Man United to test title credentials in Anfield showdown


Monday morning's (AEDT) clash between the two biggest clubs in England should be unlike any other as Manchester United seek a significant step towards the Premier League title at champions Liverpool.

It is a good old-fashioned six-pointer and there hasn’t been that kind of meeting for some time, the kind of meeting that will have an impact on the title hopes of both teams.

If the reds of Manchester win then they will move six points clear of the champions just a game shy of the halfway point of the season.

However, if Liverpool triumph, then the pair will be level on points at the top of the table. 

Neither scenario looked to be remotely possible early in October when United were thrashed 6-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur.

Or even on November 1 when another north London team won at Old Trafford to leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men ten points behind this weekend’s opponents.

Since that loss to Arsenal, the Red Devils have collected 29 points from a possible 33. At last, there is consistency, with the team starting to look something approaching equal to the talented sum of their parts.

The last time United were top of the table at this stage of the season was back in 2013 and they ended up winning the league.

Most teams do but for one that is in such form and is three points clear at the top, it is perhaps a little surprising that the leaders are such outsiders.

In fact, they are third favourites behind Liverpool and Manchester City but a good result this weekend will shorten the odds on title number 21 somewhat.

It could happen. Liverpool have injuries and United have great attacking options. Bruno Fernandes has been the best playmaker in the league this season.

"I think since he’s come to the club he’s single-handedly changed the mentality of it,” former Liverpool star and leading pundit Jamie Redknapp said.

"The goals he’s scored, the assists he’s made. I’ve seen an attitude shift in the players because I think he demands such high standards. I think when he plays well, when he scores, United play well. It’s as simple as that. He’s changed players around him.”

The stats are there. In 26 games in all competitions this season, the Portuguese star has managed 15 goals and nine assists.

It’s so impressive that it actually could be a problem as the club are so reliant on him to make a difference though there are signs that Paul Pogba, who has never looked especially happy since his return to Manchester, may be showing some of the form that helped France win the FIFA World Cup.

Solskjaer has an embarrassment of riches going forward. Not only that, the Norwegian has some strength in depth with the likes of Mason Greenwood, Scott McTominay, Dean Henderson, Daniel James, Donny van de Beek, Fred and Juan Mata on the bench in last week’s win at Burnley.

And then there is the fact that this is a crazy season. United, despite their winning streak, may not yet have the air of champions but these days it doesn’t matter.

This is a season unlike any other, with leaders Liverpool also on the receiving end of a 7-2 thrashing.

What may end up being the biggest advantage is that despite being top at the halfway stage of the season, there is little pressure on United. Nobody expects the team to still be out in front in May.

At the moment, Manchester City are the favourites according to the bookies. They are in form, have games in hand and have won the title more recently than their city rivals.

Yet the Cityzens can wait. United are concerned about Liverpool this weekend.

They have already shown that they can challenge for the title and stop another Liverpool-City battle, but if they win at Anfield, more will start to believe that this could be Manchester United’s year.