Can Liverpool rediscover their top six form against Manchester United?

It does not get any bigger than Liverpool against Manchester United in English football. The Reds need a result and a change in recent fortunes - but they have a great record against the best in the Premier League. Will that continue against their biggest rivals?

Can Liverpool rediscover their top six form against Manchester United?
Jürgen Klopp is now into his third year as Liverpool manager (Getty Images/Neil Taylor/Liverpool FC)

More than two years on from the appointment of Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager, the Reds continue to launch themselves from dream to disaster. Progress is evident, but the scale of progress made since Klopp succeeded Brendan Rodgers remains hotly debated among Liverpool and football fans.

One theme throughout Klopp's reign at Anfield thus far is the German's superb record against Liverpool's biggest rivals in the Premier League. Prior to the 5-0 thrashing that was handed out by Manchester City last month (albeit against a Liverpool side with only ten men for over fifty minutes), Liverpool boasted an incredible record of just one defeat in 19 league matches.

The only defeat? To the side that the Reds play this weekend.

The upcoming test

After the latest international break, the Premier League returns with a mammoth encounter between England's two most successful sides. Unfortunately for the Reds of Merseyside, it is now the Reds of Manchester who have edged ahead in the overall tally of major trophies.

José Mourinho may be controversial at times - and certainly not to everyone's taste - but he is unquestionably good at winning. Even in his first season, managing a side who could only stumble to sixth place in the Premier League last season, Mourinho guided Manchester United to double success in the League Cup and Europa League.

Ironically, Liverpool contested the finals of both those competitions in the previous season, but they could only finish runners-up, then watch their greatest rivals succeed where they could not a year later.

Both Manchester clubs are also threatening to move away from the rest in this season's title race. Liverpool find themselves seven points adrift of the pair, increasing the pressure for this Saturday's clash.

United are only focused on leapfrogging Manchester City if possible, but will not be fatally damaged by a defeat at Anfield - only their pride will be wounded. Liverpool, on the other hand, cannot afford to lose. If they did, then there would be a ten point gap between themselves and United, effectively ending any hopes of a nineteenth league title by the middle of October. Klopp's Reds will not want to fall four behind Arsenal and Chelsea either for a top four spot. 

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Can Liverpool keep pace without Mane?

Liverpool's preparation has already been greatly hampered by the injury to Sadio Mané while on international duty with Senegal.

Liverpool have always struggled in Mané's absence, but cannot replicate another poor run of form - indeed, the Reds have hardly been pulling up trees lately anyway.

Individual errors in defence, combined with wastefulness in front of goal, has cost Liverpool dear in recent weeks. Hopefully, the visit of another elite club will inspire the Reds, so they can find their best form once again.

After all, in isolation, United at Anfield is Liverpool's biggest game of the season - it is the game all Liverpool fans want their club to win above all others. The Merseyside Derby remains powerful, as is the recent hostility with Chelsea, but nothing for Liverpool beats sending a defeated United back down the M62. 

Mané will be missed, but Liverpool's depth is stronger this season on paper and now is the time for the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to prove this is the case. Both have struggled lately, with Sturridge lacking his previous predatory instincts in front of goal, while Oxlade-Chamberlain has not yet settled in a Liverpool shirt.

The latter would appear the obvious substitute for Mané if Klopp wants a direct replacement, but Liverpool now also have Mohamed Salah to call upon for pace (though he too needs to improve his finishing, despite his healthy goal tally).

Philippe Coutinho could come into the front three, allowing for an energetic midfield of Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum to press United back. Wijnaldum in particular impresses at home against the big boys, so the Dutchman's inclusion would make sense.

However, whilst United will not replicate their ultra-defensive stance from last season's 0-0 shutout, Mourinho is instinctively cautious when his teams play against their rivals.

Creativity is desperately required for Liverpool to break United down on Saturday, therefore Coutinho could remain in midfield with Wijnaldum and Henderson, allowing Oxlade-Chamberlain to start alongside Salah and Roberto Firmino.

Sturridge is another possibility, but he is second choice to Firmino, and neither can adequately play out wide. Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to start repaying Liverpool's faith and investment with performances, but equally he must be given a run of games, and Mané's injury may have opened the door for the England international. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain has plenty to prove. Liverpool have plenty to prove. United are in town. No better time than the present, Reds.

Liverpool FC