Things have certainly changed a bit for our bitter rivals since the last time Liverpool and United have faced off. I sat down with Brent to have a nice chat about what’s changed for them since December. Read their version here.
The Liverpool Offside: United seem to be a completely different team than the one Liverpool beat 3-1 in December. Mourinho’s gone and Solskjaer is in charge. Pogba seems happy. When Mourinho was in charge, the United v. Liverpool matches were always low scoring affairs. Will Ole take the same approach, or will he try to come out and attack Liverpool? If United are to find success in this match, where’s it come from?
The Busby Babe: It’s been a complete turnaround. Solskjaer has not only lifted the spirits of the players, but he’s rebuilt the confidence of all United’s best players. Tactically, he quickly settled on a preferred system and first-choice XI. He’s made adjustments to the set-up in some of the more impressive wins we’ve had (against Spurs, Arsenal, and Chelsea) that may have flown under the radar a bit, but he’s showing that he’s brought more than just a “feel good factor.” I think United will start the match on the front foot. Solskjaer has also shown that’s comfortable sending his team out to take advantage of counter-attacking opportunities, but just how much of a factor that is also depends on whether one or both of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard recover in time to play.
The only loss we’ve had under Solskjaer so far has come when we lost Lingard and Martial at half-time, and when Pogba was shadowed all over the pitch and almost marked out of the game. United will be better prepared to cope without those two forwards, as we did against Chelsea when Solskjaer tweaked the system. But Pogba has been decisive in every match and is our most important player, so if Liverpool can’t nullify him, that’s likely where the match will be won.
TLO: Ole’s made some pretty clear tactical and player adjustments to the side. Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof appear to be a decent CB pairing. Another one is he’s been starting Rashford over Lukaku. Is this a temporary move, or will United look to move Lukaku on in the summer?
TBB: Rashford is clearly first choice now. He’s faster and more mobile, and in much better form. Overall, he’s a natural fit for the kind of football that Solskjaer wants to play. Lukaku should be a great option to have, but he’s one of the few players whose form hasn’t improved in the last two months. He bulked up over the summer, which has slowed him down, and his first touch is as bad as it’s ever been. There’s a good player in there, even if he’s short of being truly top class. A summer of rest and some good conditioning work will do him some good, but he’ll have to accept no longer being an automatic first choice like he was under Mourinho. It’s hard to speculate on who will leave without knowing who the manager will be, but I wouldn’t be that shocked if Lukaku went elsewhere to be guaranteed a starting role.
TLO: It looks like both of our teams are returning to their best at the same time for the first time in a very long time. What changes do you think United need to make (on and off the field) this offseason to be in contention for the title with Liverpool and City?
TBB: Having United and Liverpool both in the title race would be brilliant. As a United supporter, it would be excruciating to live through, but from a neutral standpoint, having the two biggest clubs in the country directly competing for a title while both playing attacking football is a dream scenario. A lot will depend on United being able to take a step forward in the summer though. We’re 3 or 4 top class first team players from being a side that compete for the league. We have the best record in the league since OGS came in, but there are obvious holes in a few positions. I mentioned earlier that Solskjaer quickly identified his best XI; the flip side of that has been that the lack of depth behind some of those players has been brutally exposed. Appointing a permanent manager early in the summer, and ideally an experienced director of football who can work with the manager to secure targets that fit a clear long-term vision is paramount. The squad we have now is a collection of pieces from different managers, and it shows.
TLO: Is Solskjaer United manager in August?
TBB: As of right now: Yes. But a lot can change. Pochettino was always the first choice, and nothing about what makes him appealing has changed. But OGS is more than just a mood-changer; he’s demonstrating that he’s a good manager in his own right. The romantic choice would be to just appoint Solskjaer and get it over with, but I’m happy to see how things for the rest of the season and assess things then.
TLO: Finally, score line and lineup predictions.
TBB: De Gea; Young, Lindelöf, Bailly, Shaw; Matić, Herrera, Pogba; Mata; Lukaku, Rashford.