Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp highlighted the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United as the major force behind the Red Devils’ resurgence ahead of a top-of-the-table clash between the sides tomorrow.
For the first time since 1997 Liverpool and United sit first and second in the Premier League ahead of a meeting between, historically, the two most successful sides in English football. United hold a three-point lead over the reigning champions, a huge turnaround from their last trip to Anfield a year ago when Liverpool’s 2-0 win opened up a 30-point gap between the two.
Fernandes arrived in Manchester from Sporting Lisbon nine days later and United have not lost a domestic away game since. Unbeaten in 11 league games, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are challenging for the title for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement as boss in 2013. “He is an outstanding player,” said Klopp of Fernandes, who won his fourth player of the month trophy in 2020 by picking up the award for December yesterday.
“Before he joined United we played already Sporting on the US tour (in 2019) and in that game already you could see ‘wow’. Obviously everybody knew him. You could really see he was a difference maker, that’s what he shows now. He is settled, he’s a very influential player for United, involved in a lot of things. People talk about the goal involvements, but the link-up and other situations as well. He seems to be a leader as well, so unfortunately a good signing for United.”
Both clubs looks set to do battle in a title race for the first time since 2008/09 when United emerged victorious under Ferguson. However, Klopp claimed victory against the league leaders is sweet enough on its own without drawing too many conclusions on the impact it could have come the end of the season.
“Winning against United is enough itself. That’s all we have to think about,” he added. “There is no extra add on because of the situation they are in. They got the points, they deserve the points they have so far, we have ours, and the season there is still a long way to go. We just try to win football games and to do this we need to perform on our highest level because United are a good team. They always were and that’s it.”
‘upset’ win at Liverpool
Meanwhile, Solskjaer insists his Manchester United side are underdogs as he target an “upset” against Liverpool at Anfield. Solskjaer believes this side are the underdogs despite their lofty position.
“The next one is always the biggest, it’s always the most important,” said the United manager. “Being, of course, where we’re in the league, that just gives us more confidence and it’s an indication of where we’re at. But the game against the champions, they’ve got an amazing record at Anfield in the league. They haven’t lost for many, many years so of course it’s a great test for us. Can we go there and cause an upset?”
Asked if United beating Liverpool would really be an upset, the Norwegian said: “If you look at the last few seasons, I think it would be an upset and it would be a shock. Our position at the moment is a product of all the hard work that we’ve done in the training ground and what the players are putting down every single day.
“We probably deserve to be where we are at at the moment but I don’t think many would have thought another word for it than an ‘upset’ if you go six weeks back (and asked) if we beat Liverpool at Anfield. But we’re looking forward to the game and hopefully we can cause that upset.”
With points certain to be dropped by one of the title contenders at Anfield this weekend, third placed Manchester City can climb back into the race. Hampered by Sergio Aguero’s prolonged absence with a variety of injuries and forced to deal with a debilitating coronavirus outbreak among his squad, Pep Guardiola has somehow steered Manchester City back into the title race. City’s 1-0 win against Brighton on Wednesday extended their unbeaten run to 14 games in all competitions and left them just four points behind United with a game in hand.
With City hosting Crystal Palace tomorrow before taking on Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Sheffield United and Burnley in their next league games, the time is now for Guardiola’s men to take their move.
City’s lack of goals this season — they have scored fewer than any other team in the top nine — could have been fatal to their title hopes, but Guardiola’s oft-maligned defence has come to the rescue.
Fortified by the arrival of Ruben Dias from Benfica and John Stones’ recent revival, City are much improved from the back four that was routinely criticised last season and now boast the league’s best defensive record.
Fixtures (1500 GMT
Today: Wolves v West Brom (1230), Leeds v Brighton, West Ham v Burnley, Fulham v Chelsea (1730), Leicester v Southampton (2000)
Tomorrow: Sheffield United v Tottenham (1400), Liverpool v Manchester United (1630), Manchester City v Crystal Palace (1915)
Monday: Arsenal v Newcastle (2000)
Postponed: Aston Villa v Everton
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