While a top-four finish is well in reach, United’s underwhelming performances, and the fact that a title challenge is all but dead, have rendered Louis Van Gaal a lame duck. The question is not whether the Dutch manager will go, but when.
A thrilling 3-3 draw at St. James’ Park on Tuesday suggests that with the recent tightening of the noose, Van Gaal has thrown caution to the wind by unshackling his players from his conservative approach. However, the fact that United dropped two points in Newcastle has led many to believe that anything less than a win against Liverpool will surely spell the end for the cantankerous manager.
The pressure of that reality may prompt Van Gaal to revert back to the cautious tactics that evoked so much criticism in the first place. The manager is keenly aware that only three points will do, but he’s equally mindful that if Newcastle can exploit an offensive Manchester United and score three goals, Liverpool can do the same, no matter how torrid a time Jurgen Klopp’s team has had trying to put the ball in the back of the net.
Additionally, one can venture to guess that Van Gaal would rather be shown the door after a draw at Anfield than a defeat at the hands of his club’s biggest foe.
Jurgen Klopp, who will be celebrating his one hundred and first day in charge of Liverpool on Sunday, won’t be feeling anywhere near the same burden as his counterpart.
Although the importance of Sunday’s game is not lost on the German, Klopp is still insulated by the consensus that his tenure truly begins next season. Until then, the effusive manager’s task is simply to begin the process that will hopefully see the Merseyside club end the title drought that has lasted longer than a quarter century.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that supporters don’t expect Liverpool to win. After all, there has hardly been a better time to face the Red Devils. But it does mean that not doing so will not be catastrophic.
Still, as Liverpool begin to show the telltale signs of a Klopp team, with players buying into the high-press, high-tempo style that propelled Borussia Dortmund into one of the best teams in the Bundesliga, there’s a sense that German will be aiming for the win with a similar attacking lineup to the one that he put out against Arsenal.
Liverpool 1 – 0 Manchester United
Liverpool and Manchester United’s recent games against Arsenal and Newcastle, respectively, could foreshadow a riveting affair on Sunday. Nevertheless, expect United to play tightly and compactly in order to stave off Liverpool’s dangerous counter-attacks, which will result in a pretty drab game.
Follow Eric Krakauer on Twitter @bigsoccerheadny
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