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How Man United swung a 33-POINT deficit in their favour over Liverpool

Published on: 16 January 2021

Finally, the wait is almost over. Manchester United make the short trip to arch rivals Liverpool on Sunday desperate to prove that they really are the real deal in the Premier League title race, and not just the pretenders.

Last season, a Liverpool victory against United at Anfield was viewed as a formality thanks to the Reds' stunning form, and that proved to be the case after they ran out 2-0 winners thanks to Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah.

But ahead of this Sunday's showpiece Premier League fixture, the picture could hardly be any different as United have slowly but surely muscled their way to the top of the Premier League pile, sitting three points above Jurgen Klopp's men after 17 games.

When you consider how Liverpool stormed to their first ever Premier League title last season, finishing an eye-watering 33 points ahead of the Red Devils and with a far superior 22+ goal difference, United's march to the top really is extraordinary.

United are still widely expected to wilt away in the title race at some stage, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side travel to Anfield in buoyant mood and will be quietly optimistic of getting a result to prove they're in it for the long haul.

But while previewing Sunday's eagerly-anticipated fixture, it's hard to look past the rivals' difference in fortunes last season.

It has been almost a year to the day since Liverpool's 2-0 win at Anfield over United in the top-flight, and at the same stage last season - 17 matches in  - the Reds found themselves 10 points clear of their nearest title challengers, and already a staggering 24 above the Red Devils.

Liverpool inevitably went onto claim the Premier League crown in emphatic fashion, placing 18 points clear of Manchester City in second with United 15 further back in third.

Liverpool won an astonishing 32 matches compared to United's 18 after their slow start to the season.

Klopp's men also only drew three times and lost as many games, while United came unstuck on eight occasions while being held in 12 matches.

This time round, Liverpool have found their match and more, with United winning 11 out of 17 games compared to their rivals' nine.

The Reds have also been stung in their title charge by six draws already and two losses, having missed the opportunity to gain any sort of momentum in their last three matches against West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton.

So far this season, Liverpool are picking up just 1.94 points per game compared to last term's rapid rate of 2.61, while United's win percentage has picked up considerably.

Furthermore, the long-term injuries to centre backs Van Dijk and Joe Gomez have damaged Klopp's side badly.

In just 17 fixtures this season, Klopp has intriguingly deployed 10 different centre back partnerships, and that flip-flopping has certainly weakened the side's backbone.

In the whole of last term, the Reds let in just 33 goals thanks to the incredible Van Dijk/Gomez partnership, conceding at an impressive rate of 0.87 times per game. Already this season it's up to 1.24.

But while we can sit and talk about Liverpool's misfortunes all we want, praise must also go to United and in particular star man Bruno Fernandes - who has more than helped turn the tide in his side's favour.

Since his Premier League debut last February against Wolves, no player has been involved in more goals than the Portuguese playmaker.

His impact can't be spoken about enough, having scored 19 times and produced 14 assists in just 31 Premier League matches.

Playing alongside the likes of Paul Pogba, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Co ahead, he has given United's star-studded attack another critical dimension and has fired them into title contention.

In fact, United have more points in the Premier League than any other team since Fernandes' debut at Old Trafford on February 1, 2019.

In 31 matches, Solskjaer's side have picked up 68 points compared to City and Liverpool's 62.

Fernandes will be desperate to continue that trend at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, and Solskjaer will certainly be looking at him to deliver the goods against their bitter rivals.

Between the two sides, only Salah (13) has scored more goals than Fernandes (11) this season in the Premier League, while the United man has the most assists with seven to his name.

While Fernandes' contribution on the pitch can't be stated enough, a lot has also been said about the mentality he has brought to the United dressing room. And that definitely rings true.

United this season have a brilliant mental fortitude (let's forget about the Champions League!), not seen in many of their teams since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure.

The rhetoric of United's season to date has mostly been about how they are a completely different animal in the second half - producing blistering displays compared to their lacklustre opening periods.

And United are out on their own in terms of points gained from losing positions in the Premier League.

While we can argue that United have been sloppy during the opening periods of games, Solskjaer's men must be praised for the mentality they have shown to turn things around when proceedings aren't going their way.

United have earned 18 points from losing positions, eight more than rivals Liverpool who sit second on this front.

Furthermore, their scintillating second-half displays have seen them score 21 goals in the last 45 minutes of matches compared to just 13 in the first period.

Meanwhile, for the reigning champions, the mental strength that they displayed ever so impressively last season seems to have disappeared somewhat.

The absence of leader and figurehead Van Dijk to this Liverpool side certainly cannot go unnoticed.

Only four teams - Brighton, Sheffield United, Tottenham and Southampton - have dropped more points from winning positions than the Reds (eight).

These are alarming times for Klopp, who enjoyed a plain-sailing ride as his side claimed the Premier League crown last season, but there would be no better time for his team to prove their doubters wrong than with victory over United.

With games against Tottenham, Manchester City and Leicester coming up over the next month, Liverpool will be desperate to lay down a marker ahead of a crunch period - which could easily define the defence of their title.

Meanwhile United have the opportunity to show they mean business, and if they manage to earn the bragging rights come Sunday, then maybe just maybe their 'pretenders' tag will be a thing of the past.


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