Joel Matip

Three things learned: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — The title procession continues for Liverpool as they beat Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Virgil Van Dijk‘s early header and Mohamed Salah‘s late goal was enough to make it 21 wins out of 22 for Jurgen Klopp‘s side who missed several glorious chances as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s injury-hit United somehow hung in there.

For the first time this season Anfield sung loud and proud: “We’re going to win the league!” The Liverpool fans now realize this is as good as a done deal as it gets.

What did we learn from a tense clash as bitter rivals collided?


MAN UNITED HUMBLED BY BITTER RIVALS

Chants from Liverpool’s fans early in the game reminded their counterparts from Manchester United that they are the current Champions of Europe and the World. Nobody connected with United needed reminding of that after this utterly dominant display. How Liverpool didn’t win 5-0 is beyond me but United at least kept grinding away despite the obvious gulf in class between the two teams. Sadio Mane was denied by David De Gea, Liverpool had two goals chalked out by VAR, Henderson’s shot was pushed onto the post by de Gea and Salah missed a glorious chance. The manner in which Liverpool cut through United’s midfield like it wasn’t there and created chance after chance showcased just how far they’ve climbed ahead of their rivals.

United were without arguably their two best players in Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford and they hung in there with a 5-4-1 formation which had Luke Shaw at center back and Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka providing the width. United played scared in the first half, like most teams do against Liverpool, but the sheer lack of control they had on the game until the final 20 minutes was astonishing. They only looked dangerous in attack when Liverpool gave the ball away and in two spells just before half time and in the final 10 minutes. United have a plan to get back among the Premier League’s elite but on this showing that is much further away from happening than we all thought. Man United have now failed to win on any of their last five trips to Anfield and even though they had a few moments where they showed promise in attack, the scoreline severely flattered them.


VAN DIJK’S DOMINANCE STILL SURPRISING

When Virgil van Dijk rose into the scarlet sky above Anfield to power home a header to make it 1-0 time seemed to stand still. As he so often does, VVD defied gravity as he hung longest in the air to beat Brandon Williams (a severe mismatch) and also Harry Maguire to score. Van Dijk’s dominance is somehow still surprising and awe-inspiring. It shouldn’t be. The man who finished only second to Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or voting led Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory last season and since his arrival from Southampton in January 2018, Liverpool have become a totally different team. One which feeds off and now exudes the same confidence their silky Dutchman displays every single time he steps on the pitch. In tight situations he has held their defense together and he makes everybody around him better. They have now secured seven-straight shutouts with Joe Gomez alongside him as Joel Matip has been out injured.

If Liverpool, as expected, win the Premier League this season and make a deep UCL run, there’s no doubt Virgil van Dijk will be crowned the best player on the planet when all is said and done in 2020. His positioning is flawless, he is calm on the ball and he pushes on the team when they need it. When we look back on the success of this Liverpool team, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk will usurp that of Salah, Mane and Firmino.


TIME TO ORDER THE RED RIBBONS

Liverpool are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with 16 games to go and they have a game in hand. They are going to win the title for the first time in over 30 years. We all know that, even if their fans and everybody around the club refuses to admit it. When the notion of winning the title was raised in the pubs around Anfield before the game, people were told to be quiet. But others are so confident they are predicting a title win after a win at Everton on March 14. Liverpool have lost just one Premier League game in their last 61, away at Man City last season, and they’ve now gone 39 games unbeaten.

There is just no way this Liverpool side will cough up the kind of points they need to in order to let their grasp on the title slip, plus they know Man City are out of form and out of luck with injuries, while Leicester City have totally come unstuck. If you are a Liverpool fan the final months of the season are about to be as much of a cakewalk to the title as possible and this brilliant, perfectly balanced, dynamic and devastating team will receive the guard of honor for the final two months of the 2019-20 campaign. Records will tumble, unbeaten runs will continue and Liverpool will win the title.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

How will Liverpool, Man United line up?

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Liverpool host Manchester United this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League leaders welcome their bitter rivals to Anfield.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

With Jurgen Klopp‘s side 14 points clear at the top of the table, Man United would love to play the role of spoilers and they are the only team to take points from Liverpool so far this season as they are in a battle for a top four finish. And, just leaving this here, Man United have only lost one of their last 11 Premier League games against Liverpool…

The big team news surrounding this game is whether or not Marcus Rashford will be fit after coming on as a sub in the FA Cup replay against Wolves, then injuring his back and having to come off 16 minutes later.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make as it is certainly not worth risking Rashford’s long-term fitness, even for a game as important as this one. With Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay injured, United’s midfield will likely be manned by Fred and Matic, with either Jesse Lingard or Andreas Pereira playing ahead of them and Mata starting in place of Rashford on the left. In defense it will be interesting to see if Brandon Williams gets the nod over Luke Shaw as he continues his impressive rise, while the rest of the back four picks itself.

The big worry for United is that if Rashford is out injured, they will lose a lot of their pace on the counter as their plan will likely be to sit back and look to hit Liverpool on the break. The gamble will then be whether or not it makes sense to play Mason Greenwood in attack to replace Rashford, with the teenager showing huge potential but an atmosphere like the one at Anfield may be too risky.

