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Liverpool v Manchester United
Sunday 17th January, Anfield, kick off 4:30pm

by John Spillane

On Sunday afternoon at Anfield it's a meeting of the top two as reigning champions Liverpool entertain a Manchester United team, sitting proudly three points clear on top of the table. After a few false dawns in the coming up on eight years of the post Ferguson era their current form has gradually seen them gain a few more believers as each game passes by. Both sides have had their troubles this season (Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool & Man U 1-6 Tottenham) and know that we haven't hit the mid way point of the season and there will be more ups and downs in the coming months.

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Since their 7-0 success at Crystal Palace on December 19th, Liverpool have failed to win in their last three league games, with points dropped at Newcastle 0-0, Southampton 0-1 and at home to struggling West Brom 1-1, which was only the second time in two seasons they'd dropped points on home ground. Though their major injury problems have been mostly in defence (particularly Virgil Van Dijk, but also Joe Gomez and Joel Matip) it was thought that the threat of the front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino would more than compensate. The loss of Diogo Jota has hit them, but they have also seen the attacking contribution of full backs Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson suffer. On occasion they have erred on the side of caution and held back, as opposed to their normal instincts of stretching the play and getting higher up the pitch knowing that Van Dijk's presence would look after matters behind them.

It's been a while since Man U came to Anfield this far into a season at the top of the table. For all the discussions about the managerial abilities (or not) of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the level of Paul Pogba's contribution, whether they are in such a position because of, or in spite of, the two is a moot point. Since losing 2-0 at Anfield last season on January 19th they are now unbeaten in the league on their travels and the impact of Bruno Fernandes (11 league goals this season) since his signing from Sporting Lisbon on January 30th (33 combined goals and assists in 31 league games) is clear to all. The midfield support options around him of Scott McTominay, Fred, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic shoulder more of the defensive work as Fernandes looks to link with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani. Their ability to turn defence into goal scoring positions has been a significant factor in their unbeaten 2020/21 away record of W7 and D1. That a number of those results have been in "come from behind" performances indicates that there is a growing resilience and inner belief within the group.

This match up between the divisions top scorers, with the home side unbeaten in 67 games at Anfield and their near neighbours almost perfect on the road, a tight and competitive contest is expected. Jurgen Klopp's side are likely to dominate possession but will be wary of losing the ball in dangerous areas. United have shown their ability to recover from difficult positions before but may not be as successful if they go behind at Anfield. However they have yet to get the better of a top six side and in order to stay in contention for honours that needs to change. To get to where they are they have done what has been expected of them, but this is a step up for which they, for the time being, may be ill prepared.

Suggested bet : Liverpool to win (19/20 at bet365)

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