THE BIG DEBATE: With pressure already mounting on Erik ten Hag after two demoralizing defeats, Manchester United welcome rivals Liverpool to Old Trafford amid a storm of supporter unrest – but who will come out on top?
A dark cloud is brewing again over Old Trafford just weeks into Erik ten Hag’s time in the Manchester United hot-seat.
Having watched his new side fall to defeat at home to Brighton on the opening day, followed by a humiliating defeat at Brentford, the Dutch coach is in desperate need of some points on the board to appease the club’s supporters.
Sadly for him, United’s next opponents couldn’t have been much worse as rivals Liverpool come to town, also in need of their first win of the season. The atmosphere has scarcely changed at United since this fixture was postponed following protests at United’s owners, the Glazer family, back in May 2021, after the failed European Super League plot.
United lost the replayed fixture 4-2, before being hammered in both games against Liverpool last season, including the 5-0 drubbing on home soil. Ten Hag can ill-afford a repeat.
Here Mirror Football reporters have cast their eye over the crunch clash at Old Trafford, giving their predictions, while also offering a few tips to United’s man in the dugout.
Liverpool will win. Jurgen Klopp’s players have a greater willingness to do the basics. To run, to work, to function as a team, to carry out his instructions. Liverpool’s players have a respect for their head coach that the Manchester United squad simply do not have.
United’s players have quality but to a man they are all under-performing alarmingly. It is not a problem you solve with vanity, high-profile signings like Casemiro. You solve it with hard work and brutal decision-making.
So while there will almost certainly be a cursory attempt at putting in a shift because United’s home fans will demand it in this of all fixtures, Ten Hag’s team – the easiest to play against in the Premier right now – will surrender at the first sign of trouble. Particularly if Liverpool start fast, get into their faces and score early.
We might have to watch this one through our fingers. Again.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-4 Liverpool
Liverpool are the overwhelming favourites to win, not least because of United’s crisis of confidence and the fact Jurgen Klopp’s formidable side are superior to their arch rivals in every position.
Erik ten Hag has to find a way to stop United slumping to a third straight defeat and remaining on zero points, and one way of doing that may be to switch new signing Lisandro Martinez from defence to midfield.
With Liverpool not posing the same threat in the air as Brentford did in the recent 4-0 thrashing, Ten Hag could switch Martinez into midfield – where he featured at times for Ajax – to give him more bite and belligerence there, the Argentina international relishing one-on-one duels and recovering possession.
That would enable Ten Hag to bring Raphael Varane into central defence and give United more solidity and experience against Liverpool’s dangerous attack. Yet the one thing United must do, over any tactical or personnel issues, is show far greater hunger and application than they have done in their opening two games.
They must press Liverpool from kick-off and not allow them to run amok, as they did in winning 5-0 at Old Trafford last season. A repeat of United’s passive displays in their first two Premier League outings will see Ten Hag suffer a third successive defeat.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-2 Liverpool, or 1-3. Can’t decide!
Remember Liverpool’s procession to the Premier League crown in 2020?
Jurgen Klopp had it sewn up, and in the bag, before we even went into lockdown.
Not that it mattered, in the bigger picture, when Klopp delivered the first title at Anfield in 30 years, but the only points Liverpool dropped in their first 27 games were at Old Trafford. We all thought Manchester United were miles off the pace that season – and we were right.
But United still summoned the fire and brimstone to battle for a 1-1 draw to dent the Kop’s 100 per cent record in their ninth game. Even with United at their lowest ebb for half a century, they still have the players to make life difficult for Liverpool if Erik ten Hag arranges them in an effective formation.
If he makes the mistake of trying to accommodate Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen in the same side, Ten Hag is heading for more pain. But if he sets up a team that is compact, and designed to hit Liverpool on the break – much as Crystal Palace did a week ago – they can get off the mark, even if it’s only a point.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool
Despite Liverpool’s injury problems and stuttering start to the campaign, I still expect them to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford.
