We have reached that time in the football calendar once more. That time that makes football fans across the North-West feel a bit, well, sick. Manchester United face Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday in what is arguably United’s biggest game of the season.
Following the 3-3 draw with Newcastle, and a better attacking performance from Van Gaal’s side, there is perhaps room for extremely cautious optimism ahead of this titanic clash. But what can Manchester United do to take all three points back down the M62 on Sunday?
Here’s four things United could do to come out on top against their old rivals from Merseyside.
1. Rediscover that defensive steel
It doesn’t seem long ago that we were chastising United’s attacking prowess and praising their defensive steel. So, what happened? Well, in recent weeks Smalling and his fellow defenders have shipped goals against Bournemouth, Norwich, Stoke, Swansea and three at St James’ Park on Tuesday night.
Altogether, Van Gaal’s side have conceded ten goals in their last six league games – that’s one more than bottom of the table Aston Villa. It’s not great, is it?
And despite the criticism placed on some of Liverpool’s attacking players, mostly Christian Benteke, a weak Manchester United defence will be punished at Anfield. Daley Blind and Chris Smalling need to rediscover their early season form again, and soon.
2. If it’s easier to score, then score!
You could argue that it wasn’t just United’s defence that dropped two points on Tuesday. And it would be hard to disagree with that. Rooney, Lingard and Fellaini all missed clear-cut chances that could have led to a very different final score.
If you miss chances in football, you will be punished. It is more than likely that one goal either way could swing it when United face Liverpool. Rooney and friends cannot afford to squander chances.
Oh, and while we’re at it, Fellaini’s miss should probably be his ticket to a place on the bench on Sunday. His whole game revolves around his aerial ability. He should be burying any balls put into the box, and if he’s not doing that he probably shouldn’t be on the pitch. Harsh, but fair. Don’t you think?
3. Attack, Attack, Attack…again. Please
The Red Devils’ performance against Newcastle, believe it or not, produced a number of positives. It was one of United’s best attacking displays in a long time. The sight of red shirts breaking away quickly in a direct, meaningful counter attack is something United fans have been craving.
Little surprise then that this display produced three Manchester United goals. That’s the first time that has happened since their other standout performance back in October at Goodison Park.
It seems clear then that when United are more meaningful in their attacking play, and when Wayne Rooney leads the line effectively, they are very capable of being devastating going forward. They will need to continue this attacking momentum if they have any hope of winning on Sunday, because Liverpool’s defence does ship goals. Just ask Arsene.
4. Give Depay another go, maybe.
It’s always nice to finish on a controversial note. The Dutch winger has come under a lot of criticism this season, and rightly so. His inconsistent performances have warranted the negative light being shone on him.
But in fairness to United’s number 7, in recent weeks he has shown flashes of why Louis van Gaal brought his compatriot to Old Trafford. He impressed coming off the bench against West Ham and Newcastle, and won the penalty that sent United through to fourth round of the FA Cup against Sheffield United.
And while the stats don’t make for great reading – United have won just one of the last eight games in which Depay has started – perhaps Sunday is the perfect time to give him another go from the start. Yes, it is a gamble. A pretty big one. But if this particular gamble pays off, it can pay off big.
So, there you have it. Admittedly it’s far from a masterplan, just a few things for Van Gaal to consider, if he’s reading. But while we’re being honest, Liverpool vs Manchester United is the sort of game where form really does mean nothing and anything genuinely can happen.
Whatever the case, if the game on Sunday afternoon is anything like the midweek ties this week, we are in for a treat. Here’s hoping it’s a treat United fans will enjoy more than their Scouse counterparts.