LIVERPOOL will go into the northwest derby against Manchester United with renewed confidence.
After grinding out a hard-fought 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers midweek, belief is starting to grow as the Reds have been performing much better in the league compared to the earlier part of the season.
Notwithstanding the 5-2 mauling by a superb Real Madrid team and the drab goalless draw with Crystal Palace after that, the players are starting to play with more cohesion.
Despite a slow start against Wolves, Liverpool showed their true talent in the second half by controlling the game with ease.
The return of several injured players, including Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Ibrahima Konate, is also critical to Liverpool’s fortunes as they push for a top-four finish.
Only Luis Diaz and Thiago Alcantara are still unavailable for the next few weeks, and manager Jurgen Klopp will soon have a bigger squad for a concentrated run to the end of the season.
At present, the German boss is able to put out a strong team to face Manchester United.
Barring any last-minute injuries, the back-four should be Trent Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson, who was rested for the game against Wolves, while Alisson Becker remains a permanent figure between the posts.
Since being thrown in at the deep end by Klopp a couple of months ago, 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic has been the club’s best player and a revelation in a lacklustre Liverpool midfield.
He has continued to show his mettle and play better with each passing game.
His willingness to get his foot in tackling opponents while making progressive runs or passes forward, has given the Reds more bite, which will be crucial against an upbeat Red Devils squad.
With Fabinho also seemingly playing well again, it will be a no-brainer for them to be retained in the starting line-up against Erik ten Hag’s team.
Jordan Henderson is also expected to be recalled to the starting lineup against Man United after starting on the bench against Wolves.
Jota, who provided an assist for van Dijk midweek, will be expected to start the game too, alongside Nunez and Mohamed Salah who maintained his record of scoring at least 20 goals a season for the Reds.
The Egyptian, who has scored 10 times against Man United, is one goal short of equalling Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler’s 128 league goals and will be keen to get on the scoresheet again.
Further improvement will be needed though, and Klopp will want to ensure that his players are well prepared to face a resurgent Man Utd side.
After lifting the Carabao League Cup last weekend, the Red Devils will also be buoyed by their 3-1 victory over West Ham United in the FA Cup fifth round in midweek.
An in-form Marcus Rashford, who is the club’s top scorer with 14 league goals this season, will be the one Liverpool need to be careful of.
The Englishman is known for his love of scoring against the Merseyside club, and Alexander-Arnold could be in for a rough ride.
Since moving from Real Madrid, Casemiro has been a colossal figure for Man United, providing more bite in midfield to stop attacks compared to previous seasons and getting his name on the scoresheet too while helping others find the back of the net.
With the Brazilian controlling the middle of the park, it allows the likes of Bruno Fernandes or Antony to go forward.
Man United are still in the running for three more trophies, and this is a testament to ten Hag’s coaching and managerial acumen.
The Dutch manager has already led his team to a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford earlier in the season, but Anfield will be an entirely different matter.
Van Dijk, in his midweek post-match press conference, called on the supporters to bring a “big atmosphere,” and said they would be crucial to helping the team against a club that had not won at Anfield since January 2016.
A match between two of England’s most successful clubs often brings out the best in each other, so this could be a classic.