GLEN JOHNSON: Ahead of traditionally the biggest game in English football, former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson previews the matchup, and makes his case for why the Ballon D’Or should be heading to Anfield this year.
Man Utd and Liverpool poles apart
Based on current evidence as well as league position, Sunday’s game between Manchester United and Liverpool looks a bit of a mismatch. If you look at the depth in each squad there is a huge difference between the two. When I was growing up and for the majority of my career, United were the stronger side and often dominated this fixture, but it’s a completely different story now and the 15-point gap between the two shows that. Liverpool have quality throughout their side, whereas United don’t have the calibre of players they once had and at the moment they are a long way behind the Reds.
Ole needs results and fast
It’s clear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a good result and quickly. It doesn’t matter who it is against, for a club of United’s stature to be where they are in the league isn’t good enough and if things don’t improve he’ll surely struggle to keep his job. I don’t think it will come after this game though as Liverpool can beat anyone on their day and they’ve shown in the eight games so far that they are the best side in the league at the moment. If they were to get hammered, then the board might look at things, but having played in this fixture on a number of occasions, it’s very rare for one side to get hammered.
I expect Liverpool to win, but I don’t see a 4-0 or 5-0 drubbing like many are suggesting. I know how much United will want to get a result especially with it being at Old Trafford, and I’m sure they won’t make it easy for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Liverpool don’t have anything to fear though, they’re going there with all the confidence in the world and they’ve developed that brilliant trait of winning games when they might not be at their best. This used to be a game when they’d be happy with a point, but you look at the gulf between the two and you think this is a game Liverpool should be winning.
United v Liverpool is the standout Premier League fixture
There are plenty of big games throughout the course of the season, but the United game is the one. All Liverpool players immediately circle it in the calendar when the fixtures are announced and it’s the game that we all looked forward to most. It’s always nice to get an away win, but to do it at Old Trafford was always extra special given the rivalry between the two clubs and what this game means to the fans.
When I was playing we’d often go there as the underdogs and we quite often thrived under that tag. I was lucky enough to get a few good results there which was great and the buzz around the dressing room afterwards was different to when we beat other teams.
City can’t afford any more slip-ups
The way Liverpool have started this season, it’s hard to see them dropping many points and that means Manchester City have pretty much got to be perfect from now until May. Liverpool will drop points, but it’s hard to see them dropping any more than 12, meaning City have got hardly any room for error. You’d imagine they more or less need to win all of their remaining games to have a chance of lifting the title.
A trip to Selhurst Park is never easy and while I enjoyed some good results there, I also had some bad days too. It’s a very compact ground and the fans are some of the loudest in the league. They really act as a 12th man, especially when Palace get on a bit of a roll and it certainly won’t be an easy three points for Pep Guardiola and his players.
Mane or Van Dijk worthy winners of the Ballon D’Or
You can build a case for either Sadio Mane or Virgil Van Dijk winning the Ballon D’Or. Both have been top-class for Liverpool over the past couple of seasons and it would be nice to see someone win it who isn’t Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Both have been unbelievable for a long period of time and thoroughly deserve the accolades they’ve achieved, but Mane and Van Dijk have been equally brilliant over the past year or so and are more than worthy of receiving the award this year.
If I had to name a top-three, it would be Mane, Van Dijk and Ronaldo.
Only one defender has won it since 2000 and I don’t think defenders are given a fair crack at the whip when it comes to these prizes. When you look back on big games throughout a season, it’s the goals that people think of. Forwards can play poorly for 80 minutes, but if they score a late winner that’s all forgotten and with defenders it’s not like that. I played in games when I’d walk off thinking I was man of the match, but a teammate would score an injury-time winner and he’d win it!
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