Another weekend of football awaits, headlined by one of the fiercest games in the world – Liverpool against Manchester United. It will be the 212th time those two lock horns since 1894, and once again, a mightily important battle for at least one of the sides.
“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch. And you can print that.”
September 2002, and wise words from Sir Alex Ferguson of course. Can anyone argue with that? Probably not, as Liverpool had dominated English football for most of the 1970s (five titles) and 1980s (six titles) when Ferguson arrived on the scene in 1986. United, who had last lifted the trophy in 1967, celebrated six times between 1991 and 2002 while Liverpool were left empty-handed.
United kept on winning until Ferguson retired in 2013, having just bagged his 13th and United’s 20th league title (to Liverpool’s 18). But even that was more than ten years ago. The quote is now 21 years old, living its best life. How time flies and things change.
While Liverpool is still behind United all-time (they got their hands on a 19th title in 2019/20, but have not been able to get the elusive 20th despite collecting 97 and 92 points in losing seasons), they have been the better team for … well, maybe not for the past ten years, but five, minimum. Maybe even six or seven.
This is not a local derby like Real vs Atletico, Arsenal vs Tottenham, or Milan vs Inter. They have local rivals too, but Everton last won a title when the Berlin Wall was still a thing and Manchester City more or less became relevant after United’s demise had already begun. The cities have been jealous of each other ever since the 18th century; this is where their competitive spirits come from.
So what to expect this time, and which other games are worth attention over the weekend?
All times listed below are in Eastern European Standard Time (GMT+2).
Liverpool – Manchester United
The last time United visited Anfield was on March 5th, just nine months ago. For 43 minutes, it was a tight affair, with Liverpool recycling the ball better but United having more shots on goal. Then Cody Gakpo opened the floodgates. 47th minute, Darwin Nunez. 50th, Gakpo again. 66th, Mohamed Salah. 75th, Nunez. 83rd, Salah. And then Roberto Firmino in the 88th minute. 7-0.
It was the largest winning margin in the 129-year history of the fixture, narrowly passing Liverpool’s 7-1 win in 1895/96 (not a typo). And it was no fluke either. The season before that, it ended 4-0 at Anfield and 5-0 at Old Trafford. United (usually) do better at home, but they have not scored in their last four away games against Liverpool.
All signs point to a repeat. United have an atrocious record against their top-eight rivals, having failed to win any of their last 13 matches against direct competition. The last time it happened, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was still at the helm.
They can not turn shots into goals, as their conversion rate (7.4%) is the lowest in the Premier League; not even good shots, as their xG stands at 25.7, a whopping 7.7 goals from reality (18). And they will be without suspended playmaker Bruno Fernandes, who has contributed to 33% of United’s goals this term and ranks first in the league for created chances.
Liverpool have no such complaints. They are a perfect seven-from-seven at Anfield this season, averaging three goals per game. Mohamed Salah, who has scored 12 times in 12 appearances against United, is fit and raring to go. And a total of 12 players have already found the net for Liverpool this season.
Arsenal – Brighton & Hove Albion
This one should be fun. Brighton has been on fire since Roberto De Zerbi took charge 14 months ago, they have scored in their last 32 Premier League games and conceded in their last 20. A team both scoring and conceding for 20 games straight is almost unheard of: the last time it happened was between December 1957 and August 1958.
For Arsenal, who are in the title fight once again, Brighton has been a nuisance for years now. They have lost their last three home (!) games against the Seagulls, the last of those in May when Brighton left with a 3-0 win. Going further back, Arsenal has won just two out of their last ten meetings (three draws, five losses).
The positives? Arsenal are unbeaten at home since that loss in May (ten wins, two draws), while Bukayo Saka is on fire and Martin Ödegaard turns 25 on the day of the game. The Norwegian has two goals and two assists against Brighton, the most against any opponent in the Premier League.
Real Sociedad – Real Betis
The big three of Atletico Madrid (Athletic Bilbao, away), Barcelona (Valencia, away), and Real Madrid (Villarreal, home) can not take this weekend lightly, but the most intriguing game should be between Sociedad and Betis. They find themselves sixth and seventh, respectively, but are aiming higher after finishing fourth and sixth last season.
One of them just topped a Champions League group, the other will look to do the same in Europa League. But while Sociedad is currently flying higher, Betis has proved to be a serious headache for them; Sociedad is winless in their last five meetings (three draws, two losses), having failed to score in the last four games. Two of the last three ended 0-0.