Liverpool travels to Old Trafford in the midst of their worst goal drought for almost 20 years whereas the hosts flying high and now have a six-point lead over the Champions at the top of the Premier League.
Seven days after playing out an anticlimactic goalless draw in the Premier League, the bitter rivals, Manchester United and Liverpool will renew their hostilities in the FA Cup fourth round.
The pre-match hype for the latest chapter of English footballer’s greatest rivalry may be scaled back compared to their top of the table Premier League clash last weekend. But, Sunday’s showdown promises to be a significant occasion in its own right.
Securing a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup is up for grabs. And, the two sides would relish being able to knock their biggest rivals out of the running for a major piece of silverware. The game could prove to be even more important in the grand scheme of the season, though, with Man United being on a firm trajectory whereas Liverpool is trending in the opposite direction.
The Premier League champions slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened Burnley on Thursday night, a result which not only extended their winless league run to five games and goal drought to four games but also saw them surrender a 68-match unbeaten league run at Anfield – the second-longest run in English football history.
For the run to be ended by a team that went into that game as the top flight’s lowest scorers was undoubtedly a shock, but the warning signs had been there in previous games for Liverpool.
Since hitting Crystal Palace for seven before Christmas, Liverpool has scored just once in their last five league games and have failed to find the back of the net in any of their last four – their longest drought since May 2000.
Indeed, the Reds have had a whopping 87 shots since the last scoring in the league – including 27 against Burnley – but the concerning element of that will be that only a handful of those shots have come in clear-cut chances.
Jurgen Klopp has acknowledged that his side is lacking confidence following a five-game winless run in the league, but quite how they have so quickly transformed from a team that had scored in every game and a team that remains the league’s leading scorers into a team seemingly bereft of belief or ideas in the final third no doubt has him scratching his head.
Heading into this game – and indeed looking ahead to a run that sees five of their next six top-flight games come against teams currently in the top seven – Klopp may take some encouragement from the fact that Liverpool’s best spell of football during this recent slump came in the opening half an hour of their last meeting with Manchester United.
The Reds failed to capitalize on that spell of dominance, though, and ultimately left Anfield thankful for Alisson Becker preventing them from losing to the current league leaders.
The FA Cup could provide a welcome distraction from those league woes, and Liverpool’s only goals and only win so far in 2021 came in the third round of the competition.
Even that was not entirely convincing, though; Klopp named a strong team despite Aston Villa being forced to field their youngsters due to a coronavirus outbreak, and it wasn’t until a flurry of three goals in five minutes on the hour mark that Liverpool was able to Pull away from their inexperienced hosts.
The Reds also have a notoriously poor record in the FA Cup during Klopp’s tenure, only making it past the fourth round for the first time last season.
Man United, by contrast, have not failed to make it to at least the quarter-finals since 2013/14, and is a stark reflection of the differing fortunes of these two clubs in recent months, many will consider them to be favorites to progress again on Sunday.
Solskjaer’s side edged to a 1-0 victory over Watford in the third round, making it seven wins and seven clean sheets from their last seven home FA Cup outings.
In all competitions Man United has now lost just one of their last 12 outings since being knocked out of the Champions League, most recently coming from behind away from home yet again to overcome Fulham on Wednesday night.
Inspired by another wonder goal from the rejuvenated Paul Pogba, Man United answered questions posed by both Leicester City and Manchester City, both of whom had climbed above the Red Devils in the table prior to that trip to Craven Cottage.
The 20-time champions retained their two-point lead at the top of the table having now reached the halfway stage of their season, and victory over Liverpool – even in the FA Cup – will go further to affirming the belief that they really are ready to mix it among the title contenders once again.
It is not something that most Man United fans would have expected at the beginning of the season, but that title race will now be their main priority for the second half of the season.
FA Cup glory would be a welcome bonus to that too, although, despite consistent success in getting to the latter stages of the competition in recent times, Man United has only gone on to lift the famous trophy once in the last 16 years.
Liverpool is expected to be without captain Jordan Henderson once again on Sunday after he missed the Burnley game with a muscle strain.
Klopp has played down concerns over the severity of the problem, but the quick turnaround between matches makes it unlikely that Henderson will recover in time to start this weekend.
Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were both dropped to the bench for the visit of Burnley and should returning to the starting lineup here, although Sadio Mane could be rested.
There was better news on the injury front with Joel Matip returning in midweek and Kostas Tsimikas back on the bench, and the latter could start this game in order to give Andrew Robertson a rare rest.
Other changes could also be in the offing with fringe players such as James Milner, Neco Williams, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pushing for starts, while Klopp could look to protect his fragile center-back options by giving either Nat Philips or Rhys Williams a run-out.
Diogo Jota and Naby Keita remain sidelined for this match, while Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are long-term absentees in defense.
United have had an extra day of rest ahead of this game but is still expected to make changes, one of which will see Marcus Rashford return to the starting XI after he sat out against Fulham.
The likes of Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay, and Victor Lindelof will also be pushing for recalls, while Solskjaer could hand chances to Dean Henderson and Alex Telles.
The caliber of the opposition means that Solskjaer is unlikely to weaken his starting XI too much, though, so the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Pogba, Harry Maguire, and Edinson Cavani could all still start.