The Big Match

United clicking into gear

Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to get Liverpool back to winning ways after a blip in form, and may start influential playmaker Philippe Coutinho.
Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to get Liverpool back to winning ways after a blip in form, and may start influential playmaker Philippe Coutinho.PHOTO: REUTERS

Red Devils look poised for a top-four assault as they face a Liverpool with no wins in 2017

LONDON • Zlatan Ibrahimovic says Manchester United remain in the hunt for the Premier League title but will first focus on closing the gap to the top four, starting with tomorrow's clash against arch-rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Following a shaky start to manager Jose Mourinho's tenure, United head into the game on a 15-game unbeaten run and recorded a ninth successive win in all competitions against Hull City in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final on Tuesday.

"I'm looking forward. These games are the games you want to play in, be on that stage and just to enjoy the moment," the well-travelled striker told Sky Sports.

"The league is unpredictable. Sunday is an opportunity to steal points from the top four."

United, who will hope to arrest their three-game winless run in all competitions against Liverpool, are sixth in the table on 39 points, five behind the second-placed Merseyside club after 20 games.

Mourinho said yesterday he is looking forward to tomorrow's home game.

MUCH TO PLAY FOR

The league is unpredictable. Sunday is an opportunity to steal points from the top four.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC, Manchester United striker, declaring his side's intent for all three points against arch-rivals Liverpool.

"No-one is nervous. Everybody wants the game. I am sure Jurgen is the same," he said.

"It's three points, plus the emotional side of it... It's a good rivalry."

Klopp conceded yesterday that United are a better team than the one who played out a goalless draw with his side in October last year.

"They are better and more confident than when we faced them," the German said yesterday. "They are more used to one another. Mkhitaryan is an example - now they can use his quality. It is a different side."

He also admitted that his side will find it tough tomorrow as they will come up against a manager who "is always (competitive)".

"He (Mourinho) is top level but it isn't new - we shouldn't be surprised," said Klopp. "We have the same kind of angriness. We go out there for a result, no other reason."

Asked if both he and Klopp are angry coaches, Mourinho said: "I just think we like to win. Everyone has his own personality, style and coaching and leading. Probably we have some similarities and other characteristics that make us different."

Despite his respect for United, Klopp emphasised his Liverpool side will go all out for a first win in 2017.

"We are excited about the opportunity to go there and show our best," he said. "Everyone who wants to see a real fight for game, then yes, watch it. It will be 100 per cent from our side."

Klopp is likely to draft Philippe Coutinho back into the starting line-up as Liverpool attempt to find fresh momentum in their title challenge.

The influential Brazil playmaker made his comeback after six weeks out with an ankle injury when appearing in Wednesday's insipid League Cup semi-final first leg defeat by Southampton.

Coutinho's substitute return in the 1-0 loss was a rare bright spot in a wayward performance, which followed a goalless FA Cup draw with League Two side Plymouth Argyle.

The situation increases the emphasis on Coutinho to hit the ground running at Old Trafford at a time when the pace of Sadio Mane is being missed due to his involvement at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Captain Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip have also trained following heel and ankle injuries respectively, and could feature at Old Trafford.

"I will wait to see how they reacted and make decisions," said Klopp. "The last game was only two days ago.They are much closer than any other game in the last few weeks."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

MORE REPORTS: In-form Red Devils will relish Old Trafford stage

MANCHESTER UNITED V LIVERPOOL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'United clicking into gear'. Print Edition | Subscribe