigrove gives us his opinion…
It might’ve taken Liverpool 57 minutes to break the deadlock against a stubborn West Ham side who were coming off of the back of a six-game winning run, but the result, in truth, was never really in doubt.
The Hammers huffed and puffed whilst the Reds were simply waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Mo Salah’s quickfire double after a barren few games showed he was back with a bang, and his second goal in particular was the finish from a marksman of the highest quality.
𝐉𝐔𝐒𝐓, 𝐖𝐎𝐖! 🔥
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 31, 2021
Liverpool have two more of those, albeit Sadio Mane was injured and Roberto Firmino only came on when the game was won.
How Manchester United could do with strikers of such quality.
Though he’s pitched in with a couple of good finishes, Edinson Cavani can’t really be considered anything more than an expensive stop-gap, and both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial keep blowing hot and cold.
Mason Greenwood often remains the pick of the bunch in terms of natural finishing, but he can’t be relied upon as the main man week-in and week-out – or whenever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decides to give him a run out.
Goals win games, and they’ve been Liverpool’s currency ever since Jurgen Klopp has been at the helm.
It’s safe to say that their blip since the 7-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace is now over, and whilst they have a couple of tough fixtures on the immediate horizon (Man City and Leicester), their front men have performed consistently well against teams in the top half of the table up to now.
Liverpool don’t have the distraction of the FA Cup to concern themselves with either, which could prove a real hindrance at this stage for United, even if it does offer them a pathway to silverware.
Solksjaer’s squad isn’t well enough equipped to deal with the rigours of domestic and European assignments between now and the business end either, and furthermore, the Norwegian is yet to prove himself as a manager who can motivate his entire squad well enough to get them over the line in any competition.
A case of close but no cigar each and every time.
Bruno Fernandes remains their shining light, though there’s a school of thought that he’s not at his best against the big sides. That’s going to hurt if there’s no improvement when United face Chelsea, Man City and West Ham in the space of a fortnight at the end of the month.
“Look at the games against the top six – he doesn’t do it.”
This #MUFC fan says he wants to 'put to bed' the comparisons between Eric Cantona and Bruno Fernandes.
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) January 30, 2021
Klopp’s concern will be losing Alisson, Firmino and Fabinho to international duty at the end of March, however, the only Premier League game they’re likely to miss is against Arsenal. Then come three very winnable fixtures, particularly if Virgil van Dijk returns as expected, against Aston Villa, Leeds and Newcastle, before a trip to Old Trafford on May 1.
Where Liverpool really do have the upper hand of course is with their experience of what’s required to stay the course at this stage of the campaign. The Reds have been outstanding in the latter half of the last two seasons, and there’s nothing to suggest that they won’t be at it again.
At this point last season, United went on an unbeaten 14 game run, but they were seventh at the start of February and the carrot of Champions League football was always there as the prime motivating factor.
They’re not going to overhaul Man City this season, and staying ahead of the chasing pack is an entirely different proposition to being one of the chasers. There’s a nagging doubt with United that they’ve not got it in them as a squad to keep everyone below them at bay, and particularly a Liverpool side that are already snapping at their heels.
United have dug in when they needed to in a number of games, but it’s from now where the consistency really matters. Momentum and bravery are required too.
Were Bruno to get injured, perhaps even Pogba or Rashford, you fear for the Red Devils. They just don’t have anything close to what could be termed an elite-level squad. Liverpool do, and despite their unbelievably poor luck with injuries, they remain just a point behind United and with their best players getting ready to return.
Ole will understand his team are still a work in progress, and perhaps with a summer hire of Jadon Sancho et al, United can push on next season.
The odds remain against them to overhaul one of their major rivals in 2020/21 though.