The Premier League’s top two meet when Liverpool host leaders Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday (4.30pm, live on Sky Sports).
Liverpool are the reigning champions, and as we approach the halfway point of the campaign they are again up there near the top, second in the table, three points shy of United, but like their visitors glancing nervously over their shoulder at fast-approaching Manchester City.
Things are a lot tighter than they were at this same stage last season. Then, Liverpool had already established a 10-point lead at the top, while second to fifth was spanned by a further 13 points. This time around, just four points separate Man Utd in first from Everton in fifth. The whole top half of the table is spanned by just 10 points.
It was always likely that Liverpool would struggle to match the frightening consistency that saw them claim last season’s title with a bumper total of 99 points. It is also perhaps inevitable that the condensed schedule occasioned by the late start to the season has meant that even amply resourced teams, across Europe and not just in the Premier League, have been more vulnerable to the occasional upset.
In Liverpool’s case that has mainly been in the form of draws. They have been held in four of their five matches against the current bottom six. They have also suffered a pair of defeats, just one less than they suffered in the entirety of last season: a shock 2-7 defeat away to Aston Villa early on, and then a 0-1 reverse at Southampton in their last league encounter, two weeks ago.
Jurgen Klopp’s side went behind inside the opening couple of minutes as former Liverpool striker Danny Ings fired their hosts into the lead. While they piled on the shots thereafter, outshooting Saints by 17-6, they struggled to create much of genuine note and actually only got a single effort on target.
It was the third consecutive game in which they’d dropped points. They have injury issues in defence, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez both possibly out for the season and Joel Matip struggling with a muscle injury. Despite good underlying numbers that suggest they remain a very strong side, they can’t afford to drop too many more given the current form of the two Manchester clubs.
Sunday’s opponents Man Utd suffered three defeats in their first six matches of the campaign, including a 1-6 reverse at home to Tottenham Hotspur. They have since put together an 11-match unbeaten run of nine wins and two draws that has elevated them to the top of the table. It is the first time they have held that position at this stage or later into a season since 2012-13, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at the helm and their last league title success.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side recorded a third straight win in a 1-0 triumph away to Burnley on Tuesday. Paul Pogba got the winning goal with 20 minutes left to play in a relatively even encounter in which United had created the marginally better looks at goal and therefore probably deserved the three points.
The underlying numbers suggest that it will be difficult for Man Utd to maintain their current form through the remainder of the campaign. By that measure, Liverpool and Manchester City, champions between them in each of the last three seasons, look the most likely two sides to compete for the title. United have now firmly established themselves as a likely top-four finisher and that is something that didn’t look all that certain just a month or two ago.
Barring a major collapse in the second half of the season, Solskjaer’s side will also eat into the huge 33-point chasm that separated them from Liverpool last season. That will be viewed as progress towards the eventual aim of getting back on a level footing with other similarly resourced teams.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll manage to take something from Sunday’s match, though. Liverpool have triumphed in this fixture in each of the last two seasons, both times by a two-goal margin, and still have a highly potent attack that is capable of again firing to victory this time around. The uncertainty introduced by recent results has made the odds attractive enough to back them for a handicap win. So the Liverpool vs Man Utd betting tips for this preview are:
- Bet on Liverpool -1 goal on the Asian Handicap @ around 9/5 with Betfair Exchange.
Compare LFC vs MUFC Match Betting Odds from Top Bookies