Two behemoths of the English game fighting for different end-of-season goals pit their wits against one another on Tuesday night, as Liverpool play host to Manchester United at Anfield in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s side head into the game having just booked their spot in the FA Cup final, while the Red Devils were indebted to a current and former hero in a 3-2 league win versus Norwich City.
One domestic title is already in the bag, they are potentially only 270 minutes away from a seventh Champions League crown, and another trip to Wembley awaits this rampant Liverpool side, whose fans are growing more optimistic about a possible quadruple with each passing week.
The Reds blew Manchester City out of the water with three quickfire goals in their FA Cup semi-final – two for Sadio Mane and another header from Ibrahima Konate – and Pep Guardiola’s men could not spark a miraculous turnaround despite restoring some parity through Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish.
The Easter period has not been kind to Liverpool’s jellied legs, but incredibly, the AXA treatment room is virtually empty, and Klopp’s side remain within touching distance of reigning Premier League champions City after rescuing a 2-2 draw at the Etihad last week.
With City not in action again until Wednesday, Liverpool could dethrone the league leaders for at least 24 hours with victory in front of their own supporters, and stringing together an eight-game winning run in all competitions is certainly a recipe for success ahead of Tuesday’s battle.
The Reds have also scored at least two goals in each of their last five games continentally and domestically and have remarkably won 10 on the bounce at Anfield in the Premier League – no English top-flight side has performed better than them on home turf this season – and their opponents therefore have their work cut out to add to the measly seven home goals that Klopp’s side have conceded in the league this term.
Often labelled the problem at Man United this term, Cristiano Ronaldo was very much the solution during the visit of Norwich City, who responded to the Portuguese’s early double through Kieran Dowell’s header and Teemu Pukki’s near-post finish in front of a frustrated Old Trafford crowd.
A spate of dodgy defending so nearly cost Man United dear once again, but with 76 minutes on the clock, Ronaldo stood over a free kick with his trademark pose before firing an unstoppable effort into the net – claiming his 60th career hat-trick and saving the Red Devils’ bacon in the process.
Manager-elect Erik ten Hag may not have had his eyes on the 3-2 win while he prepares for KNVB-Beker final duty with Ajax, but the current man in control of the reins Ralf Rangnick has now witnessed his side leapfrog Arsenal into fifth place in the Premier League table, although Tottenham Hotspur are still three points clear with a far better goal difference.
Victory over relegation favourites Norwich represents just a second win from eight in all competitions during an underwhelming spell for Man United, though, and not since December have they kept a clean sheet on the road in the Premier League – losing two in a row on rival turf to Manchester City and Everton.
Not a single Red Devils fan needs reminding of the 5-0 embarrassment that was dished upon them by Liverpool back in October, so revenge will certainly be on the visitors’ minds this week, but they have failed to register a win at Anfield in any competition since 2016 and have only found the back of the net once on their rivals’ turf in their last six meetings.
Liverpool were handed a slight scare with Diogo Jota ahead of the FA Cup semi-final, but the Portuguese attacker was fit enough to come on as a substitute at Wembley after shaking off that knock.
Klopp is therefore expected to be working with a fully-fit squad once again and will likely shuffle the pack a tad, with Joel Matip expected to come back in for Konate, despite his recent hot streak in front of goal.
Jordan Henderson could also take the place of Naby Keita in midfield, and a well-rested Roberto Firmino staked his claim for more minutes in the attack with a well-taken brace in the recent Champions League meeting with Benfica.
In contrast, Man United do have a number of players occupying spots in the medical bay, as Rangnick once again works around a depleted midfield with Fred (hip) and Scott McTominay (foot) both set to miss out once more.
Striker Edinson Cavani and left-back Luke Shaw are definitely sidelined until at least May with their respective issues, and the latter is now highly unlikely to return before the season concludes.
Reports had falsely claimed that Mason Greenwood was due to return to first-team training with the Red Devils – the striker remains suspended by the club – but on a positive note, Raphael Varane is in with a chance of returning for the imminent meeting with top-four rivals Arsenal.
It would not be surprising to see Rangnick introduce Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Nemanja Matic for some more defensive solidity, which will surely see Jesse Lingard sacrificed after he made his first league start of the season against Norwich.
Bruno Fernandes was involved in a car accident on Monday, but he did not sustain any serious injuries and will be fine to take part on Tuesday.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles; Matic, Pogba; Elanga, Fernandes, Sancho; Ronaldo