Liverpool won't deserve to win the Premier League if they can't beat mediocre Manchester United


The Reds have twice failed to defeat their hated rivals this season but simply have to triumph at Old Trafford on Sunday

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was in foul form after last month's FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Manchester United. The Reds had lost a derby in injury time at the end of extra-time that they really should have won in normal time. Klopp perhaps unsurprisingly took his frustration out on a journalist who had merely pointed out that his players lacked their usual level of relentless intensity.

That was obvious to Klopp too, of course. "That was the first time that I really saw my team struggling," he admitted afterwards. "But that's how it is - we have played a lot of football recently."

Hardly surprising, then, that Klopp joked ahead of Sunday's return to Old Trafford for a massive Premier League showdown that the big positive as far as he is concerned is that there won't be any extra-time. Some of his players look tired enough as it is right now.

Thursday's sluggish showing against Sheffield United certainly did little to quell the concern that injuries coupled with a congested fixture list might be slowly but surely catching up with Liverpool. There is an obvious fear among the fans that fatigue might once again hinder the Reds' hopes of overcoming a hated rival they have already failed to beat twice this season.

Truth be told, though, there can be no excuses this time around. Even a tiring Liverpool should easily beat a mediocre Manchester United.

'United a top side playing at home'

Klopp has been understandably keen to talk up the threat posed by United. For all their wonderful attributes, Liverpool have developed a nasty habit of starting slowly. Thanks to their remarkable resilience, they usually turn things around.

Indeed, Liverpool have won 26 points from losing positions in this season's Premier League - only three teams have ever won more over the course of an entire campaign. They very nearly completed a comeback in the cup clash at Old Trafford too, but, on that occasion, they actually allowed United to produce a decisive fightback of their own.

Klopp is, thus, taking nothing for granted. "United is a top side playing at home, we all know that. So, we cannot just say, 'Let's do what we did from minute 15 to 70-something [in the quarter-final]'. Football is not that easy," the German said. "On that level, with this opponent, in this stadium, we better play a really good football game, to be honest, if we want something there."

United dangerous but fragile

Klopp is right to be cautious, of course. United can indeed be a dangerous proposition in their own backyard. In fact, Erik ten Hag actually has a better win percentage at Old Trafford (71.7) than Sir Alex Ferguson (71.2). We're obviously talking about a much smaller sample size but let's not forget that it was United's home form last season that got them back into the Champions League.

In Alejandro Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, who has a habit of raising his game in these derbies (seven goals in total), United have players capable of hurting a Liverpool backline that has kept just one clean sheet in the league since the tail end of January.

However, there is simply no getting away from the fact that Ten Hag's team is one of the most fragile in England right now. On Thursday night, they even managed to crack under the pressure against Chelsea's "billion-pound bottle-jobs".

'You don't know what United team will turn up'

The 4-3 loss at Stamford Bridge perfectly summed up United. They fight for their lives and are capable of moments of magic but there is no solidity or structure about their game. It's all about vibes, meaning when they're good, they can be very good, but when they're bad, they're horrid - and the crazy thing is, we often see both sides of United in the same game. That's how erratic and unpredictable they are. They've won games they had no right to win this season (for example, both meetings with Aston Villa) but also thrown away victories in ludicrous circumstances (Brentford, Galatasaray, Copenhagen, and now Chelsea).

As former captain Roy Keane said on Sky Sports, "You don't know what United team is going to turn up. We've seen it over the last few weeks. They were let off the hook by Liverpool in the cup game but United got the job done. We saw them [against Brentford] where they were rubbish - absolute rubbish.

"The point I've been making for the last few weeks is that every team who plays against Man Utd finds it easy to open them up and get chances. If they give Liverpool the amount of chances they gave them in the cup game, they will be well beaten."

They certainly should be, given the inability of the United midfield to protect a crumbling backline.

Lies, damn lies and statistics...

Ten Hag has dismissed the significance of the statistics, which can, in fairness, be misleading at times, and pointed to the fact that only the Premier League's top three (Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City) have conceded fewer goals this season.

However, the United defence that nullified Liverpool in a scoreless draw at Anfield in December has fallen apart since the turn of the year. The Red Devils have faced more shots than any other team in 2024 - and more overall than in any of their last 20 Premier League campaigns.

Furthermore, for all Ten Hag's talk about having the fourth-best defence in the league, it's worth noting that he's the first United coach in the Premier League era to lose 12 games in one season - and there are still eight rounds remaining.

'We were superior in all aspects'

This, then, is a historically bad United team, one that Liverpool simply have to put to the sword. They'll know that themselves, of course. It's not as if facing United holds any fear for Klopp and his longest servants; Liverpool have won six of their last 11 meetings with United - including a 5-0 demolition job at Old Trafford in October 2021 and last year's 7-0 rout at Anfield - and lost only once during that run.

However, that aforementioned draw just before Christmas frustrated the life out of Liverpool, including captain Virgil van Dijk, who lamented, "We were superior in all aspects". They didn't show it on the day, though. Nor did they underline their superiority at Old Trafford last month.

So, the challenge - and indeed obligation - for Liverpool to finally get the better of United at the third time of asking this season.

Failing to beat United would be unforgivable
Liverpool legs may well be feeling a little heavy right now. A near full-strength side had to work far harder than expected to see off Sheffield United on Thursday night. Having such a tough fixture just three days later does them no favours at all and they had a short turnaround ahead of their last visit to Old Trafford. The difference this time, though, is that United were in action themselves on Thursday night and will be reeling after a 101st-minute defeat that means their hopes of a top-five finish are almost over. It's up to Liverpool to kill them off completely.

More importantly, though, Sunday's game is about the visitors maintaining control of their own destiny. It is imperative that the table-toppers preserve their advantage over Manchester City and Arsenal this weekend.

There are still some seriously tough fixtures to come for Klopp's players - but a trip to Old Trafford really shouldn't be one of them. United's defence has been decimated by injuries, the entire team appears to be suffering from a crisis of confidence, while the manager appears utterly bereft of ideas.

Dropping even more precious Premier League points to such a side would be unforgivable from a team that has won more matches (16) and scored more goals (59) than any other in Europe in 2025 - and could potentially prove fatal to their title hopes.

Liverpool have already failed to beat either City or Arsenal this season. If they don't manage to defeat this dreadful version of Manchester United either, they really wouldn't deserve to win the league.

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