There is nowhere for Manchester United to run, and as the only match in the Premier League on Sunday, nowhere to hide as a rampaging Liverpool side come to Old Trafford looking to extend their 100 percent record while matching the Premier League record of 18 consecutive victories.
Injury-ravaged and struggling to fire offensively, United (2-3-3) are off to their worst start in the Premier League era and 30 years overall. There are concerns Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is in over his head with the club he famously helped complete the treble as a striker, with reports the Norwegian sought assurances he would not be sacked if Manchester United suffered a heavy loss in this contest.
“Of course, it’s about results and [to] start winning games and start scoring goals, which is the main thing,” Solskjaer said at his Friday news conference. “We need to create more chances because, at the back, I think we’ve looked solid, but we haven’t been adventurous enough, taking enough risks.
“If you watch the best teams around, they risk the ball more often than we do, make more runs in behind and that’s part of the process for the boys. When they’re losing confidence, maybe they want to play a bit more safe and it’s my duty to say ‘come on’. It’s not safety here. At this club, you do take risks.”
The risk in being aggressive is being carved up by Liverpool and dropping a staggering 18 points behind the Merseysiders with a loss, essentially ending their season before it ever truly began. United are already closer to the drop than they are the top four, and the lengthy list of absences due to injury for this match do them no favours.
It starts at the back, where keeper David De Gea is out due to a groin injury suffered while on internatonal duty with Spain. Sergio Romero will be drafted in for his match, making his first Premier League start for United since the 2017-18 season and eighth overall since joining the club in 2015. The Argentina international did post a clean sheet in United’s Europa League win over Astana last month and helped them advance past Rochdale in the Carabao Cup.
Left back Luke Shaw remains sidelined with a hamstring injury, but right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka is expected to be available after dealing with tonsillitis. Merucrial midfielder Paul Pogba has been ruled out with a foot injury that has kept him out of action for nearly a month, and French compatriot Anthony Martial is not expected to feature due to a thigh injury.
Even teenager Mason Greenwood, who put pen to paper Friday on an extension to stay at United through 2023, has been unable to escape the injury bug as he pulled of England’s Under-21 side during the international break with a back problem. United are so thin up front it appears their likely attack will be comprised of Marcus Rashford leading the line and Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, and Daniel James trying to provide service.
The Red Devils have scored five goals in their last seven league matches after opening the season with a 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea.
“Of course when you lose the majority of front creativity that we started with you’re gonna struggle to create as many chances as you like,” Solskjaer noted. “You can’t carve that opening, the pressing up high has been very good, attitude, desire, has been very good but not enough chances created, not taken.
“Sometimes that’s confidence, human nature, you say players missing chances they won’t normally miss but it’s up to us to get the ball between the posts, that goal never misses.”
The last of Liverpool’s 18 league titles came in 1990, but Jurgen Klopp’s side have been both remorseless and ruthless in creating an eight-point gap in as many matches between themselves and two-time champions Manchester City.
Dating back to their failed bid last term as they were pipped by one point by Manchester City, Liverpool (8-0-0) have won 17 on the bounce and can equal the standard set by Guardiola’s 2017 City side for consecutive league victories.
Klopp has downplayed the significance of the streak, which is understandable given the pressure on his side to finally deliver the club’s first title of the Premier League era.
“We are not fussed really by the situation when people talk to us about the winning streak or whatever, not really,” he said after James Milner’s stoppage-time penalty preserved the perfect record and provided a 2-1 victory over Leicester City before the international break. “We are in a game, then you can see the boys today did not look for a second like a team who have won so many games they don’t have the desire anymore to win another one. They looked like they’d never won a game. I loved that.
“Then, in the stadium, the atmosphere was brilliant, at 1-1, everything was positive in the stadium – that’s so helpful. It was a really good performance all over from the Liverpool family.
And unlike United, Liverpool are expected to have their first-choice keeper available. Alisson, who has been sidelined more than two months since suffering a calf strain in the season-opener, is fully fit and expected to reclaim his spot from Adrian between the sticks.
While the Reds did not drop any points with their No. 2, there is a clear difference in quality – Liverpool’s six goals shipped in their eight wins are double the amount at this point compared to last term.
“I’m 100 per cent aware of the strength of Manchester United, I expect their best possible line-up. Four days ago, I think Ole said ‘no chance’ for De Gea or Pogba, today it’s a ‘maybe’, tomorrow it’s ‘100 per cent’. Martial will be back, all that stuff,” Klopp said Friday when asked about United’s injury woes. “We have to be very, very lively, we have to be emotional as much as allowed, we have to be fluent, we have to be very clear in a lot of moments, and we have to respect their strength – and that’s what we do.
“This is a really good football team in a situation they don’t like, so they want to change it. We have to make sure if they want to change it, they have to start that a week later.”
The offence continues to purr with the trio of Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah, and Roberto Firmino. They have accounted for 12 of Liverpool’s 20 league goals, with Mane atop the team table with five. Salah has come through training with no issues this week after being removed late versus Leicester City following a scything tackle by Hamza Choudhury.
The “Theatre of Dreams,” though, continues to be a haven of nightmares for Liverpool, who have gone six matches (0-3-3) in all competitions without a victory since a 3-0 triumph in March 2014.
That is also their lone win in the last 13 visits (1-9-3) to Old Trafford. The teams played to a scoreless draw there last term, which prevented Liverpool from doing the double after a 3-1 win at Anfield in which Xherdan Shaqiri had a second-half brace coming off the bench.
(Alisson photo courtesy Liverpool official Twitter account)