Graham Cummins: United need to beat Liverpool if they're contenders

After digging out crucial results, Man U must now win a big game
Graham Cummins: United need to beat Liverpool if they're contenders

Manchester United's Paul Pogba celebrates scoring against Burnley. Liverpool will be a serious step up. Picture: Clive Brunskill/PA Wire.

IT’S been a long time since a Liverpool and Manchester United game was a contest between two genuine title contenders.

In recent seasons, this fixture was an obstacle for Liverpool who had bigger fish to fry in terms of Manchester City whereas United saw it as their way to spoil Liverpool’s title ambitions.

If you had said to me at the beginning of the season that come January, this game has the potential to be a title decider, I would have laughed.

I never envisioned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team being more than a side who might be capable of finishing in the top-four but with just over half the season remaining, United must be considered title contenders.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

United being in the hunt in the league isn’t due to their brilliance, it's down to them being able to grind out results and other teams including Liverpool, taking their foot off the pedal.

Many anticipated, that this season’s Premier League would be a two-horse race between City and Liverpool. Pep Guardiola side started the season sloppy allowing Jurgen Klopp’s side get a head start on City, but the Manchester club seem to have recently regained their mojo and are now favourites to win the title.

Liverpool have gone in the opposite direction with some very poor results of late. It was always going to be a struggle trying to find the answer of how to replace Virgil van Dijk and at the start it seemed Klopp had found that answer but Liverpool have struggled recently and the idea of continuing with Jordan Henderson as a centre-back is not sustainable if Liverpool want to remain champions.

Henderson is an excellent player and I’m sure is more than capable of playing in defence otherwise Klopp wouldn’t have selected him to play there. 

Henderson might be a good centre-back but he’s not good enough to play in defence in a team that wants to win the title.

That’s not a dig at Henderson because centre-back is not his natural position and he is simply trying to do a job to help his team. By using Henderson as a centre-back, Klopp is harming the team in two ways. He’s losing the player that brings energy to Liverpool’s midfield and weakens the defence by playing a player in an unnatural position.

Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are rightly considered one of the best attacking-trios in the world. Whenever Liverpool struggled in the past, they knew they could count on the three to dig them out of a hole.

Liverpool's Mo Salah celebrates scoring at Anfield. Picture: Peter Powell/PA Wire.
Liverpool's Mo Salah celebrates scoring at Anfield. Picture: Peter Powell/PA Wire.

What’s unique about these three players is their relationship on the pitch and how well they work together but recently they seem to be playing more as individuals rather than as a unit.

I would be worried as a Liverpool fan about Salah.

The former Chelsea player is still having a fantastic season, but his attitude seems like a player fed-up of the club. I know the fact that there aren’t supporters in grounds, players might feel awkward celebrating a goal but Salah mopes rather than celebrates.

He’s also made comments expressing his disappointment at not being given the armband in the club’s recent Champions League clash against FC Midtjylland.

Salah is acting like a player that is angling for a move and I’m worried his behaviour is having a negative effect on the rest of the team. This transfer window is not the right time to sell him but if Salah continues to act like this, Klopp will have a big decision in the summer.

LUCK

I didn’t think he would be a man capable of it but Solskjaer has got all his players singing off the same hymn sheet. United rode their luck in a lot of games this season but somehow have managed to win games.

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani celebrates with his team-mates.
Manchester United's Edinson Cavani celebrates with his team-mates.

To win a league, United must show they can win a ‘big game’. Their semi-final record shows that when the pressure is on, they will crumble. The players will continue to question their ability until they do win one of those big games.

The United players will talk in the dressing room and even joke about winning the league but victory over Liverpool this weekend will change the mindset at Old Trafford that the dream of winning the title could become a reality.

Sunday’s game will suit United because all the pressure is on Liverpool to show why they are champions.

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