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The Reds are a well-oiled machine with a clear style of play, and that should bring them victory over a collection of talented individuals.
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must have feared the worst at half-time of Manchester United’s clash with Atalanta on Wednesday. His team was 2-0 down at the interval and, in the live table, had fallen to the bottom of their Champions League group. The pressure had already begun to build on the Norwegian following his side’s dire performance in a 4-2 defeat by Leicester City at the weekend. Solskjaer would not have been sacked whatever the result against Atalanta, but another loss would have inevitably intensified the scrutiny on him.
As it happens United currently sits top of Group F, not the bottom. They produced a magnificent comeback in the second half to win 3-2, as goals from Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire, and Cristiano Ronaldo turned the game on its head. Atalanta simply could not cope with the relentless pressure they were put under. The Italian outfit had chances to increase their lead, but a 3-2 home win felt like a fair result on the balance of play across 90 minutes.
Solskjaer praised his players and the fans after the match, but he was the biggest winner on the night. United’s second-half display proved that the manager has not lost the dressing room. The home team could have folded at the break, but instead, they came out fighting. In a strange way, the manner of the win could serve United well this weekend. The Red Devils will feel momentum is on their side, more so than they had won a low-key match 1-0.
Yet there are still serious questions to be asked of Solskjaer, who is seeking to end a three-match winless run in the Premier League. United managed to overwhelm Atalanta on Wednesday, but Liverpool will be a much tougher nut to crack.
Jurgen Klopp’s team is in a very good place right now. They were perhaps a little fortunate to beat Atletico Madrid 3-2 on Tuesday, but that result means they are one of only four teams to have maximum points at the midway point of the Champions League group phase. Results have been largely excellent in the Premier League too. Liverpool are the only side in the division yet to lose a game, and they head into the weekend just one point off top spot.
Last season was a disappointing one for the Reds, who only made sure of a top-four finish on the final day. But they now look back to their best, thanks in large part to the return to full fitness of Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman has been ever-present in the Premier League up to now, while his center-back partner Joel Matip has excelled alongside him. Those two have provided Liverpool with a solid platform, and Alisson Becker is a fantastic insurance policy between the posts.
It is the form of Mohamed Salah that makes Liverpool such a dangerous proposition, though. Perhaps only Karim Benzema is playing as well as the Egypt international in world soccer right now. Salah has scored seven league goals already this term, a tally that no other player in the division can better. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are performing at a high level too, but Salah has looked unstoppable in recent weeks. United will find it difficult to keep him quiet on Sunday, with the left-back Luke Shaw set to face his sternest test since the 2021/22 campaign began.
Salah is more than capable of deciding the outcome this weekend. But United have individuals who can turn a game in an instant too. The most likely candidate, of course, is Cristiano Ronaldo, but Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are also capable of producing moments of magic from nothing.
That is why Salah’s form, as brilliant as it is, will not be the decisive factor here. Instead it is Liverpool’s collective strategy that should bring them victory at Old Trafford. Every member of Klopp’s team knows exactly what is expected of him. Liverpool work on patterns of play in attack, and their pressing game is coordinated and coherent.
The same cannot be said for United, who seem to favor a freestyle approach going forward. They are also far too open without the ball and ineffective at stopping opponents playing out from the back. That means Liverpool should be able to settle into their rhythm reasonably comfortably, notwithstanding the hostile reception they can expect to receive from the Old Trafford crowd.
The Reds have the bit between their teeth right now, and while United arguably have superior individual talent in the final third, Liverpool are a significantly better coached team. Back Klopp to get one over on Solskjaer.
|Manchester United vs Liverpool Information|
|Teams||Manchester United vs Liverpool|
|Location||Old Trafford, Manchester, England|
|Time||Sunday, 24 October 2021, 11.30 AM EDT|
|How to watch||NBC Sports|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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