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Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils – Danny Murphy analysis

Let’s be clear, this is a wonderful time for Liverpool to be playing Manchester United – their confidence is low and there is pressure mounting on their manager Erik ten Hag and his players.

This is always a unique fixture because of the history and rivalry between the two clubs, and you just don’t get an opportunity like this very often, where one team is in such a bad way.

Of course one club is always below the other in the table, and may not be having a great time, but it’s still rare to see either of them facing the sort of scrutiny that United are under right now because their performances have been so poor.

Liverpool are top of the Premier League and just want to keep going but I don’t feel as if there is any pressure on them – it’s all on United. Ten Hag’s future is already in doubt and another defeat, their third in a week, puts him in even deeper trouble.

But, while I don’t see anything other than a Liverpool win at Anfield on Sunday, I certainly don’t think it’s going to be as one-sided as some people expect. I have played in these games and it just does not work that way.

In my day, we had a great run of going to Old Trafford and beating United when they were obviously the better team, and definitely more consistent than us. They would always turn up and be favourites – how times have changed there by the way – but it didn’t bother us.

Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils - Danny Murphy analysis
Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils – Danny Murphy analysis

That’s why it would be foolish to write United off completely, let alone think they are there for the taking.

Lots of people have been talking about a repeat of last year’s extraordinary 7-0 Liverpool victory, but Jurgen Klopp is not daft and the work ethic of his team is always excellent. I don’t think they will fall into the trap of being complacent, which is one of the few ways United might get something from the game.

I’d be amazed if Liverpool don’t dominate possession, with United sitting in and trying to counter-attack using the pace in their attack, but the Reds still need to be at it. If they are, they know they will get chances… and they will win.

Energy and belief behind Reds resilience

Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils - Danny Murphy analysis
Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils – Danny Murphy analysis

While United are struggling, Liverpool have found a way of pulling a rabbit out of the hat and winning even when not playing well for 90 minutes.

I put that down to the tremendous creativity and firepower they have got, but it relies on a certain mindset as well.

Klopp’s side have found themselves behind in nine of their 16 league games this season, but they have only lost one of them – their controversial defeat at Tottenham in September.

That ability to fight back in games requires energy – which Liverpool have got after refreshing their squad in the summer – but also belief.

I see a calmness and confidence about them now even when they are having bad spells in games which was not evident when they went on a poor run last season, and seemed to be doubting themselves.

I think that is another way of describing resilience, really, because that comes in different forms. It’s not all about tenacity or fighting to the end, it’s about believing that what you’re trying to do will work.

With this Liverpool side, that means getting the ball to the players who can hurt the opposition, wearing teams down with their athleticism and continuing to make chances.

The new signings in midfield have definitely helped with all of that, of course, plus Trent Alexander-Arnold is more creative and forward-thinking than ever now he is higher up the pitch and more central, more often.

Their increased squad depth has made a difference too. As usual, Mohamed Salah is still the main man when it comes to goals but there seems to be a confidence that the players on the bench can come on and change games.

Klopp uses his substitutes really well too. He is often quick to make changes that alter the momentum of games which is great, whether it be different formations or personnel.

Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils - Danny Murphy analysis
Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils – Danny Murphy analysis

There is still a lot to work on – you would not want to continue having to rely on late winners like the ones Liverpool have scored against Fulham and Crystal Palace in the past week, because you will come a cropper eventually.

But there are so many positives for Liverpool fans right now, because the majority probably didn’t expect them to be sitting top of the table at this stage.

‘It will always be a rollercoaster ride for the Reds’

It feels like individual errors have cost Liverpool a few goals this season, or when they have been a bit sloppy playing out from the back.

They sometimes make problems for themselves, and need to keep their concentration better in games – but ultimately the fact they are so open is just part of the way they play – it is always going to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

With Klopp at the helm you are never going to see a Liverpool side that is perfect defensively, or difficult to make chances against, because he is so courageous in the way he sets his team up, and gives them the freedom to go and hurt the opposition.

It’s not just about their approach, either. From an attacking perspective, the competitive edge of the Premier League is as good as it has ever been – and it’s not just the top teams who play on the front foot.

We are seeing more sides happy to go toe to toe with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool and they are all conceding goals, when we have got used to seeing them completely dominate and control games.

That means they concede more chances, but get more as well – which is one of the reasons Liverpool have been able to get back into games after falling behind.

Even so, I still think they will get better at the back once Andy Robertson is back from his shoulder injury in January.

He’s an integral part of their defence and one of the best left-backs in Europe. I think people have overlooked the fact he’s been out since October because Liverpool are top of the table, but it’s one of the reasons they’ve not been defensively sound.

Konstantinos Tsimikas has struggled to fill in for him, hence Joe Gomez has been put there a few times.

We are also yet to see the best of Ibrahima Konate this season and with Joel Matip injured, that needs to change. His pace and power, plus his ability to cover for Trent, will all be vital.

Further forward, there is absolutely more to come from this Liverpool team too.

As a midfielder you learn as you go in terms of your relationship with your team-mates and your understanding of their game – their movement and demands, and what they’re good at, or not, in and out of possession.

When you consider the number of signings Liverpool made last summer in that area of the pitch and how some of them arrived late in the window, then I think they can be really satisfied with the progress they have made – and it is inevitable they are going to keep on improving.

Meanwhile, United have gone backwards

Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils - Danny Murphy analysis
Liverpool v Man Utd: Why this is a wonderful time to play Red Devils – Danny Murphy analysis

Liverpool are doing better than many people expected but It’s been a bigger surprise that United are as bad as they are. You can sometimes have a bad run and still be playing reasonably well, but that is really not the case – they are struggling.

United have had spells where a lot of their back-four are missing, which is always going to be problematic, and injuries to Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw will impact them this weekend as well.

But their issues run far deeper than that. United are still only a few points off the top four but they have not been competing with the big boys – they haven’t beaten a top-half side this season, and are out of the Champions League now too.

While Liverpool are progressing, if you assess United from the start of the season to now then they have gone backwards.

They have got some super-talented players but there isn’t a part of their team that looks like they are getting better, which must be a real concern for them – and of course it means Ten Hag’s future is in doubt.

Given their situation, I think it would take a huge turnaround in performances and results for him to have a prolonged stay, but I also don’t think he is safe in the short-term either.

I am not saying they should necessarily just get rid of him unless they have a plan in place to replace him, because what’s the point of that?

But if United were to take a hiding at Anfield and then lose their next couple of games then all of a sudden his position becomes untenable. If they continue to struggle, I don’t see how he can stay.


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