Arguably the biggest fixture on the English football calendar will take place in Manchester on Monday evening, as Manchester United welcome bitter rivals Liverpool to Old Trafford.
Man United are currently bottom of the Premier League table, having lost their opening two matches to Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford, while last season’s runners-up Liverpool are 12th, having drawn their first two games of the campaign against Fulham and Crystal Palace.
Erik ten Hag would have been under no illusions as to the size of the task facing him at Old Trafford when he took the job in May, but the reality of the situation has become even more apparent to the 52-year-old in the early stages of his reign as Red Devils boss.
Man United opened their 2022-23 Premier League campaign with a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton on August 7 before suffering a shock 4-0 defeat at Brentford last weekend, with all of the home side’s goals coming in the first half of the contest.
The two defeats, coupled with the already-poor goal difference, has left the Red Devils at the bottom of the division, and another loss on Monday evening would lead to more pressure on Ten Hag, who has been tasked with helping to rebuild arguably the biggest football club on the planet.
The team’s summer transfer business thus far has been modest at best, bringing in Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez, but a deal for Casemiro has now been agreed, and the club are believed to be working on another two or three additions before the end of the transfer window, including Ajax’s Antony.
Not too much can be read into the league table at this stage of the campaign, but a win over Liverpool, who only have two points from their first two matches, would take the 20-time English champions above their rivals in the division and potentially act as a springboard to go on a strong run.
Man United will finish August away to Southampton before travelling to Leicester City at the start of September, three days before a huge fixture against Arsenal at Old Trafford; the Gunners have shown huge improvement early in the season, while Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have suggested that they will once again be up there when it comes to challenging for the top four this season.
The Red Devils finished sixth last season, 13 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, which is an indication of the turnaround that needs to occur for the club to return to the Champions League spots; Casemiro’s arrival is a huge step in the right direction, but more signings are needed before the end of the window.
Man United were embarrassed by Liverpool in their two Premier League games last season, suffering a 5-0 loss at Old Trafford and 4-0 defeat at Anfield; Jurgen Klopp‘s side have actually won each of their last three league meetings, with the Red Devils not beating their rivals in England’s top flight since March 2018.
The Cristiano Ronaldo transfer saga continues to dominate the headlines, and it will be fascinating to see whether the Portugal international is again in the starting lineup for this match; the fixture could represent his final game for Man United at Old Trafford, with an exit before the end of the month still a huge possibility.
Such is the level that has been set by Liverpool and Manchester City in recent seasons, the back-to-back draws for the Reds at the start of the new Premier League season are far from ideal, especially considering that Man City have won their opening two matches and already sit four points ahead of the Merseyside giants.
Liverpool twice had to come from behind against Fulham on the opening weekend of the campaign to claim a point in a 2-2 draw, while they also conceded first against Crystal Palace on Monday through Wilfried Zaha, before Luis Diaz levelled the scores just before the hour.
Darwin Nunez picked up a red card in the match with Patrick Vieira‘s side, ruling him out of the trip to Old Trafford, while the Reds have injury problems, and they need to be careful that Man City are not allowed to open up a healthy advantage in the early stages of the campaign.
Klopp’s team have back-to-back home games after this fixture against Bournemouth and Newcastle United before the small matter of a trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton in the Merseyside derby.
Liverpool took Man City all the way in the Premier League last season, missing out on the title by just a single point, while they won an FA Cup and EFL Cup double last term, beating Chelsea in both finals.
The Reds suffered disappointment in the Champions League, though, losing to Real Madrid, and the team will have to find last season’s level relatively quickly if they are to stay in touch with Man City in terms of the Premier League table, as Pep Guardiola‘s side look overwhelmingly strong once again.
Even a defeat on Monday would not make it panic stations for Liverpool, but Man City only dropped points in nine of their 38 Premier League matches last season, and two points from their opening three matches would be a poor return for Klopp’s team considering their level over the last few years.
While Man United have lost their last four Premier League matches, including their last two fixtures of the 2021-22 campaign, Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 21 league games; the statistics point to an away victory on Monday, but there are certain circumstances surrounding the match that will give Man United hope.
While the Red Devils are scrambling around for new signings late in the window, Liverpool’s business is seemingly complete, with Nunez, Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay arriving this summer; there has been talk of a new midfielder arriving, but the Merseyside giants are allegedly prepared to wait until next year to sign leading target Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund.
Man United will be boosted by the return of Anthony Martial, who is yet to play this season due to a hamstring problem, but Ten Hag is likely to name the Frenchman on the bench, so Ronaldo, despite the speculation surrounding his future, might lead the attack once again.
Harry Maguire‘s spot in the XI is said to be under severe threat from Raphael Varane, while Luke Shaw could also be replaced by Malacia, who impressed in the second half against Brentford.
Ten Hag is expected to resist the temptation to make wholesale changes, with Fred, Bruno Fernandes and Eriksen potentially again featuring as the midfield three, leaving Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford to support Ronaldo in the forward positions.
Brandon Williams, Facundo Pellistri and Victor Lindelof remain on the sidelines for the 20-time English champions, while Mason Greenwood is still suspended.
As for Liverpool, Klopp revealed during his press conference that Roberto Firmino is available for selection, and the Brazilian is expected to replace Nunez in the XI, with the latter suspended for this fixture.
Naby Keita will also be in the squad following illness, but Joel Matip, Thiago Alcantara, Ibrahima Konate, Curtis Jones, Diogo Jota, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsay and Caoimhin Kelleher are all still injured.
Klopp is expected to introduce Joe Gomez into his starting XI on Monday, while club captain Jordan Henderson should return in midfield at the expense of James Milner.
Diaz and Mohamed Salah will again play in the wide positions for the Reds, while a familiar defensive unit will include Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson.
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Malacia; Fernandes, Fred, Eriksen; Sancho, Ronaldo, Rashford
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Elliott, Fabinho, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Diaz