/Why I’m backing Liverpool to beat Man Utd – Murphy analysis

Why I’m backing Liverpool to beat Man Utd – Murphy analysis


Match of the Day

There has probably never been a better time for Manchester United to go to Anfield.

First, there is the lack of a crowd on Sunday, then there are Liverpool’s defensive injuries and the fact Jurgen Klopp’s side have stuttered a bit in terms of scoring goals recently.

When you also consider how United are doing – playing well, winning games and three points clear at the top of the Premier League – then they should be feeling more confident heading into this game than they have done for many years.

Snapshot showing top of the Premier League: 1st Man Utd, 2nd Liverpool, 3rd Man City, 4th Leicester, 5th Everton & 6th Tottenham

The crowd will not be there to play its part

We are now used to football happening behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it will still seem weird for a game of this magnitude to take place without any fans.

Regardless of their league positions, Liverpool versus United is always a unique fixture because of the history between the two clubs, but that effect is magnified with them both at the top of the table. There has not been this much riding on the game for a long time.

Maybe it was partly because I grew up as a Liverpool fan knowing all about the rivalry but, when I played in this fixture, the week leading up to the match was always extra special. There was more at stake in training and everyone in our camp was at it, fighting to get into the team.

On the day, it was the same – it always felt like the biggest game of the season at Anfield. The atmosphere alone told me that, because of the intensity of it and the passion of the supporters.

You need to experience it to properly understand what it was like, and the effect it has on the players is hard to put into words – but, for me, it was instantly electrifying.

Sunday’s game is going to be different because the crowd will not be there to play its part, when usually the supporters are so important.

Murphy scored the winner for Liverpool against United on three occasions between 2000 and 2004, all in 1-0 wins
Murphy scored the winner for Liverpool against United on three occasions between 2000 and 2004, all in 1-0 wins

Liverpool’s home record without fans is still brilliant of course, and their form at Anfield has not dipped in the past few months.

But I still think there is a little bit of an advantage to the away team in an empty stadium and United’s recent record on the road will give them plenty of belief.

Solskjaer has more decisions to make

Both managers have got selection conundrums but United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has probably got more decisions to make.

Klopp is desperately trying to get Joel Matip fit to play alongside Fabinho in the centre of his defence and that situation will look after itself if the Cameroonian is ready.

If not, then the Reds boss has to decide whether to put one of the young lads in or drop captain Jordan Henderson back and tweak his midfield.

Solskjaer has more options, right through his team, but central midfield is the key area where he has to make a choice.

Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic played well in Tuesday’s win over Burnley, while Scott McTominay and Fred have been his go-to pairing in the big games this season.

If United lose, then Solskjaer will undoubtedly get criticism from fans who will say “he should have done this instead”, but his players are fit and in form so it is a good problem to have.

Whoever he goes with, there is going to be a tremendous amount of quality on the pitch and plenty of creative players, which hopefully means we will get a really good game.

Will Liverpool deliver again?

What I want to see on Sunday is both teams playing with freedom and taking risks, rather than playing out another safety-first encounter like we saw when Manchester City drew with Liverpool and United before Christmas.

Those games were very dull, but I just have a feeling this will be different. Liverpool, in particular, have got a point to prove because they have set incredibly high standards over the past couple of years and they will feel wounded by their relatively poor recent run.

They will be frustrated that they haven’t got more from their games against West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton, and I think there will be a reaction to that.

United have so much quality and momentum that, of course, it will be a bigger test than any of those matches were, but it is one I think Liverpool will pass. Maybe it is just the fan in me speaking, but I still think they will edge it despite their current issues.

Klopp criticises Liverpool ‘decision-making’

What we have seen from Klopp’s men over the past few seasons is a remarkable resilience. They have pushed the boundaries and matched the expectations of their fans time and time again.

This is another occasion when there are question marks over the team, but I don’t have any concerns about them. They have constantly delivered in situations like this, and they have always bounced back from any sort of setback.

Part of the reason I am backing Liverpool to win is what this team have produced in the past in games like this, but it is also because I am convinced it is only a matter of time before things click again for their forwards in front of goal.

Let’s not get carried away, though. This is a massive game for all the reasons I have gone through – but it is not a title decider.

Whoever wins this match would make quite a statement, but they would not be guaranteed to go on and win the Premier League, especially in a season like this.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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