As for Klopp, things are very straightforward for him. Liverpool Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren back in training after their lengthy absences but it is unlikely the two center backs will start given Joe Gomez looks steady once again after a run of games alongside the silky brick wall that is Virgil Van Dijk. Oxlade-Chamberlain will play alongside Henderson and Wijnaldum in midfield with Keita and Milner out injured, while Fabinho is also back in training but is unlikely to be rushed back. The front three and full backs pick themselves.

Below we share our potential starting lineups for both teams for the intense battle at Anfield this Sunday.


LIVERPOOL (4-3-3)

—– Alisson —–

— Alexander-Arnold — Gomez — Van Dijk — Robertson —

—- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —- Chamberlain —-

—- Salah —- Firmino —- Mane —-


MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1)

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Williams —

—- Fred —- Matic —-

—- James —- Pereira —- Mata —-

—– Martial —–

Liverpool readying for imminent return of 3 injured players

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One of the most impressive parts of Liverpool’s dominance this season has been the number of injuries Jurgen Klopp has been saddled with amid heavy fixture congestion. That’s about to be somewhat alleviated.

Especially along the back line, Klopp faced an injury crisis after center-backs Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren went down with long-term injuries, while fill-in Fabinho was also left sidelined after deputizing at the back for a bit. All three should now be set to return soon, according to the German boss.

Speaking ahead of the club’s weekend match against Manchester United, Klopp was vague but suggested he expects all three to be in contention to play on Sunday as they return to training shortly. “I wait really until they are on the pitch and somebody tells me they are allowed to do the full session,” Klopp told the official Liverpool website. “It looks like Joel will be in, it looks like Fabinho will be in maybe a day later, I’m not sure. Dejan, maybe he can be in as well.”

Matip’s return is maybe the most welcome of the news, considering the 28-year-old had cemented a spot as Virgil Van Dijk‘s first-choice center-back partner through the back half of last season and first half of this campaign. He has been missing since late October with a knee injury, having made just seven Premier League appearances this season.

Lovren stood in for Matip once the latter went down injured, but that didn’t last long as the Croatian international suffered a hamstring injury in early December, having made just eight league appearances himself. He went down in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, replaced just before halftime.

Midfielder Fabinho had occasionally moved to the back line as well to serve as cover, but he also suffered an injury and has been missing since late November. An ankle injury felled the Brazilian who was rounding into form in the Liverpool midfield and also performed well as a fill-in defender. He has missed eight league matches but could be on his way back soon.

The host of returners for Liverpool are returning at an opportune time. Liverpool has back-to-back tough Premier League games against Manchester United and Wolves less than a week apart, followed by an FA Cup match next weekend and a visit to West Ham three days later. The Champions League knockout stags also begin in about a month, so getting returners up to speed soon will be of the utmost importance.

Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v. Liverpool

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Tottenham Hotspur would love to be the club to end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season when the two sides meet in North London on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Jose Mourinho insists his club believes it can a result despite the dour mood accompanying Harry Kane’s injury.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Liverpool is facing injuries, too, but its trident remains healthy and led by Player of the Season candidate Sadio Mane.

The Reds hold a 13-point lead on the Premier League field and have a match-in-hand on everyone except West Ham United.

Spurs are still very much a part of the race for the Top Four should they be able to again navigate a long Kane absence. Tottenham is six points back of fourth place Chelsea.


Injuries/suspensions

Spurs: OUT —  Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Ben Davies, Tanguy Ndombele, Moussa Sissoko. QUESTIONABLE — Danny Rose.

Liverpool: OUT — Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Fabinho, James Milner, Naby Keita, Nathaniel Clyne. QUESTIONABLE — Xherdan Shaqiri.


Probable lineups

Spurs: Gazzaniga; Vertonghen, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Sessegnon, Dier, Lo Celso, Dele, Aurier; Lucas, Son.

Liverpool: Alisson, Robertson, Van Dijk, Gomez, Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Mane, Firmino, Salah.


What they’re saying

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on facing Liverpool: “It’s the best team in our competition, just to say that – I could say more than that. We would prefer to play against them with everybody available. … But again that’s the way it is and we worked hard in the week, and the boys that are available, of course they are happy to play and when somebody doesn’t play you open the opportunity for somebody else, and we know the situation. We know how good they are, we can imagine that in this room only two persons think that we can win. Maybe only two, but we believe (puts his arm around Spurs’ press officer). We have to believe. If you don’t believe, get out man.”

Jurgen Klopp on Jose Mourinho: “A world-class manager with a specific mindset. He wants to win. I respect that a lot. Each situation his team is in he tries to use. That is how managers work. The good news is, we don’t play. We send out two teams and we have to make sure it works out. I don’t think anyone wants to play us right now. Spurs are never easy but they are now so let’s see.”


Prediction

Liverpool’s biggest question mark is in the midfield, but Tottenham’s hit there, too. We imagine this one will be a bit cagier than usual, perhaps even a surprise 1-1.