Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has the tough task of keeping Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (pictured left) quiet as Jurgen Klopp’s entertainers roll into town at the weekend with second place in the Premier League the prize on offer.
With Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City virtually assured of the title, northwest rivals United and Liverpool the two most successful clubs in the English game are left fighting for the scraps.
United’s impressive fightback from 2-0 down on Monday to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 maintained their slender two-point lead over Liverpool in the battle for the runners-up spot behind runaway leaders City.
Nemanja Matic bailed out Mourinho’s men with a stunning stoppage-time strike in London but another three points papered over the cracks in the latest in a series of unconvincing performances from United.
“We have to be honest, we have to play better,” Matic admitted once the euphoria of his first United goal died down. “We have to do more if we want to win as Liverpool is a team with great quality.”
The onus will be on Mourinho to take the game to the visitors at Old Trafford on Saturday but the Portuguese manager, criticised for keeping his array of attackers firmly on the leash, is unlikely to risk throwing caution to the wind.
Liverpool had scored 20 goals in their previous seven games before a much-changed side drew 0-0 with Porto in midweek, a result that sealed a place in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in nine years.
With January signing Virgil van Dijk settling in well at the back and Loris Karius impressing in goal, the pieces are falling into place for Klopp’s team, who have lost just once in 20 Premier League games.
But it is their forwards, led by the irrepressible Salah alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who have scored a combined 68 goals this season, that will give Mourinho sleepless nights.
There was a palpable sensation around Anfield on Tuesday that Liverpool minds were already focused on United, with the free-scoring front three all rested at different spells of the game. The match against Liverpool is the first of three games in eight days for United at Old Trafford that will define their season.