They may be missing the suspended Darwin Nunez and the injured Diogo Jota, but they still have Mohamed Salah, who was superb against United last season, Luis Diaz and Roberto Firmino in attack. The two games last season were not even competitive as Liverpool ran out 9-0 aggregate winners and the gap between the two fierce rivals has never been wider.
It may have closed slightly because of Liverpool’s issues, but United have not improved and have made a disastrous start to the season. Erik ten Hag’s side cannot do any of the basics right and it is hard to see them getting a result.
Ten Hag has so many issues, he probably doesn’t know where to start and this should be the game to give Liverpool their first league win and get them up and running.
Prediction: Manchester United 0 Liverpool 2
Jurgen Klopp has got some fairly serious injury and suspension issues but his team will still be a class above Manchester United.
Even without the banned Darwin Nunez, it is hard to see Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz not having any joy against a United defence that looks shot to pieces.
Not only do Liverpool operate on a different level to Erik ten Hag’s team, they now own this fixture, suffering their last Premier League defeat against United back in March, 2018.
Liverpool have looked a little shaky in the central defensive area but United have looked utterly ineffective going forward and it would take only the most optimistic of home fans to see their side outscoring Liverpool.
Ten Hag’s best bet will be to sit deep and try and hit Klopp’s side on the counter-attack but if they get their first point of the Premier League season, it will be a good result for United.
Prediction: Manchester United 0 Liverpool 3
Victory might well be too much to ask from Manchester United. Avoiding a thrashing sounds like a more realistic aim for a side completely devoid of confidence.
Luckily, this appears to be as good a time as any to face Liverpool, who have drawn their opening two Premier League games. Still, memories of the 5-0 thrashing at Old Trafford from October will remain sharp in the minds.
That day it was Mohamed Salah who tore Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to shreds and the Liverpool forward needs proper marshalling this time around. Erik ten Hag simply has to drop Luke Shaw for new arrival Tyrell Malacia.
But beyond personnel changes, the manager needs a complete buy-in for work-rate. The 13.8km Brentford out-ran them last weekend should be a point of embarrassment. A reaction – just in terms of hard work, application and concentration – is the bare minimum target.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-2 Liverpool
It’s hard to see any other result. Yes, Liverpool failed to win their opening two Premier League games – but that doesn’t mean they’ve become a bad team overnight. And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest United are still that shambolic excuse for a football team we witnessed last season.
United fans won’t be hoping for a point or a surprise win, they’ll be praying it’s not another 5-0 annihilation. That seems possible if Erik ten Hag deploys Fred and Scott McTominay in midfield and Harry Maguire and Lisandro Martinez in a back four again. He’s got to try something different and perhaps playing Martinez in midfield or as part of a back three could work.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool
Erik ten Hag may as well find a genie for all the good that it will do, with Manchester United still a total mess. It is virtually impossible to see anything other than a Liverpool win, and a comfortable one at that.
Jurgen Klopp’s men will have far too much for the Red Devils at Old Trafford on Monday night. Likely the only way for Ten Hag to avoid defeat is to abandon his principles and attempt to shut up shop.
Playing with a back five would be the only way to do that, with a plan to frustrate Liverpool’s attacking players. Though the visitors have looked far from their true selves in the first weeks of the season, United’s humiliation at Brentford showed they are susceptible to a team who have a strong tactical plan.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-3 Liverpool
It appears ridiculous that just three matches into a season, a Manchester United manager would be fearing for their job but that is the exact situation Erik ten Hag finds himself in. The Dutchman has endured a nightmare start to life at Old Trafford and could start his tenure with three consecutive defeats should the Red Devils lose to Liverpool this evening.
Whilst supporters will crave a win over their great rivals, damage limitation is surely the task at hand for United at Old Trafford. They simply cannot afford a heavy defeat and instead need to stop the rot.