Can Liverpool regain the top spot this weekend?

The Reds will welcome arch-rivals Manchester United this weekend in the season's most anticipated game so far. United are occupying the top of the table after their victory over Burnley; a reality that seemed impossible just a couple of months ago.


Here, we take a look at all the talking points ahead of the weekend's clash.



Joint top of the table, but stark contrast in forms


The teams will enter this weekend's showdown in truly contrasting forms. Liverpool's recent slump has seen them not register a single win in their last three league matches, finding the net only on one solitary occasion.


The lacklustre performances were against West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton — sides that you would typically expect the Reds to overcome.


Mo Salah against Southampton
Image Source: Daily Express

But we all know that it is one of the strangest seasons yet; Manchester United, who went through a "crisis" of their own earlier this season, have somehow the chance to go six points clear at the top of the table with a game if they manage a win this weekend.


Since their shambolic 6-1 defeat at home against Tottenham Hotspur, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have picked up a remarkable 33 points from a possible 42, as they quietly crept up the league standings.


Read also: Report Card: Grading our players so far (Who gets an A*?)


Thankfully, it is one of those games where the form book gets thrown out of the window, and Klopp will be hoping to mastermind a potentially season-defining victory that will help the Reds get back on track.


Thiago must start against United


After the Reds' recent slump in form, they secured a much-needed 4-1 victory against Aston Villa in the FA Cup. Yes, it was a youthful side which Villa fielded, but it was still important for Klopp to use the game as a springboard to restore the team’s winning ways.


Thiago Alcantara for Liverpool
Image Source: talkSPORT

On paper, a 4-1 margin over Villa seems straightforward enough. Scratch a little deeper though, you will be able to find the same problems that have plagued the Reds in the league that would have given Klopp a massive headache.

The Reds were held to a 1-1 draw all the way until the 60th minute, as they struggled once again to break down a team that sat deep.


It was no coincidence that Thiago Alcantara's second-half introduction jolted the Reds from their slumber, as he made the lion's share of the possession count; spraying forward passes with much more intent.


Liverpool's midfield is currently one of the best in the league but often seems to lack the extra guile that can unlock the staunchest of defence.


Thiago seems to be that missing piece in the jigsaw; his combination of vision, technique and creativity makes him one of the best midfielders in world football.


With Bruno Fernandes an obvious threat at the weekend, Klopp will have to decide if his midfield trio would compromise of the more mobile and conservative trio of Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones and Wijnaldum to stifle the Portuguese; or play Thiago from the beginning to gain a foothold in the game.


The Spaniard has yet to kickstart his career at Liverpool, no thanks to injuries and COVID-19. A stellar performance against Manchester United will be the perfect way to do just that, and we are not betting against it.



Will Shaqiri haunt the Red Devils again?


Another name that has been brandished in recent weeks is Xherdan Shaqiri; the stocky Swiss international with a wand of a left foot. Shaqiri has yet to force his way into the starting line-up since arriving two seasons ago, often limited to an impact substitute role by Klopp.


Shaqiri celebrating a goal against Manchester United
Image Source: The National

This season is no different as Shaqiri has yet to start in a single league game, but has found himself making significant contributions each time he is called upon. The assist against West Ham for Diogo Jota springs to mind, while he recently added two more in quickfire fashion against Villa.


Read also: The enigma of Xherdan Shaqiri (Can he be Klopp's secret weapon?)


Shaqiri's super-sub status also stretches way back to United — who can forget the brace he scored as the Reds clinched a 3-1 victory in 2018?


We are not too sure if Klopp will trust him from the start, but we do hope he gets more minutes against United this weekend against the Red Devils. A potential game changer.


Will Joel Matip be fit in time?


It is still unclear if the injury-prone defender will be back in time for the fixture, as Liverpool navigate through an injury-ravaged campaign.


Joel Matip playing against West Brom
Image Source: Liverpool Echo

The Cameroon defender's return will be a timely boost for Klopp and the team, who had to deploy Henderson at the heart of the defence in the previous league encounter.


It was a move that clearly meant that Henderson's presence in midfield was sorely missed, despite putting in a reasonably convincing performance.


It will be a surprise to see him feature at the back once again, as we suspect Klopp will want the captain to be in the midfield trio; which means it is likely that either Nathaniel Phillips or Rhys Williams will play alongside the superb Fabinho if Matip misses out.


Matip's return to the side could prove to be a key turning point in the game, as all the experience will be required to keep the likes of Marcus Rashford and Fernandes quiet.


Key Battle: Rashford vs Alexander-Arnold


Trent Alexander-Arnold's horrid show at the Saints was well-documented; he chalked up an unwanted stat of losing possession of the ball for the most — 38, to be precise — times this season.


The promising young defender has of course, in recent years, elevated his status in the football world; at just 23, his ability and incredible trophy haul have allowed him to rub shoulders with some of the game's elites.


Trent Alexander-Arnold sharing a few words with Klopp
Image Source: This is Anfield

This season though, the Scouser has struggled massively for form. Alexander-Arnold looks increasingly vulnerable at the back and his trademark crosses and forays forward now seem like a thing of the past.


Once a reliable weapon down the right for Klopp, it is no coincidence that Liverpool's attack seems to lack the usual cutting edge as their once steady supply has been cut off.


Marcus Rashford, on the other hand, has not been short of any confidence. The young forward has already found the back of the net seven times in the league this season, looking set to beat his last season's tally of 17.


With Anthony Martial back in the fold, it is likely that Rashford will line up on the left of United's attack this weekend, cutting into his favourite right foot whenever he can. With Liverpool's right centre-back position still a giant question mark, Alexander-Arnold's demanding task of keeping Rashford at bay will be made even harder.


We could see the likes of Henderson being tasked to provide additional cover for the right side of the pitch; a chink in the armour of the Liverpool side that Solskjaer will surely be made aware, with Fernandes looking poised to exploit the weakness.


It is all set up for an intriguing individual battle, where the winner might well see his side claim all three points.



Match Prediction


With the stakes at an all-time high, it is likely that we will witness a close encounter in this weekend's anticipated clash. We think Klopp is well-capable of rallying his troops and it is about time the Reds return to winning ways — we predict (and are hoping for) a 2-1 victory for Liverpool.


Fingers crossed.

 

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