Big Match Focus: Liverpool vs Manchester United

Liverpool enters the weekend as Premier League leaders and could emerge from it having made a serious statement against Manchester United.

Big Match Focus: Liverpool vs Manchester United

Liverpool's title hopes could soar to new heights if it consolidate its Premier League leadership with a long-awaited win against Manchester United on Sunday.

Last weekend's commanding 4-0 victory away to Bournemouth and Manchester City's loss at Chelsea left Jurgen Klopp's side with a hard-earned, single-point gap to defend in first.

Now, though, comes a familiar challenge against a club that has given them little to celebrate in recent head-to-head league contests.

United will be loath to do either of the top two a favour, but its proud record in this fixture and urgent need for points makes for an unmissable date at Anfield.

DEFENCE TO BE THE DIFFERENCE?

Much has been made of Liverpool's fortification since Virgil van Dijk's arrival and the disparity in quality of the two defences shapes as a decisive factor.

United has been breached five times in its three Premier League games since the scoreless home draw against Crystal Palace; Liverpool has given away five in its last 12.

Mourinho's men have already conceded just two fewer goals than the 28 they allowed in the entirety of a miserly 2017-18 campaign and must be nervous of suffering further damage at the hands of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

Their attacking counterparts will hope to make inroads into a back four recently robbed of Joe Gomez's services, but a clean sheet against Bournemouth and the concession of no more than a single goal in any of 19 straight Premier League engagements suggests Liverpool are pliable enough to overcome the England man's absence.

FORM GUIDE

United appears to have achieved some fluidity in attack with an encouraging return of eight goals from its past three Premier League outings.

The morale-boosting 4-1 victory over Fulham ended an alarming four-game domestic winless sequence which included an entertaining 2-2 draw with Arsenal, one of two points they have collected from a possible 12 against fellow big-six sides this term.

That underwhelming return and a poor November has left them eight points adrift of fifth-placed Arsenal and 16 shy of Liverpool, the widest pre-Christmas margin the Anfield outfit has enjoyed since 1990.

A 23-game unbeaten run set that same year is coming into view for Klopp's team, who are 16 without defeat in the top-flight and chasing a sixth Premier League win on the trot.

Jose Mourinho during a training session.   -  AFP

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD (Mohamed Salah vs Anthony Martial)

Star attacker Salah, remodelled as the most mobile of centre-forwards, looked every inch the unstoppable force of last term in bamboozling Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.

The reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner struck a sparkling hat-trick to draw level with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on 10 goals atop the leading scorer's list.

Anthony Martial trails by three but remains United's most productive player, having notched his seven goals at one per 112 minutes on the pitch - superior to Salah's rate of a goal every 131 minutes.

But as much as the France forward's haul - made possible by a shot conversion rate of 38.9 per cent - is impressive considering his expected goals count stands at just 3.2 for the season, his creation of 16 chances and zero assists in comparison to Salah's 33 and four respectively serves to illustrate the difference in their all-round value.

HISTORY SAYS...

Results both recent and distant favour the visitors.

United, though without consecutive wins against Liverpool since January 2016, is undefeated in its past eight Premier League meetings.

The Merseysiders last endured such a barren league run against its rivals in the 1980s, a 12-match winless streak adding to its inferior overall record of 80 defeats, 55 draws and 65 wins in the 200 competitive clashes between the clubs.

Given the vulnerability of his defence, Mourinho may well settle for a third successive goalless draw in this exact fixture - only once before have the sides shared the points in three straight Anfield encounters.