You often have to be wary of a wounded animal. This is what to keep in mind, while the crisis is brewing in two behemoths of English football. Monday evening (9 p.m.), Manchester United receives Liverpool at Old Trafford for the third day of the Premier League. This prestigious poster has certainly lost its luster in recent years, especially since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson coinciding with the decline of the Red Devils across the Channel. But this England derby is nonetheless an extremely awaited clash in Her Majesty’s Kingdom, opposing the two teams that have triumphed the most on the national scene (20 titles for MU, 19 for Liverpool).
This first clash of the 2022-2023 season, which comes very early in the calendar, will also have a very special flavor, Man United and Liverpool pointing respectively to 20th and 12th place in the standings. Blame it on a failed start to the season on each side, with, however, a much more alarmist trend on the side of the Red Devils. The latter first fell to everyone’s surprise on their lawn against Brighton (1-2), before completely collapsing in Brentford (0-4) the following weekend. For their part, the Reds were jostled at Fulham (2-2) before struggling against Crystal Palace at Anfield (1-1).
Liverpool far from imperial
Vice-champions of England and Europe in title, the men of Jürgen Klopp turned the page on Sadio Mané (transferred to Bayern Munich) this summer. The Senegalese was replaced by Darwin Núñez, recruited for 75 M€ in Benfica. Otherwise, there are no major changes to report on the Anfield Road side. And yet, the conquering face displayed by Liverpool in recent months in the league is struggling to return to the meadow. At Craven Cottage, the Reds were eaten in the impact and envy against the promoted Londoner. They did extremely well, thanks in particular to their Uruguayan recruit. Much more dominant in the game against the Eagles, the LFC (author of its worst start to the season for 10 years) fished in the decisive zone, showing a flagrant lack of creativity and inspiration.
All against a low block that undermined the sometimes naive Reds on the counter. Núñez, who completely cracked in his duel with Joachim Andersen, will have to wait to experience his first derby in England. Aware that this match will not be a cakewalk, Klopp explained that he would have preferred to find a fitter MU. “We know what is at stake in this match and we will be 1000% ready. It just helps United to be even more motivated, if that’s possible in the situations we find ourselves in. I would rather play them after a 5-0 win, definitely. It’s like that, but it’s not dreamland and we have to take it as it is. The whole world will watch [le derby], let’s see how these heavyweights handle the situation. »
A more than worrying United
After the arrival of Erik ten Hag to replace Ralf Rangnick on the Manchester United bench, many Mancunian fans were enthusiastic. The interesting summer preparation of Anthony Martial’s partners also had something to reassure them. But they quickly became disenchanted when the fateful moment arrived, namely the Premier League. Whether against the Seagulls or on the lawn of Brentford, the Red Devils have been far too feverish to hope for a better start to the championship this year. Worrying in the game and unable to find offensive solutions, MU especially scuttled against the Bees.
The Dutch manager’s game principles turned against him and his team, who were mentally fragile and whose ability to bounce back was sorely lacking against two opponents who were far from impregnable. Is the soap opera Cristiano Ronaldo playing a nasty trick on Man United? Or is this catastrophic start just the result of adapting to the new cycle embodied by Erik ten Hag? The former Ajax coach, present at a press conference on Friday, in any case pointed to the state of mind of his players.
“I was definitely not happy. The basics have to be right and it has to start with the right attitude. You need a fighting spirit on the pitch and I didn’t see that from the first minute. The players didn’t play well, a lot of things went wrong. You don’t have to talk about anything else when the attitude isn’t good”released Ten Hag, before discussing the importance of triumphing against Liverpool. “I know the rivalry. We are the rivals. We have to win every game, but especially this game. It starts with ourselves: act as a team, follow the results and the principles and we will gain confidence. »
Maguire out, a Salah record?
It remains to be seen whether the message will be heard and understood by Mancunians. Ten Hag does not intend to stand idly by. While waiting for Casemiro, to strengthen an overly soft midfielder, the Batavian could decide to do without their captain, Harry Maguire, and reinstate Raphaël Varane at his central hinge alongside rookie Lisandro Martinez. Opposite, Liverpool will be hungrier than ever, with the desire to finally start their season. Especially since in the ranks of the Reds, a certain Mohamed Salah will have the opportunity to become the top scorer of this prestigious poster, ahead of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. After an attacking Liverpool festival last year (0-5, hat-trick from Salah), Old Trafford could well be the scene of a memorable meeting. Especially when two injured beasts are grappling.