Liverpool host Manchester United in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday evening, following progression from the last 32.
Liverpool vs. Manchester United
Thursday 10th March 2016, 20:05 (GMT)
Europa League, Last 16, First Leg
Live on BT Sport Europe
With the two most successful English clubs coming together in a midweek fixture, you’d expect a pitch filled of world-class talent and both teams fighting for the top European crown. But these are not the Liverpool and Manchester United of old, sharing 8 Champions Leagues between them. Quite frankly, for a few years now, both teams have struggled to lock down a 4th placed finish, with both teams currently clinging on to hopes that Champions League qualification is still in their sights in the 2015/16 season. Manchester United’s season aspirations has been revived through the discovery of young striker Marcus Rashford, helping them to big wins over Arsenal and Midtjylland. As for Klopp’s men, Roberto Firmino has helped the reds gain consistency with three back to back league wins, with the Brazilian being involved in 11 goals since the turn of the year, 7 goals 4 assists.
On Thursday night, it will become the 195th competitive meeting between the two clubs, their first meeting in a European competition. It’ll be the first all English Europa League tie since April 1973 where Alec Lindsay scored a 17th minute goal helping Bill Shankley’s Liverpool to a narrow semi-final first leg victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
Form Guide in all competitions after 90 mins (Last 10 games)
Manchester United: W-W-D-L-L-W-W-W-W-L
Liverpool are looking to continue their impressive run in form, being unbeaten in their last 4 matches in the league. They have picked up convincing wins over Aston Villa and Manchester City, as well as leaving it late at Crystal Palace on Sunday with a 96th minute injury time winner. As mentioned earlier, they will be looking to their man of the moment, Roberto Firmino. The attacking midfielder, who has also played as the front man of a false 9 in the absence of injury prone Daniel Sturridge and mis-firing Cristian Benteke, has helped himself to 7 goals and 4 assists this year alone, scoring two past Arsenal and Norwich City.
However, can Liverpool Replicate this form in the Europa League? When Liverpool’s group was drawn consisting of Sion, Ruban Kazan and Bordeaux; the reds were expected to easily win the group. But with only two wins in the group stage and 4 draws, Klopp’s men edged the top spot by a point on the last day. The Reds then drew Augsburg in the last 32, which was a closer contest than was expected. An early Milner penalty in the second leg was the difference as Liverpool weathered a late storm from the German side, scraping through to the next round. If Liverpool want to be in the draw for the quarter finals they’ll need to find goals even though they have scored the most amount of goals in the BPL in 2016. As with only 7 goals in 8 Europa League matches, if they still struggle to find the back of the net against United, it’ll be tough to overcome the Red Devils across the two legs.
On the other hand, Wayne Rooney volleyed home at Anfield with the away teams only shot on target, in January to help Manchester United do the double over Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League. The Red Devils currently sit above their rivals by three points but having played a game extra, showing statistically the teams are very evenly matched. A pleasing 3-2 win over the gunners and Rashford continuing his surprising goal scoring form, seemed to lift pressure off the shoulders of struggling manager Louis Van Gal. With a following defeat to West Brom influenced by a Juan Mata red card, meant the joys were soon forgotten and pressure was back on the Dutchman.
After a less that convincing Champions League campaign which could have seen United qualify for the last 16 with a positive result against Wolfsburg, Van Gal’s men were knocked out and were drawn up against Danish side Midtjylland. A poor performance away from home left the Manchester club with work to do in the returning leg, losing 2-1 after a first half goal from Memphis Depay. The Second leg however was a completely different story with United outclassing their opponents with Marcus Rashford coming off the bench to score his first two Manchester United goals in his first professional appearance for the club.
At the end of the day form tends to go out the window when it comes down to two rivals competing against each other. However I think this one will be a tight game, but I think the home side will edge the first leg.