This would have been unthinkable as recently as a few months ago, but when Liverpool and Manchester United meet at Anfield on Sunday, it may be the visitors, not the hosts, who have the best chance of finding weaknesses in their opponent’s defense.
Liverpool’s recent successes under Jurgen Klopp are built on solid foundations. But they plunged into a crisis when they lost Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez due to serious knee problems earlier this season and their problems were exacerbated by Joel Matip’s injury during the last 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
Matip is still in doubt in Sunday’s game and if he does not lose it would be the fourth in a row for Liverpool with no top defenders. They welcome United at Anfield after playing three Premier League matches without a win for the first time since May 2018
Their faltering stutter allowed Solshire’s side led by Ole Gunnar to open a three-point gap at the top of the Premier League. While Liverpool’s defensive problems have held back, United’s mixed performances owe much to defensive improvement.
Klopp seeks a defensive solution
The big credit to Jurgen Klopp is that Liverpool are still top of the Premier League after two months without Van Dijk or Gomez. But Matip’s injury made his job even more difficult and now Manchester United look down on the rest.
Klopp has tried three different central defensive combinations in all three matches since Matip’s exit at Anfield last month.
His immediate response to West Brom was to catch a glimpse of Academy alumnus Reese Williams. The 19-year-old has appeared in all six of Liverpool’s Champions League matches this season, either as a substitute or a start, but his appearance against West Brom was only his second in the Premier League.
It’s no surprise then, that he had some awkward moments.
Williams is seen as an exciting prospect at Liverpool, but prior to this season, his only big experience had come during a short loan spell with Kidderminster outside the league. He handled the move admirably but it would be overkill to expect more of him in the short term.
Klopp chose Nathaniel Phillips as the most experienced in Liverpool’s next game, against Newcastle, and while the Reds kept a clean sheet at St James’ Park, the 23-year-old did not do enough to maintain his place in the team against Newcastle. Southampton five days later.
Instead, Klopp Jordan used Henderson as a center back. It wasn’t the first time he’d played there. In fact, he starred in position in the Club World Cup last season. But he was partly wrong in Danny Ings’ victory at St Marys and missed his presence in midfield, as Liverpool were defeated by the industrious hosts.
Liverpool may add another center back to their squads before the end of the transfer window in January, but where would this season be without Fabinho?
The Brazilian has been the only constant in his position in recent months, starting with his last 11 matches for Liverpool in all competitions along with a string of different partners and serving as the glue that holds an interim defense together.
Its impact can be seen in the statistics. Fabinho ranks first among Liverpool players in terms of tackles, interceptions, clearance, antenna and blocking in the Premier League season. Its shape was the most important factor in reducing injury crisis damage.
It’s a huge feat for a midfielder who had held the center back position on a few occasions before this season, and Liverpool will need him to be at their best again against Manchester United on Sunday – especially if Matip remains on the sidelines with Fan. Dick and Gomez.
Bayley’s return strengthens Manchester United
While Klopp continues to search for defensive solutions, Solskjaer is hoping for a solution.
Eric Bailey suffered from an inauspicious start to the season, marking his long-awaited return to the team with a flawed performance in Manchester United’s 6-2 win over Tottenham.
But his rust in that match may be tolerated given that it was his first Premier League start since February – and his first at Old Trafford since April of the previous year. Injury problems were a constant theme at United’s time, and he was soon sidelined again.
But Bailly has always had the potential to succeed in Old Trafford – in fact, United’s win rate is much higher in the games he started in the past five years than in games he hasn’t started – and he has definitely achieved that potential since his last fitness comeback before Christmas.
Between the Carabao Cup win over Everton on December 23 and the Premier League victory over Aston Villa on New Year’s Day, Bailey started four consecutive matches for the first time since September 2017.
United won three of those matches, and tied the other, with Pelly admiring the whole time, and his notable moment was coming against Villa at Old Trafford, when he championship-handled a shot by Kennan Davis in the last few seconds to keep United’s 2-1 lead.
It was a lively intervention that earned him the recognition of his team-mates, who celebrated him after the final whistle, and his manager. “His physique, his speed and courage are really second to none,” Solshire said after the match.
Unfortunately these traits have worked against Bailey in the past. He has gotten himself injured by throwing himself into challenges that other players would avoid. At only twenty-six years of age, his career was already interrupted by problems in the hamstring, shoulder, ankle, knee and thigh.
But he starred again in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Burnley, which means United have kept four clean sheets in the six matches they have played since his return to the stadium, and his performance at Turf Moor provided further evidence that he is a more fit partner. By Harry Maguire by Victor Lindelof.
This is because in addition to being gritty, airy dominant, and strong in challenge, Bailly possesses incredible speed – a trait the other United midfielders lack. He said, “If he stays in shape, he maintains his position.” Sky Sports Gary Neville on Tuesday. “Maguire seems more comfortable at his side with his speed.”
It remains to be seen if Bailey is back forever. His history requires caution. But his speed will definitely pay off when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane play in the United defense on Sunday. His presence, in a now problematic center for Liverpool, could give visitors an advantage.
Watch the Liverpool vs Manchester United match on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 4pm on Sundays; Kick-Off at 4.30pm