Man United are rock bottom but Liverpool must win to challenge Man City – who needs the result more?


It is far too early in the season to start talking about ‘six-pointers’ and ‘must-win games’. Isn’t it? Well, maybe fans of Liverpool and Manchester United would have agreed with that before the season. 

But two games into the campaign, the historic rivals face off at Old Trafford on Monday with United rock bottom of the table after being comfortably beaten 2-1 by Brighton and thrashed 4-0 by Brentford.

And Liverpool haven’t started much better, lying 12th in the league – below promoted sides Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest and level on points with Fulham, after successive draws against the Cottagers and Crystal Palace.

The pressure is mounting on new United manager Erik ten Hag, who has his star player desperate to leave, a massive struggle to sign new players, and fan unrest with planned protests amid uncertainty over the ownership situation at the club.

While Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has taken to blaming dry pitches after sneaking a draw against promoted Fulham and now has an injury crisis, a seemingly creaking midfield and a big summer signing suspended after a red card. 

The glimmer of hope given by Manchester City’s dropped points at Newcastle will add fuel to the fire for the Reds. So who needs the result more? Below, Sportsmail takes a look… 

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool (left) and Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United (right) clash on Monday

New Red Devils boss Ten Hag (pictured) is under pressure, with his side bottom of the table

New Red Devils boss Ten Hag (pictured) is under pressure, with his side bottom of the table

Klopp, meanwhile, has seen his side drop points in both their first two matches of the season

Klopp, meanwhile, has seen his side drop points in both their first two matches of the season

Man United: Pressure mounting on Erik ten Hag 

If Erik ten Hag was unaware of the scrutiny being Manchester United manager provides, he was quickly disabused of that notion.

Two games, two defeats, six goals conceded and one goal scored (and a lucky own goal at that), do not make for pretty reading for the new boss.

Most fans and pundits recognise the mess at United is not of Ten Hag’s doing, and many structural problems have been deeply entrenched since legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

Ten Hag needs time and patience. But time and patience are gifts rarely afforded to Premier League managers, especially of the stature of Manchester United. Defeat vs Liverpool could keep the club bottom of the table, with confidence on the floor. 

The next four games are: Southampton at home, Leicester away, Arsenal at home, Crystal Palace away. The way they’re playing, they might take four or five points from that run. 

Come what may, a win – and soon – would go a long way to releasing the mounting pressure on Ten Hag, improve the mood music around the club and boost confidence that the 52-year-old Dutchman is the right man for the rebuild.

Struggles to sign players 

One agent working in football told the Athletic: ‘Right now I couldn’t look my players in the face and say it’s a great opportunity.’

Another added that he would, right now, advise players against moving to Old Trafford because of the ‘toxic’ atmosphere and the cavalcade waiting to pounce on players’ poor performances by piling on criticism.

Of course, the historical stature of the club, former successes, and the money swilling around means United can still attract some players. But the reality is they’re no longer dining at the top table. 

The pressure is mounting on Ten Hag after his side were routed 4-0 by Brentford last week

The pressure is mounting on Ten Hag after his side were routed 4-0 by Brentford last week

They were theoretically interested in Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez – two astute signings from Portugal, now at Liverpool – but there was no way either would pick United. Similarly, Jude Bellingham would seem foolish to spurn the Reds for United.

A result against Liverpool, while only the first step in a long and painful journey towards dispelling the negativity, would instill vital belief and show there is at least some fight and something still worth fighting for.

Who knows? It could even help persuade some of the 200-odd players linked with Ten Hag’s side to join before the end of the summer transfer window, if they were having any doubts.

Supporter unrest 

As if Ten Hag didn’t have enough on his plate, the fans are united against the reviled Glazer owners and have planned another protest at Old Trafford on Monday.

Last year’s game between the sides in M16 was postponed due to angry fans storming the historic old stadium – ten-man United eventually lost the match 5-0 – and the unrest and uncertainty off the pitch is not what the manager needs.

