Mark O'Haire has a preview and best bets as Liverpool and Manchester United meet in a crucial Premier League encounter at Anfield.
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Liverpool against Man Utd is undoubtedly one of the globe’s box office fixtures, even if the duo haven’t both been contesting for Premier League honours for quite some time. However, Sunday’s renewal of hostilities at Anfield pits together the two teams at the top of the standings as we creep towards the midway point of this condensed campaign.
Whether this weekend’s encounter proves to be a title decider or not, the narrative leading into the contest surrounds United’s remarkable ascent to the summit. The Red Devils were in apparent disarray following their Champions League exit less than six weeks ago with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer parachuted into favouritism in the Sack Race market; he's now the 40/1 outsider.
It’s remarkable to see United leading the way, just as it is to learn that the visitors have earned more points than any of their rivals since Bruno Fernandes’ debut in February. They have also reached 34 points in six games fewer than last season, again highlighting their upswing in results.
Solskjaer’s side have shown a serious penchant for picking up points on the road too. In fact, United are unbeaten on their Premier League travels since this exact fixture 12 months ago when a team featuring Brandon Williams and Andreas Pereira – missing the likes of Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial – were beaten 2-0.
Liverpool were 4/9 favourites to succeed that day, en-route to their overdue title triumph, but they weren’t completely convincing winners.
The second goal arrived in stoppage time with the contest following a familiar theme between these two sides over recent campaigns - close, competitive and relatively low-scoring.
Only three of the last 12 match-ups have produced over 2.5 goals despite the gulf in quality between the duo on several occasions.
Sunday’s contest could be more about protection and preservation rather than ferocity and fury. Indeed, nine of 14 meetings between Big Six sides this term have already featured fewer than three goals and I get the impression both camps would happily settle for a share of the spoils.
With that in mind, alongside my impression that this fixture could fall below the expected goals line, I’m happy to take on the draw at a chunky 29/10 with Unibet.
Home advantage has eroded this season, plus injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have afflicted Liverpool in their defence of the title. Chuck in a few wobbly recent efforts and it’s understandable to see interest in the Reds cool, whilst United will know a cautious approach based around containment and counter-attacking could prove prosperous.
Having edged towards a low-scoring stalemate, there is a bigger-priced punt to be considered.
Harry Maguire is 11/2 with Sky Bet to land one or more headed shots on-target and that stands out considering the England defender's presence in the opposition box against a potential Liverpool XI that lacks height and ballast.
Maguire has managed an attempt at goal in 13 of his 17 league outings thus far, with 15 of his overall 21 efforts arriving via his head. This same selection would have paid out in midweek without the implementation of VAR and I suspect the United skipper will again be targeted by Bruno Fernandes’ pinpoint delivery from set-piece situations.
Score prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United (Sky Bet odds: 6/1)
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