The Big Match

Football: Reds will push forward, United may return to cautious approach

Wayne Rooney (third from left) celebrating with team-mates after netting for United against Newcastle. Liverpool also drew 3-3 in midweek. It remains to be seen if both sides will continue their goal rush.
Wayne Rooney (third from left) celebrating with team-mates after netting for United against Newcastle. Liverpool also drew 3-3 in midweek. It remains to be seen if both sides will continue their goal rush.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They became the unlikely entertainers. Liverpool had the fewest league goals at this stage of the season at any time in their history. Manchester United were the 0-0 specialists. Then both conjured extraordinarily eventful 3-3 draws in midweek.

After two of the games of the campaign, is it too much to hope for a third?

Louis van Gaal, whose fondness for control means he tends to regard action-packed games as an affront, would prefer not. The United manager boasts an impeccable record against Liverpool, but an inadequate one against all-comers.

Should a side with only two victories in 11 attempts fail to win at Anfield then the board, so supportive of a coach that so many fans regard as unsuitable for United, may consider his future.

Given their historic, and at times bitter, rivalry, Liverpool may relish the chance to apply a telling blow. It would, perhaps, be a role reversal. Brendan Rodgers limped on for a further three weeks after September's 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford, but it represented the beginning of the end.

  • LIVERPOOL V MANCHESTER UNITED

    Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 10pm

The second half that day - after a stultifying first 45 minutes - hinted at a brighter future, particularly with the wonderful, Thierry Henry- esque goal Anthony Martial scored 21 minutes into his debut.

Yet United have rarely played with that attacking freedom and, after dropping two points in the 3-3 draw at Newcastle, it will be interesting if they revert to caution.

It will also be instructive if Liverpool disrupt their game plan.

This should be a fascinating clash of styles, between a manager, in Juergen Klopp, who wants the ball to go forward as soon as possible, and one, in van Gaal, who prefers sideways passing.

Liverpool's gegenpressing - where they pressure opponents further up the pitch in the hope of regaining possession in an advanced position - affected Arsenal so much that Arsene Wenger's team recorded their lowest passing accuracy of the season in Wednesday's 3-3 draw.

They are certain to adopt the same approach, looking to prevent United from taking the sting out of the game by retaining the ball.

When Liverpool - three points behind - hunt in packs, United defenders such as Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Ashley Young should expect to be put under pressure.

Yet the Liverpool back four need to be alert, too. United have acquired a greater counter-attacking menace of late by selecting speedy wingers, in Martial and either Jesse Lingard or Memphis Depay. They are reasons why Wayne Rooney appears rejuvenated.

Rooney may have regained his spark but United need to be sharp. The danger for them is that Liverpool overwhelm them in the centre of the park, pitting midfield runners against players who are either too old or, in Marouane Fellaini's case, too ungainly.

Defeat for United would quash notions that a revival is under way. It would be demoralising and damaging.

The worst-case scenario is that it proves deadly for van Gaal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'CLASH OF STYLES ON THE CARDS'. Print Edition | Subscribe