With all the talk from pessimistic and fearful Liverpool fans in the build up to facing Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday combined with the childish articles claiming that not a single Liverpool player would get into the Manchester United side, one would think that Liverpool were sixth instead of second in the Premier League.
Liverpool ended 2016 with a fine home win over Manchester City but have made a sluggish start to 2017 with two draws and a defeat in three different domestic competitions. Hoping that Liverpool will go an entire season without difficult patches is quite different from expecting such consistency, but the reactions have been predictably disappointing.
What creates further anxiety is the form of Manchester United. José Mourinho’s sixth-placed side have won nine consecutive games in all competitions, six of which were league games. Jürgen Klopp, though, is the type of manager who likes to retain perspective.
“What have they done since last time?” Klopp said. “In all the games they've won since they last played us, they haven't played us. They were different kind of games.
“They had some results people expected and in other games they had some luck, goals in the right moments – offside, not offside. They deserve they run they have had but our plan is to make it difficult for them.”
Since drawing 1-1 with Everton, Mourinho has secured victories against Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, and West Ham United—Dimitri Payet’s English holiday home. With the exception of Tottenham, it’s not a list of teams to fear. However, Manchester United have found consistency and momentum along with some fortuitous officiating.
“They are better now (compared to October),” Klopp admitted. “They are more used to each other. Mkhitaryan is an important example of that. Now they can use his outstanding quality. He combines best technical skills and highest tempo.
“It's pretty rare to have players like this. Good finisher and good working attitude. He can play different positions. He's a world class player. They are more confident. It's a different side.”
It says much about the poor start made by Manchester United and Mourinho that this form has not improved their league position. Of the top six, Manchester United have the worst goal difference by some distance. This isn’t to downplay the threat and improvement that Manchester United have shown over the past month but to illustrate that they aren’t an irresistible force. They’re a good team that can be beaten, and judging by Klopp’s comments, that will be the message for his players on Sunday.