As Klopp knows very well, an intimidating home atmosphere can go a long way to helping the team get a result. The feeling in the ground against the Seagulls on the opening day was bordering on mutinous, which can’t help the out-of-form players.

The club's on-fieldfailure comes amid off-field turmoil with fans protesting against the owners

The club’s on-fieldfailure comes amid off-field turmoil with fans protesting against the owners

A protest is planned before Monday's game against the reviled Glazer owners (centre, right)

A protest is planned before Monday’s game against the reviled Glazer owners (centre, right)

Although supporters aren’t specifically annoyed with Ten Hag, beating Liverpool at home would inject enthusiasm and positivity back into the fanbase and give them the hope and belief there is something growing at United.

What’s more, a win, positive draw – or even a good, competitive performance in defeat – could help persuade wantaway star forward Cristiano Ronaldo to stay at Old Trafford despite their lack of Champions League football this season.

Some might say that would not be a good thing. Maybe a strong showing or a goal or two from the 37-year-old Portuguese could persuade a European club to take him off United’s hands?

Liverpool: Desperate to cling to Man City‘s coattails 

For Liverpool, meanwhile, games against newly promoted Fulham before facing Crystal Palace at home, who they had beaten 10 times in a row, represented a kind start to the season on paper.

And 180 minutes later, they have just two points. In truth, Mohamed Salah’s equaliser against Fulham was fortunate, and the Eagles could and perhaps should have taken three points at Anfield given Wilfried Zaha’s excellent chance near the end.

It’s not as if they’ve completely played their opponents off the park and conceded three lucky goals, which would not bother Klopp so much. They are where they deserve to be. Namely, five points off Manchester City already.

That said, City’s dropped points in their 3-3 draw with Newcastle on Sunday will add fuel to the fire for the Reds, who can cut the deficit down to two points with a win on Monday night. 

The Reds are already lagging four points behind title rivals Manchester City in the standings

The Reds are already lagging four points behind title rivals Manchester City in the standings

Liverpool have finished one point behind Pep Guardiola’s champions twice in the last four seasons. Obviously it’s early in the season, but every game is so important if the soaring points totals of the last few seasons are anything to go by. 

A confident win against United could reignite the spirit at Anfield – although their self-belief is unlikely to have wavered despite the poor opening results. 

They are still clearly one of the best two sides in England, and probably one of the top three or four in the world.

Transfer vindication? 

Liverpool have made just three transfers this summer – striker Darwin Nunez, attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho and right back Calvin Ramsay.

Teen wonderkid Carvalho, 19, is a wonderful talent and may well contribute to the first-team this season, but can safely be filed under ‘one for the future’, as can 19-year-old Ramsay.

While City, Chelsea and Tottenham are spending big, Liverpool have chosen not to mimic their rivals, perhaps with a view to going all-in on Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham next summer.

But with Nunez now suspended for three matches after a moment of madness – headbutting Palace’s Joachim Andersen – Diogo Jota injured, and talismanic forward Sadio Mane allowed to leave for Bayern Munich, they look a touch light up front.

Darwin Nunez was sent off for a headbutt against Crystal Palace and misses the United gam

Darwin Nunez was sent off for a headbutt against Crystal Palace and misses the United gam

Similarly, 36-year-old veteran James Milner is getting no younger, midfielders Thiago, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones are injured, and the likes of Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson are no strangers to injury either.

While in defence, Joe Gomez has just recovered from a knock, while Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate are out, forcing Klopp to play fifth-choice Nat Phillips against Palace, where he struggled. 

A good performance from squad players like Phillips, Gomez, perhaps Kostas Tsimikas, Harvey Elliott, Keita or Carvalho against United, on the biggest stage, would give Klopp a big reason to trust his fringe players.

It would also offer club chiefs vindication that their decision to be conservative in the transfer market will not cost them too much this season. 

So who needs the result more?

Based on the above, you’d have to say United. But Liverpool will be seething if they fail to capitalise on City’s slip up.

Doubtless both Ten Hag and Klopp will be impressing on their players the importance of the result on Monday.

It promises to be a cracker. 



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