Manchester United may be “vulnerable”, particularly at the back, but Liverpool are “in a fragile state and not the greatest form” heading into a crunch clash at Anfield, admits Jason McAteer.
There is always plenty on the line when two old adversaries lock horns, but the stakes are being raised ahead of an eagerly-anticipated meeting on Merseyside this weekend.
Liverpool are the defending Premier League champions and the favourites for many to defend that crown in 2021.
United, though, have overcome questions of consistency and leadership to make their way to the top of the table, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side now looking down on the rest of the division.
McAteer is not convinced that they deserve that standing, but the former Liverpool midfielder concedes that Jurgen Klopp’s men are not in the best of shapes either, telling FreeSuperTips: “Even if Manchester United were to go to Anfield on Sunday and beat Liverpool, the Premier League title isn’t won in January so I’m sure there won’t be too much panic around Liverpool.
“Liverpool are in a fragile state and not in the greatest form. This is due to physical and mental tiredness as the squad is stretched with so many injuries.
“The one thing that worries me about Manchester United is even though they don’t have the best team or that great of a squad, defensively they are so vulnerable - they have the worst defensive record out of the top 11 teams, conceding 24 goals - they’re grinding out results, similarly to the Burnley victory on Tuesday night which bodes well for them.
“Manchester United haven’t faced any real injury adversities this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has always been able to pick from a big pool of players and he’s not lost any of his key men e.g., Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Fred.
“At this current moment in time, Manchester United are doing okay. You can’t deny where they currently are and you have to give them some credit for currently sitting on top of the Premier League, which makes this weekend’s match all the more exciting.
“Liverpool have the best home record and so far United haven’t lost away from home, so it could be a classic, which is something we’ve not had for a long time.”
Liverpool will be without a number of key men once again when they face United, with McAteer admitting that untimely injuries have become a cause for serious concern.
He added: “The fact that Jurgen Klopp has had to keep changing the squad due to all of the injuries disrupts the flow of the team. Since Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool, the team has had 41 or 42 different centre-back combinations which is phenomenal.
“Jordan Henderson played at centre-back recently alongside Fabinho, the two young kids (Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams) have been rotated in and out of the team, and the rhythm has been non-existent. When you take Fabinho out of the midfield, there is a big gap that forms. Especially when Liverpool play away from home, it entices the opposition to attack more which makes teams less frightened of asking questions of Liverpool.
“In Liverpool’s games this season against Everton, Brighton and Fulham, they’ve dropped points when usually you feel Liverpool would win. However, in this current climate with the way Liverpool play and how they are set up away from home, teams are more confident and aren’t as frightened to attack as they were previously. Liverpool have made mistakes and been punished for them.
“However, come May at the end of the season, Manchester City and Liverpool will be fighting for the league title and Manchester United will combust as the season develops.”