United set for real test at Anfield
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes he has found a "nice" way of playing against Liverpool as he plans for this weekend's trip to Anfield.
The runaway Premier League leaders have only dropped points in one league game this season - the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October, when Adam Lallana rescued a point for Jurgen Klopp's side with only five minutes remaining.
United's scorer that day, Marcus Rashford, has emerged as a doubt for Sunday's big fixture after sustaining an injury in the Emirates FA Cup win over Wolves.
If our leading marksman's potential absence might tip the balance further in the home team's favour, there is also the fact that we were denied a clear midweek when the recent goalless draw at Molineux forced us to play a third-round replay on Wednesday night.
Combating Liverpool's high-energy game will be crucial in the 16:30 GMT kick-off but it is something United have twice managed against them during Ole's tenure.
In the 0-0 draw in February 2019, our plans may have been disrupted by injuries during the game, including one to Rashford who manfully played on, but we were still probably the closest team to winning it, with Chris Smalling having a late chance.
Ole may have never scored at Anfield as a player but he is confident in his ability to pull off our first win on Liverpool's patch since January 2016, when Wayne Rooney struck late on for Louis van Gaal's men.
“Of course it's hard," said Solskjaer after the victory over Wolves. “We've had Liverpool here [at Old Trafford] twice and drawn both. Of course, you want to win those games but I think we've found a nice way of playing against them and we've deserved the points in both of them."
There is no way he nor anybody from United will be daunted by clashing with the team currently 14 points clear at the top.
It is a well-worn cliche but form has tended to go out of the window in these clashes between the biggest of rivals. When Liverpool were dominant in the 1980s, United often had a good record against them. After a streak of seven successive defeats in the 1970s, we managed to embark on an eight-game unbeaten run in top-flight meetings.
This spell included a 1-0 win in Alex Ferguson's first visit to Anfield as United manager, thanks to Norman Whiteside's goal on Boxing Day in 1986, and a cracking 3-3 draw in 1988 that displayed the very best of our fighting qualities.
Similarly, Liverpool usually performed well in the games at Anfield when United were winning trophies regularly under Sir Alex. The painful 2-0 loss towards the end of the 1991/92 term, which virtually assured Leeds United would pip us to the title, leaps to mind around the start of this period.
Although we won the first Premier League meeting on Merseyside, 2-1 in 1993, we surrendered a three-goal lead a year later and then lost 2-0 twice in 1995. The two sweet 3-1 victories that followed, in 1997, were the only occasions when we've won by more than one goal at Anfield in the Premier League.
More recently, things have tended to be tight which, apparently, can be frustrating for any watching neutrals.
Liverpool went four home games without scoring against United, during a run that featured John O'Shea's dramatic injury-time winner which pushed us towards the 2006/07 title. However, we also had a run of three successive defeats and it has been nip and tuck ever since.
After four league matches without a win against us in the fixture, Liverpool earned a 3-1 victory in December 2018, with Jesse Lingard scoring in what proved to be Jose Mourinho's last game in charge.
Nobody likes losing English football's biggest match and, whatever the circumstances, it could end up being as tense as ever.
Whether Rashford is fit or not, and whether there are any tired legs in the United camp, there should be a steely determination to ensure Liverpool do not move even closer to ending their 30-year wait for a league title.
So far only Ole's men have done something to dent that ambition in 2019/20. Let's hope we can pull something out of the fire on this occasion too.
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