Red devils on hunt for prey at Anfield

Top-of-the-table clash between Liverpool, United promises to be great test: Solskjaer

Boosted by the revival of mercurial France midfielder Paul Pogba (second from right), leaders Manchester United will be out for blood against arch-rivals Liverpool tomorrow.
Boosted by the revival of mercurial France midfielder Paul Pogba (second from right), leaders Manchester United will be out for blood against arch-rivals Liverpool tomorrow.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is aiming to travel to Anfield tomorrow to cause an "upset", even if his team are the current leaders in the Premier League.

The Red Devils are top of the table after New Year's Day for the first time since Alex Ferguson's glittering dynasty ended with his retirement in 2013.

It is one thing leading the pack in January, however, and tomorrow's trip to champions Liverpool will provide the acid test for a United revival that few saw coming earlier this season.

Solskjaer knows it too well, and has urged his men to keep their feet on the ground.

"You don't get anything for being at the top of the league in January," the Norwegian said. "It is where you are at the end of the season which matters.

"The game against the champions, it is a great test for us. Can we go there and cause an upset?"

The United boss added: "Our position at the moment is product of all our hard work. We deserve to be where we are at the moment, but not many would have thought of another word than an upset if you said it six weeks ago.

"For me, we are still the challengers, the hunters. They are the champions, the ones who everyone would like to beat."

The clash promises to be a cracker, even if played in a silent stadium due to Covid-19 protocols.

United start the game three points clear of second-placed Liverpool (33) after grinding out a 1-0 victory at Burnley on Tuesday.

But they are winless in their last four league matches against the Reds (D2, L2).

United can bank on their impressive away form this term, having won seven of eight league games on their travels.​

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Liverpool, hit by injuries to key players, have gone three league matches without victory and winning only four of their last 10.

Jurgen Klopp's men, however, are near-formidable at home, having won seven of their eight matches at Anfield.

Essentially, it is the team with the best home record against one with the most away wins, and Solskjaer was also asked if a victory would signal a power shift in such an even contest.

He said: "We know we can beat anyone or any given day. To be able to go into the game feeling that if we play our best we can win is a good feeling.

"But we don't think about the consequences. It is a test for us to see where we are really at. We go there with the knowledge we have to play to our best."

The mood is high in the United camp, but their position hardly seemed possible back in early November, when time appeared to be running out for Solskjaer with the club in 15th spot in the table.

A few weeks later, they crashed out of the Champions League and the vultures were circling again.

Fast forward another few weeks and United have won nine and drawn two of their last 11 league games - and even much-maligned Paul Pogba is beginning to look the real deal in a side that Solskjaer has returned their identity to.

Former United defender Gary Neville, in his role as a Sky Sports pundit, has been one of the fiercest critics of the team in recent seasons, but believes something special might be brewing.

"Six to eight weeks ago, you would never have thought that United would be anywhere near this position but now they find themselves with something building, a spirit growing," he said.

"There's a resilience that's been built off some performances that haven't been at times great away from home. But they've won when they haven't been at their best, and you get confidence from that."

United will sense a golden opportunity to win at the home of their rivals for the first time in five years.

Solskjaer also confirmed that Brandon Williams is the only absentee tomorrow, while Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial are doubts for the match.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2021, with the headline 'Red devils on hunt for prey at Anfield'. Subscribe