Marcus Rashford's absence to make Anfield task much tougher - despite Manchester United's good recent record against Liverpool
Klopp may have a poor record against Liverpool's great rivals, but United are missing their chief goal threat at Anfield
After Chelsea lost for the eighth time this season on Saturday, Manchester United could move within two points of third place if they win on Sunday.
There’s a slight problem, since their game in hand is at their greatest rivals Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp’s irrepressible team. The European and world champions have won 20 or their 21 league games so far, the best ever start for any top-flight English football team.
They are 13 points ahead of the champions Manchester City in second after Pep Guardiola’s side drew at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday – and Liverpool have two games in hand.
The 27-point gap between Liverpool and United has never been wider at this point in the league season - and Liverpool have a game in hand.
A win for Liverpool, like the one last season which proved Jose Mourinho’s final game as United manager, would seem inevitable, but United are the only team to take points off them so far and came within five minutes of victory at Old Trafford in October.
Klopp’s record against United is a poor one, too. His team have only won two of his 10 games against United, a far lower ratio than against any other team in his career.
It’s not only the manager who struggles. Liverpool’s brilliant front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have scored one goal between them against United. Cimpare that to the 17 they've scored against Arsenal, nine against Spurs and eight against City.
However, Liverpool are clear favourites, more so because United are without key players. They were without Paul Pogba for the October game, but they went ahead through Marcus Rashford. The Mancunian striker was injured after he came on as a substitute with United chasing a win against Wolves in the FA Cup third round replay last Wednesday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that the decision to bring him on was “positive” since he was involved in the winning goal but that it had “backfired” as he lasted 16 minutes before being forced off with the back injury after a landing awkwardly following a challenge with Matt Doherty.
Rashford was the first United player to come on in a game and then be substituted for 14 years and kept shaking his head as he came off the pitch.
Rashford is enjoying his best season with 19 goals so far and over a third of United’s Premier League goals. The team relies heavily on him. This United side, with a younger average age even than Alex Ferguson's ‘kids’ side of 1995-96, don’t have four proven goalscorers as they did when Solskjaer played and United’s midfield contributed few goals.
Rashford underwent further tests on Friday with Solskjaer saying: “He’s a quick healer and he'll play through some pain, definitely, if he's capable and it’s not a bad, bad injury, but we've seen that he’s struggled lately.
“He’s been absolutely top this season so we’ll do anything and everything we can to get him fit for Sunday. If he’s not then we’ll play without him.”
He was well enough to go to the cinema on Friday night with Jesse Lingard to see ‘Bad Boys for Life’, but he didn’t join up with the United team in their pre-match hotel in Manchester.
The worry from some who are familiar with the situation was that the injury is more serious than was first feared and that he’ll be out for weeks or even months - and not days.
His absence may mean that Solskjaer will not be able to repeat his feat of overturning the form book and push his unfancied team further up the league.
Updated: January 19, 2020 02:37 PM