Manchester United’s four-game winning streak against arch rivals Liverpool came to an end as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at Anfield in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie.
Liverpool head into their Europa League encounter against Manchester United with a two-goal advantage and are the favourites to move on to the next stage of the competition. However, Old Trafford is far from a happy hunting ground for the Reds. They have lost 12 of their last 14 matches there, and will face a Manchester United side smarting from the defeat at Anfield and looking to prove their quality.
The Red Devils were unimpressive last week, and had to dig deep this weekend to earn a 1-1 draw in their weekend FA Cup clash against West Ham United. Liverpool have not played since their impressive win against Manchester United and the players will be rested, primed and ready to go.
The Van Gaal – Klopp tie-breaker
The managers of the two sides are continuing a rivalry they began when they were managing two of the biggest clubs in Germany — Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. They left Deutscheland on level pegging, each having bested the other twice. Van Gaal took the advantage over Klopp in the Premier League, as Wayne Rooney snatched a 1-0 win against the Reds earlier this season, but Liverpool and Klopp have hit back in a big way with the 2-0 win at Anfield last week.
The score between the two managers is now tied at 3-3, and both of them will be looking at this match to break the stalemate.
Van Gaal’s tactics did not work at all the last time around, with Manchester United surrendering most of the possession to Liverpool. They were forced to go on the defensive, creating very few chances and allowing the Reds to conquer them with a soft penalty and a late Roberto Firmino strike.
The Dutchman will probably instruct his players to play a high pressing game when out of possession, a tactic that Jurgen Klopp himself would employ. However, Van Gaal’s obsession with possession means that the Red Devils would be looking to keep the ball most of the time and build up slowly, before finding an opening and playing an incisive pass. Liverpool, on the other hand, will focus on holding their ground, and will attempt to take the ball and embark on pacey counter-attacking runs into the opposition area.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs Emre Can
The veteran German international takes on a young, up and coming talent in this intriguing midfield battle which may have a telling effect on the result of the game. Bastian Schweinsteiger made his return from injury as a substitute in the game against West Ham United. The former Bayern midfielder will take back his place in central midfield and look to dictate play from deeper areas.
Can plays in a similar role for Liverpool, and the two physical footballers will likely be involved in several tussles in midfield. The 22-year-old has been impressive for the Reds this season, but the wily Schweinsteiger could put his expertise to good use in the Europa League.
Roberto Firmino vs Chris Smalling
Roberto Firmino was a potent threat for Liverpool in the first leg in the central striker position, and has been the most consistent goal-getter for the Reds this season. Manchester United’s defence will have their work cut out for them in dealing with the Brazilian.
Chris Smalling is the best centre-back in the team right now, and he will probably be deployed by Van Gaal to deal with Firmino — man marking him during set-pieces, affording him little space and being wary of the threat he possesses with his movement off the ball. Smalling and Firmino will be the centre of a lot of the action in the Manchester United penalty area, and the winner of those battles could hold the key to winning the match.
Jesse Lingard vs Alberto Moreno
Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno has been a mainstay in the side of late and is a potent attacking threat down the left wing. However, at the same time, he has exhibited defensive frailties. Jesse Lingard, who returns to action after sitting out the first leg because of suspension, will look to take advantage of any defensive errors that Moreno makes.
Lingard has had a breakout season with Manchester United in 2015-16 and causes a lot of mischief on the right wing with his darting runs and keen finishing. Moreno will have to keep this in mind before going on the attack and leaving space to exploit behind him. The clash of the two young footballers will definitely be one to watch out for.
Blast from the past
While this section usually features a classic encounter between the two teams playing, this time is a bit different. The match at Old Trafford is history in the making. This is the first time that the two Premier League giants have met in European competition in a long and storied rivalry.
The second leg will see one of them knock out the other and cement their bragging rights in European competition. Here is the video of how Liverpool snatched the advantage against Manchester United in the first leg.