Title hopes, pressure on Solskjaer and Salah v Ronaldo – why Man Utd v Liverpool is as big as ever

Mohamed Salah, Jurgen Klopp, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cristiano Ronaldo
Mohamed Salah and Jurgen Klopp go head to head with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cristiano Ronaldo on Sunday

Manchester United and Liverpool go head to head this weekend in one of English football’s big rivalries – and it is as important as ever.

Both sides have city rivals in the Premier League, but for many the big one is the meeting of the sides separated by 32 miles.

This is their 202nd meeting, with United winning 81 and Liverpool winning 68 so far.

The last match between these sides – at Old Trafford in May – was postponed as United fans protested against the club’s owners. Liverpool won the rearranged game 4-2.

United are trying to show they can compete for the big trophies this year, as Liverpool look to bounce back from last season’s disappointment.

BBC Sport looks at some potential talking points.

Man Utd v Liverpool head to head record

A key moment in United’s title hopes?

United are sixth in the table going into Sunday’s action with four wins, two draws and two defeats from eight games.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side only have one point from their last three games and, if they are to challenge for the title, they must find some form quickly.

In four of the past seven seasons, the title winners have only lost two or three league games all season.

Last season, Manchester City won the title with 86 points, the lowest title-winning haul since Leicester in 2016. To even reach that amount, United need to average 2.4 points a game for the rest of the season.

Liverpool, in third place, are unbeaten but their gap over United would only be a point if the Red Devils win.

BBC Sport’s Simon Stone said: “Speak to some Manchester United fans and they are quietly optimistic about their meeting with Liverpool. Their team might have only won three of their last eight games but, the theory goes, Liverpool at Old Trafford is exactly the kind of game where United’s star names will excel.

“Frequent discussion about never knowing which United team will turn up really revolves around inherent weaknesses in the manager’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

“At the top of the pitch, the players don’t work hard enough when they do not have the ball, it is claimed. That puts pressure on those behind.

“No matter which personnel are deployed, the midfield two do not function effectively as a pivot between defence and attack, which exposes issues, either technical or physical, at the back, exposing David de Gea in goal.”

Liverpool, the forgotten title contenders

There was a strange dynamic in the summer when everybody was discussing the two-way title race between Manchester City and Chelsea.

Of 20 BBC pundits, 13 tipped City and seven tipped Chelsea with nobody predicting Liverpool to win the title.

One expert did not even predict Liverpool to finish in the top four.

But Liverpool won the 2019-20 Premier League title by 18 points – and 33 points above third place.

They finished in third, 17 points behind City last season – but they were hindered by several defensive injuries, most notably to Virgil van Dijk.

The Dutch centre-back has returned now and Liverpool are unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions this season, scoring 36 goals.

Salah v Ronaldo – who will come out on top?

Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo (r) has won all four matches he has played against Mohamed Salah before (Real Madrid v Roma, Portugal v Egypt, Real Madrid v Liverpool)

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move back to Old Trafford made all the headlines this summer but he is being outshone by Mohamed Salah in the Premier League this season.

Salah has scored seven goals in eight games – including two goal-of-the-season contenders. He is joint top of the scorers list with Jamie Vardy – and joint second on assists with four.

Ronaldo, by contrast, has three goals and no assists in five games – fewer than Hwang Hee-chan, Ismaila Sarr, Callum Wilson and Neal Maupay.

In all competitions, the gap between Salah (12 goals) and Ronaldo (six goals) is starker.

Salah is known by Liverpool fans as the king – can he now prove he is the Premier League’s top star?

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said: “Why should we compare Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah? Obviously both are world-class players, so that’s how it is.

“I would say even when Ronaldo’s left foot is not that bad, but I would say Mo’s left foot is probably better.

“Maybe Cristiano in the air is slightly better and the right foot is probably better. But speed-wise they are both pretty quick, very desperate to score goals – so maybe that’s it.”

Protest issues have not gone away – analysis

Simon Stone, BBC Sport

On 18 October, Manchester United confirmed via its own investor relations channels that Kevin and Edward Glazer had raised $161.31m (£116.97m) through their share sale in Manchester United. Three weeks earlier, Joel Glazer attended his second fans’ forum in just over three months – after never previously going to one in 16 years of his family’s ownership of the club.

While the visit of Liverpool to Old Trafford is a stark reminder of the trouble that caused last season’s game to be called off after fans broke into the stadium and spilled onto the pitch, breaking Covid restrictions in the process, the two matters involving United’s owners are related.

Joel Glazer broke his silence after the Liverpool debacle, which was triggered by a combination of long-standing disenchantment with the owners and the fallout from the doomed European Super League project.

One of the key demands made by supporters was for greater fan involvement. To that end, Glazer is working with the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) to put together a share scheme.

Yet, if they so wanted, fans could have bought the shares two of the Glazer family have just sold.

True, they weren’t ‘voting’ shares, which is what MUST want. But look at the cost. Over £100m. It is estimated in order to buy United, it will cost £3bn.

It is impossible to imagine MUST get near that figure through fans alone. Which means that for the Glazers to leave, it will take some very rich individuals to invest. And this would be into a club which now has three domestic rivals – Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle – who have access to substantially more funds, which suggests anything like a repeat of the sustained glory days enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson will be tough.

Further mass demonstrations are not anticipated this weekend. But the problems at Manchester United have not gone away.

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