Today a new factor enters the frame when Liverpool face Manchester United at Old Trafford. A thing that can act in our favour. What it is? The abscence of pressure.
I mean, for the first time in quite a while hardly anybody believes Liverpool will perform well and neither win nor draw. That is a change compared to how it has been in recent times. Lately, in almost every match, Liverpool has needed a win or a favourable result. And as clockwork the Reds has buckled under pressure and failed.
Now the circumstances is different. Away to Man Utd a normal result is a defeat. So nobody will raise an eyebrow should it happen again. The Reds are free of mental burden, maybe it could be the key to start playing well.
A united expert brigade predicts a United win today. And they have of course logic on their side. While both teams started the season pretty bad, Man Utd has stepped up and at least started to win games. They´ve got five victories in a row in the league, and strong teams as Arsenal and Southampton are among their victims. At the same time Liverpool struggle to overcome average opponents and in the last game we didn´t manage to break down struggling Sunderland at home.
Almost every factor speaks in favour of the home team today. United is in better form than the Reds, they have superior statistics versus Liverpool at home, self-confidence is growing with Man Utd and diminishing with our troops and the Red Devils also has the upper hand when it comes to the actual football, both defensively and attack-wise.
Liverpool has not so much going for them. As I´ve already written, abscence of pressure is one factor, another one is that United possibly underestimates us. A third positive element is the fact that we often perform best as underdogs and comes up with an aggressive display filled with hard work and will to win. Often versus top teams.
Okay, this has not been on show this season, but it is a hidden ability, lurking and waiting to present itself. I wouldn´t be surprised if Liverpool finally play to their highest level - and win. On the other hand I wouldn´t be particularly astonished if we go down 3-0. We are in such a state right now that anything (bad) can happen.
To get something out of today´s clash we must also have luck on our side. For instance score with a deflected shot or get a dubious winning penalty in the dying minutes.
Because the Reds can not put themselves back on track at the moment. Our shaky defence won´t heal in the near future. Neither will our uninventive and slow attack. The dangerous counter-attacks are a thing of the past. And despite plenty of pitiful performances this season no revenge is to be seen. The players are just trudging through matches and doesn´t seem to care or even have fun. Have you seen a Liverpool player smile this season on other occasions than when a goal is scored? I haven´t.
They are lambasting themselves for missing out on the title last season and can´t get out of the doom and gloom prison. Only Lady Luck has the key and she won´t wave her magic wand until the team stop feeling sorry for themselves, start fighting and showing pride. If Liverpool can´t do that against their bitter rivals then I´ll fear they just can´t. Period.
Another key to get a result at Old Trafford is to be brave and attack a lot. The weakest link in United´s armour is the defence. We must take the game to them and not let the opposite happen because they have lethal forward play and our defence doesnt´t like to, or even can, defend.
A defeat would mean good-bye to a top four finish. Then United would be ten points ahead of us and a top four place seven points adrift. Our present team will find it almost impossible to close such a gap. If we somehow manage to win today then Man Utd in 3rd and West Ham in 4th place is only four points ahead of us, and that will keep up hopes at least for another week.
This is how I would form our line-up today:
GK: Simon Mignolet. RB: Javier Manquillo. CB: Martin Skrtel. CB: Kolo Toure. LB: Alberto Moreno. DM: Lucas Leiva. DM: Emre Can. RM: Raheem Sterling. CM: Steven Gerrard. LM: Philippe Coutinho. CF: Fabio Borini.
We have no classy goal-keeper so it doesn´t matter if Mignolet or Brad Jones is chosen. At fullback both Glen Johnson and José Enrique disqualified themselves from the team with their sub-standard efforts versus Sunderland. Toure has performed far better than Dejan Lovren of late and gets the nod. In midfield we need the Lucas-Can shield and in attack some speed and smartness - hence my player picks. Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson are in my book not good enough and Rickie Lambert too tired at the moment.
Last season we won 3-0 at Old Trafford, I would settle for a 1-0 triumph this time when:
We Go Again.