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Back Liverpool with a -1.5 handicap
Pick made on 08/16/2022 at 01:20 AM EST
The last few years have been hugely disappointing for Manchester United, who have not won the Premier League title since 2013 and now regularly find themselves out of the Champions League. But while there have been plenty of bad moments in recent seasons, United may have just hit their lowest ebb yet. Back-to-back defeats by Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford at the start of the 2022/23 season have dealt an early blow to their top-four chances and demonstrated how far the 20-time champions of England have fallen.
There are both macro and micro explanations for the club’s poor start to the campaign. Starting with the latter, Erik ten Hag has made some puzzling decisions: to name just two, the deployment Christian Eriksen as a false nine against Brighton, and the selection of the 5ft 9in Lisandro Martinez at center-back against Brentford, a team which thrives on set-pieces and crosses into the box.
Zoom out, though, and there are far bigger problems at Old Trafford. This is a club stuck in a rut from which it cannot seem to escape. Player for player, United are superior to Brighton and Brentford, yet they were outfought, outthought, outrun and outplayed by both of them. The squad is weaker than it was last season (when United only finished sixth) and the absence of a joined-up, coordinated recruitment process is clear for all to see. The best clubs are proactive in the transfer market; United are reactive.
The buck ultimately stops with the Glazer family, the most unpopular owners in the Premier League. Short of selling the club, there is little they can do to win over the fans at Old Trafford. But while Ten Hag will be given time to turn the situation around, he is not immune from criticism. The former Ajax coach’s decisions will be questioned if United are soundly beaten on Monday.
Liverpool’s start to the season has been nowhere near as disastrous as United’s, but Jurgen Klopp will not be pleased with a return of two points from a possible six. His team were below par in a 2-2 draw with Fulham on the opening weekend of the season, as Klopp himself admitted after the game. And while the performance was better against Crystal Palace on Monday, Liverpool again dropped two points in a 1-1 draw.
Perhaps they would have emerged victorious had Darwin Nunez kept his cool. The Uruguay international was sent off for headbutting Joachim Andersen in the second half, allowing Palace to play the final half an hour with a numerical advantage.
Liverpool still managed to create chances, but the Eagles’ task was made easier thanks to Nunez’s moment of madness. The striker will now be suspended for the trip to Old Trafford, although Klopp hopes to have Roberto Firmino available again after injury.
A decade or so ago, there was a belief among the contending teams that the Premier League title race only really gets going after Christmas. But more recently Liverpool and Manchester City have routinely registered in excess of 90 points, making draws feel like the new defeats. It feels ridiculous to say so early in the season, but a failure to win on Monday would give Liverpool a mountain to climb as far as the title is concerned.
Happily for fans of the Reds, their upcoming opponents are in a sorry state. United’s players appear to have lost all confidence, and they are struggling to react to in-game adversity (Liverpool, by contrast, have collected more points from losing positions than any other team in the Premier League since the start of last season).
Ten Hag will not abandon his principles, which include building play from the back, controlling the ball in midfield and pressing from the front. But the present situation at Old Trafford demands that he adapts his approach, at least in the short-term. He has no doubt already learned that a high-pressing game is incompatible with the deployment of Cristiano Ronaldo up front (Marcus Rashford has not exactly covered himself in glory in terms of off-the-ball work rate either).
A temporary switch to a back three is a possibility, especially as Palace had some success using such a system against Liverpool. United would settle for a draw here and we could see them opt for a pragmatic game plan in a bid to achieve that goal.
Even that might not be enough, though, particularly as Liverpool need to win this match after their recent stumbles. Nunez is out but this team still possesses plenty of firepower, so back the visitors to Old Trafford with a 1.5 handicap.
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|Teams||Manchester United vs Liverpool|
|Location||Old Trafford, Manchester United, England|
|Time||Monday, 22 August 2022, 3.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||Peacock Premium|
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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