View from the Opposition: VAVEL UK's Manchester United editor on Liverpool's trip to Old Trafford

View from the Opposition: VAVEL UK's Manchester United editor on Liverpool's trip to Old Trafford

VAVEL Liverpool spoke to VAVEL Manchester United editor Harry Robinson ahead of this Sunday's crunch clash between the two teams in the Premier League at Old Trafford.

Charlie Malam

Liverpool travel to Old Trafford in search of fresh momentum with a positive result against bitter rivals Manchester United after a stalled start to 2017.

The Reds haven't won any of their three games so far this calendar year, failing to score in their last two outings against Plymouth Argyle and Southampton in the FA Cup and EFL Cup respectively.

Otherwise, despite cutting the gap to five points to Chelsea in first - the draw at Sunderland before that became doubly frustrating after the front-runners' 13-match winning streak was brought to a screeching halt by Tottenham Hotspur, who beat them 2-0 at White Hart Lane.

The Blues once again play before Jürgen Klopp's men this weekend, one which could be pivotal into the shaping of Liverpool's season. They will hope welcoming back a number of key figures can hope inject the belief and energy that made them sure-fire title challengers earlier in the campaign.

But now their credentials are once again cast under doubt, despite only a short blip of form, and the boost of a victory over United - themselves having won nine straight games in all competitions - would be monumental.

However Liverpool, looking for a first league win over United since March 2014, can afford no repeat of their tepid recent displays if they are to shoot their title hopes in the arm down East Lancs Road.

Ahead of what promises to be a mouthwatering clash, and fingers crossed a more exciting encounter than the dull 0-0 draw United and Liverpool played out at Anfield in October, we spoke to Harry Robinson - VAVEL UK's Manchester United editor and also United correspondent for Manchester radio station Key 103 - to get his views.

Q: This game probably couldn’t come at a better time for United in their current form. How confident are you?

HR: Perhaps it does. Yet form, if it means anything in these games, can often be turned on its head. Often the team with nothing to lose but a point to prove, the underdog, comes out as the winners of these games. Then again, the mood at Manchester United is brilliant at the moment. The atmosphere at both the Reading game in the FA Cup third round and for the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final against Hull City was not incredible, but incredibly positive. United fans and players haven’t felt this good since Sir Alex Ferguson left. Mourinho is relaxed, United fans are relaxed, and both are expecting a win going into Sunday’s game, the quality to do so has been shown over the last two months.

Q: Does your recent form put your season in a better light?

HR: Yes, of course. Looking across the city, it is Manchester City who are currently experiencing some of the same frustrations as United did in October and November. Their fans are often leaving games knowing they’ve played well but the scoreline hasn’t reflected that. For them, though, their immense unbeaten start to the season puts them in okay position to go through an inconsistent spell. For United and Mourinho, it was only August that started so well before United tailed off into a worrying patch in September and October. Now, that is showing. By no means are United fans angry at that, though. Frustrated? Yes, but not angry, the performances and results currently puts this season in a brilliant light. The majority of fans are so happy they’re not watching a David Moyes or Louis van Gaal United side that anything that happens this season will be an improvement, even without a trophy, because football is fun again.

Q: You appeared to be struggling to find form under Jose Mourinho a few months ago? Are you past that?

HR: Most certainly. The form United have shown recently is title-winning form. It’s a shame that the same cannot be said for the mid-way point of the first-half of the season. So many points have been wasted due to a lack of clinical finishing, thinking back to draws against Stoke, Burnley, Arsenal and even Liverpool, as well as defeats to Feyenoord and Fenerbahce in the UEFA Europa League. United’s form is better than anyone else’s in the Premier League right now, even in all competitions, they’re the only club remaining in all four major competitions. Definitely past that troubling spell now, long may it continue.

Q: United haven’t moved from 6th but are bridging the gap to the top four. Is it too far-fetched to suggest the Red Devils can compete for the title this term?

HR: Not quite. Looking through the fixture list for the top six, there are so many “title-deciding” weekends that you know the title is far from decided. United are sixth favourite to lift the league come May, it seems, and perhaps rightly so. That poor form in the first-half of the season is hugely damaging to any title chances and it’s incredibly unlikely, but they’re not completely over. It would need a huge array of things to happen at once for United to be champions, and they’re more likely to finish outside the top four than win the league, but it’s not completely over.

