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Manchester United's Match With Historic Rivals Liverpool Couldn't Be Coming At A Worse Time

It's only been two matches, but Erik ten Hag's Manchester United side are reeling. A match against Liverpool won't make things any easier.

By Andrew Woodin
English Premier League Head Butt

The seemingly inevitable Premier League hellscape awaiting Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United squad in their upcoming match against bitter rival Liverpool could haunt The Red Devils for the entire season. After a 2-1 loss to Brighton on their on their own turf, it didn’t seem like life for Man United could get any worse, but an abysmal 4-0 thrashing from Brentford quickly proved otherwise. Now, with Liverpool salivating at the thought of dealing a familiar foe a soul-destroying loss, here are a couple things to watch for.

Man United’s Dysfunction vs. Liverpool’s Cohesion

Revered for its fierce rivalry, the first North-West Derby played between the two, fabled clubs occurred April 28, 1894, and though The Red Devils lead the series with 81 wins, it’s been a horror show so far this season for Man United, who currently sit at zero points through two match weeks. Their disjointed nature now feels systemic, metastasizing through the ranks with one rumor after another. Besides Cristiano Ronaldo’s issues, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sacho can’t seem to gel, and the defense is slow to check marks. It’s a shame to say it, but ten Hag’s team truly lacks the hunger and the will of Premier League champions.

Meanwhile, though Jürgen Klopp’s crew hasn’t exactly been wreaking havoc with two draws to its name, Liverpool is the number-one team this season when it comes to expected goals (xG) at
4.58. Part of Klopp’s strategy all along involved preaching his mantra of team unity which has been the glue to hold the boys of Anfield together despite a litany of injuries. In essence, Liverpool’s the polar opposite of Man United. Disheartened and saturated with discord, The Red Devils don’t have much to play for, while Liverpool will be looking to earn its 3rd straight away victory against Man United for the first time in history.

Darwin Nunez’s Absence May Triggers Salah Opportunity

Darwin Nunez made a costly mistake after allowing himself to be drawn into a physical altercation with Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen, head-butting the center back and getting sent off with a straight red card. That means he'll be riding the pine in this match, courtesy of an obligatory three-match red card suspension. His presence will be missed, considering Liverpool’s nearly 4.6 xG mark, 2.5 of which have the youngster’s name on it.

Despite Man United wanting to capitalize on Nunez’s absence, this could ultimately seal the team’s demise, as shifting Mohamed Salah to the center is a distinct possibility and that may result in increased shot creation. The Egyptian has played well with Harvey Elliot and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the wide spaces, and by shifting centrally, Salah will have considerably more space to showcase his lethality in front of the goal. The seven times he’s played as a center forward away from Anfield, he has scored, so look for the wily striker to be out on the hunt early.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Temperament

The superstar has been noticeably crabby on the pitch this season, and CBS Sports reports that his agent Jorge Mendes is actively crafting his exit that could send CR7 to Borussia Dortmund. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. In what must surely be an alternate reality, for once in his career, Ronaldo seems to lack his signature intensity and willingness to battle his way behind defensive lines. Neutralized before he even starts, he tepidly slips back into the midfield, creating more problems as he gobbles up his teammates' space.  

Erik ten Hag’s Leadership

Part of what hinders ten Hag is the recent pattern of wobbly leadership at Old Trafford, stemming from eight different managers since club icon Sir Alex Ferguson departed in 2013. It’s no wonder they look so disconnected, but ten Hag can do a lot to help right the ship. Even if they force a draw, fighting tooth and nail down to the final whistle will go a long with the fans and pundits alike. Persevering in the face of major adversity will show the world ten Hag can command a legendary club. Deep down, his squad is craving that leadership – there’s just too much talent there to squander. Marching his men into a hard-fought battle might just be his last shot at salvation.

Conversely, Jürgen Klopp’s been a rock since joining Liverpool, and it’s evident he’s cultivated a unified band of brothers who have bought into the German manager’s philosophy. The team’s collective play is a radiant beacon, routinely evident in their zest for the game.

Though The Red Devils haven’t fired a manager mid-season since the 70’s, if ten Hag can’t lead his squad to even some sort of consolation prize, odds to remain at Old Trafford won’t be in the Dutch manager’s favor. Despite the Herculean task aside, there’s a potential ray of light at the end of tunnel. Injuries to Liverpool could be the lifeline Man United needs to stay competitive in this match. Joining an exhausting list that includes, among others, Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones and Joel Matip, Thiago Alcântara’s unavailability due to a hamstring injury sustained during Liverpool's 2-2 draw to Fulham leaves The Reds dangerously vulnerable in the middle, so if Man United can find the will, there is a way.

Be sure to catch the match Monday at 3 p.m. ET on Peacock.

Prediction: Liverpool 2, Manchester United 0

Watch Premier League coverage on USA Network, featuring Premier League Mornings, select matches, and Premier League Goal Zone (check listings for games/schedule). And catch up on all the action on Peacock.

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