EPL Betting Preview: Manchester United at Liverpool
Despite the massive 27-point gap between runaway league-leaders Liverpool and fifth-placed Manchester United, this remains one of the biggest games on the English soccer calendar. Liverpool look to have the league title wrapped up, and despite manager Jurgen Klopp’s insistence that the team will not get ahead of itself, a convincing victory against rival Manchester United would feel like something of a coronation, and perhaps the clear beginning of a new era of Liverpool dominance.
Manchester United spent two decades overhauling Liverpool as English soccer’s most successful domestic team, fulfilling legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s desire to “knock Liverpool off its perch,” and there must be a special feeling amongst Liverpool fans, who can finally feel that Liverpool is back on top. The fact that there is such a gulf between the two clubs only makes it that much sweeter. Even though the outcome of this game will almost certainly not matter as Liverpool should coast to the title, a win here really does matter. It would be a statement for Liverpool that the past is past.
Interestingly, despite the fact that Liverpool are trying to make sure it wins its first EPL title in 30 years, this particular game probably means more to Manchester United. There’s not much left at the moment, in this rivalry, to play for other than pride. It may sound silly, but it will mean something to Manchester United to say that it did not lose against Liverpool in its title-winning campaign. Outside of the sentimental value attached to this game, it is actually of more importance to the present and short-term future of Manchester United. The club is desperate to qualify for the Champions League, as every year away from soccer’s top competition will only do more damage to its efforts to recruit top players and figure out a way to re-emerge as a legitimate contender for trophies in Europe and in England. United is currently fifth in the EPL table, which would qualify the club for the Europa League, but that’s simply not enough for a club of this size. The Red Devils sit five points back of fourth-placed Chelsea. Despite a frustratingly inconsistent season, Manchester United has much to play for.
All that said, it’s very difficult to see Manchester United getting a win in this spot. In the team’s last meeting, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played a very conservative 5-3-2 formation, in deference to Liverpool’s superiority. The tactics proved useful, as United managed a 1-1 tie, and remain the only team in the league to take even a single point off of the leaders. However, it feels far less likely that such an approach will work at Anfield. Liverpool have 11 wins from 11 games at home in the EPL this season, and their versatility will likely be too much for Manchester United to deal with. While United would love to sit back and use its pace on the counter-attack, Liverpool are not as dependent as a team like Manchester City on possession. Liverpool can score in pretty much any manner, whether from short passing play in the final third, crosses, set pieces, or the devastating counterattacks of the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
Making matters more difficult is that while there doesn’t seem to be any tactical option for United, other than to sit back and try to use its speed when the opportunity arises, the team is likely to be without Marcus Rashford, who is the most important player for the Reds when trying to play this way. He’s the team’s leading scorer, most creative attacker, and fastest player. If he cannot play, or if he’s even less than fully fit, this tough task may become something closer to impossible.
Liverpool are the best team in world soccer at the moment. The team has won nine straight games and has not conceded a single goal in its last seven. However, there may be reason to consider going over the total here. For starters, it is almost unfathomable that Liverpool will not score a goal. The last time it was held scoreless at Anfield was October 7, 2018, a span of 27 home games. Not to be too blunt, but there’s every chance Liverpool could hit the total all on its own. In its last game against high-quality opposition, United were utterly embarrassed at home, conceding three goals in the opening 38 minutes. If Rashford is not available as an outlet, this team could be overrun. However, if there’s something United can hold onto, it’s that Liverpool have actually shown a tendency to ship goals at home. In eleven home games, Liverpool have conceded nine goals, as opposed to only five given up in its ten away matches.
As is often the case in betting soccer totals, game script is very important. There’s just so many ways this game can get to three goals. If United can catch Liverpool by surprise with the first goal, it will almost certainly go into a defensive shell. Looking at the poor results United have gotten when playing with a lead, there’s no reason to trust they will not concede once Liverpool floods forward. If Liverpool get up early, the floodgates could come open. If United are losing, Solskjaer will have to show at least some intent to salvage something, given how badly his team need points. If he tries to attack, Liverpool’s attacking force will have exactly the space it needs to embarrass Manchester United. Laying -145 to get a total of 2.5 goals is not the easiest call, but this game should have goals in it.