Q: The last meeting between United and Liverpool was a very dull 0-0 in October. Do you expect his game to be different?

HR: Yes, certainly. Mourinho has found the right team for his Manchester United. Back in October, he wasn’t so sure. He didn’t know his formation or his personnel and therefore had little confidence in his squad to go out attacking. This selection of players in this formation currently have now proved they can do what Mourinho asks of them and he will trust them with a greater task now. Being at Old Trafford is a great help, too. It will be interesting to see Jürgen Klopp’s approach to the game, whether he tries to follow a similar game plan as Mourinho at Anfield or not. Bear in mind that Mourinho’s methods almost paid off. Had Zlatan Ibrahimovic been in the form he is now, it’s likely United would have come away with a spectacularly unlikely three points in October.

Q: The last time Liverpool won at Old Trafford was obviously back in that 2013-14 season, but are Jürgen Klopp’s side in this season's title race too?

HR: Yes, all of the top six are, no doubt in saying that. Top four must be achieved for Klopp, not to keep his job, Liverpool’s board have immense faith in him. But for the fans, not achieving top four without European competition after three transfer windows would be a failure. The title is different, but Klopp should be expected to have his Liverpool side as a challenger come the end of the season, late-April/early-May.

Q: Who do you expect to be United’s most effective attacking threats on Sunday?

HR: If Michael Carrick is in the team, Paul Pogba will cause havoc, as he does against team. Of course, Ibrahimovic is the main man and should be backed to score. It’s Anthony Martial, though, that Liverpool fans should be worried about. Potentially going up against James Milner, his recent form suggests he’ll rip the Englishman to shreds. Juan Mata is also a player for the big games, as Liverpool fans will recognise now but may not start with Henrikh Mkhitaryan in such fine form and adding so much to United’s side.

Q: Wayne Rooney could become United’s leading goalscorer if he manages just one against Liverpool. Should he start? If so, can he do it?

HR: Wayne Rooney’s unlikely to start on Sunday despite his record-equalling goal against Reading in the cup. Should he start? No, he doesn’t deserve it based on performances this season, he’s simply not one of United’s best five attacking players and slows Mourinho’s side down when he’s on the pitch. That doesn’t mean he no longer has value in the squad, his leadership qualities are undeniable and recently he’s been extremely effective as a substitute, but in a game of this magnitude he shouldn’t be put in the side, particularly as his best position is unknown. If he does start, it’s unlikely he’ll score based on performances this season. However, if he plays off Ibrahimovic with Pogba behind him and Mkhitaryan to his right, the service will be brilliant from all angles, especially with Martial expected to start on the left whom he has worked with well over the last 18 months.

Q: Are there any Liverpool players you’re wary could cause United problems?

HR: Philippe Coutinho returning is extremely frustrating for United fans. His quality is frightening, his ability to turn a game while he’s having a bad one too. If he starts, he’s the player to frighten United. Most Reds (United ones, that is) will be confident in Carrick and Ander Herrera’s abilities to deny Coutinho. Although Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino are both excellent players, if United can keep them in wide areas, their contribution should be extremely limited. That will require good discipline and positioning from United’s full-backs, which is unlikely, though.

Q: Conversely, any areas of vulnerability in Liverpool’s team that you believe United could pinpoint?

HR: Between the two goalposts. Pogba, Zlatan, Mkhitaryan and Martial all have venomous long shots that could test either Loris Karius or Simon Mignolet. Marouane Fellaini may be employed at some point to cause trouble for either of the goalkeepers. Aside from that, if Milner is at full-back, Mkhitaryan, Martial and Marcus Rashford will be able to tear him apart. That’s in praise of United’s attackers rather than in criticism of Milner’s footballing ability at full-back, although it’s questionable.

Q: Finally, your score prediction?

HR: Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool. Looking forward to a high-scoring game with two suspect defences and two excellent attacks. Then again, isn’t that what we said back in October?

You can find Harry's work for VAVEL UK here, while his Twitter is @HarryRobinson64. Harry is also the host of a weekly United podcast, which you can find here.