Man United vs. Liverpool 50-50: Who gets the psychological advantage?
Manchester United vs. Liverpool remains one of the key games in the Premier League calendar, and both teams are eager to lay down a marker for next season.
Second place is very much up for grabs, and of course, victory over your bitter rival always tastes sweet. Scott Patterson (Manchester United) and Dave Usher (Liverpool) look ahead to the showdown at Old Trafford.
Who is having the better season?
Scott Patterson: United are having the better season. They've been above Liverpool pretty much since August. That isn't to say they've played well all season (they didn't have a great December) and were disappointing in February, but maybe the tide has turned following their win over Chelsea and great comeback against Crystal Palace.
Liverpool have the top scorer in the league, yet they're still behind United, which tells a story about the failings of the rest of the team. David de Gea has saved United on plenty of occasions too, but Mo Salah has dragged Liverpool through the season so far. Also, United are still in with a chance to win the FA Cup, so despite the league performances, there's a genuine possibility of silverware, rather than the pipe dream both clubs might have of winning the Champions League.
Dave Usher: Most would say Liverpool, but the current league table favours United, though it's so tight that things could change after this game. Both are still in the Champions League too, so without context there seems to be very little between them. With context, though, it's a different matter. Liverpool supporters are generally happy with what their team is doing, whereas there is some unrest with United fans, particularly at Old Trafford. Who is having the better season depends on how you define "better," but Liverpool are certainly much more pleasing on the eye and currently have more momentum.
Who deserves to finish second behind Manchester City?
SP: Whoever finishes second deserves to finish second. Liverpool play the more attacking football, but the aim of the game is to win. United have won two more games than Liverpool this season. If over the final months Liverpool win more than United, then they deserve second place. The idea that a style of football is more deserving of victory than another is misguided in my opinion. The difference in goals between the two teams is essentially the difference in goals between Salah and Romelu Lukaku. United fans want to see their team attack more, but if they finish second, they'll deserve to be there.
DU: Based on performances and playing the game "in the right way," it's Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp has not once tried to spoil a game, and his team play on the front foot regardless of the opponent. If fortune favours the brave, then Liverpool will finish ahead of United, but it's by no means assured. United keep finding a way to win, even when they aren't playing well, so you cannot question the desire of their players. The methods of the manager are certainly up for debate, though. Ultimately, whoever finishes with the most points will deserve it, and Saturday's game could go a long way toward deciding that.
Assess your opponents: What do they need to challenge properly next season?
SP: Their forward line is great to watch. Nobody could have predicted that Salah would come alive the way he has, with his most successful season before now seeing him score just 19 goals. He'll more than double that before the end of this campaign. Firmino has been impressive too.
Defensively, they should be strong now, considering that they have the most expensive defender of all time in their team. But their goalkeeper situation needs sorting, and their midfield is lacking. They could do with winning a trophy to give them a bit of belief. Jurgen Klopp has led them to a few finals, but they've lost them. Silverware could be a catalyst.
DU: For a side often criticised for being too defensive, United seem to rely on their brilliant goalkeeper an awful lot. That would suggest that the defence isn't what it needs to be. Honestly, though, and I'm not saying this to be controversial or to get a rise out of anybody, to me the biggest thing holding back United is Jose Mourinho and his outdated methods. The game has moved on, and it's all about attack now. United have so much attacking talent but seem to play as individuals rather than as a team, which is the exact opposite of Liverpool. I'd be a lot more scared of United if they had someone such as Pep Guardiola or even Mauricio Pochettino in charge.
SP: Salah versus Chris Smalling. The United defender has been so hit-and-miss. He looked better against Chelsea, but then again, they didn't play a striker, which maybe made his job a bit easier. I imagine there are plenty of United fans having nightmares over this matchup. He comes up with the goods every now and again, so maybe this will be the occasion for him, but there won't be any United supporters holding their breath over that one. David De Gea is going to have to be at his best.
DU: Assuming that Mourinho sticks with Ashley Young at left-back, how he deals with Mohamed Salah could be the key to the game. Salah presents a completely different set of problems than most wide players, because rather than play on the outside, he operates mostly in the space between full-back and centre-back. Few have been able to stop him this year, and those who have had generally needed some good fortune to do it.
SP: Man United to win 2-1. This is a big game, and Mourinho has largely gotten it right for these games at home. United have beaten Spurs and Chelsea at Old Trafford, while only City have a better home record this season. Liverpool have been good on the road but have gotten it wrong in the big games. They were battered by City and Spurs and managed only a draw at the Emirates against Arsenal. Hopefully Klopp gets it all wrong again on Saturday.
DU: Head says Liverpool win comfortably. Gut says United will once again find a way to frustrate and nick it. Liverpool to win 3-1.