It has been almost a quarter of a century since Liverpool were 14 points or more clear of their rivals from down the M62 at this stage of the season. The Clash were number one this weekend in 1991 with ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, a chillingly apt song title for Manchester United manager David Moyes, should Liverpool win at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The Merseysiders have won just one of their last 11 trips to the Theatre of Dreams but this season isn’t comparable to recent trends for either side. Manchester United are in transition without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, while Liverpool, free from European distraction and with the most exciting attacking line-up in the top flight, are genuine title contenders.
It is Liverpool’s ability to start games quickly and with a high intensity, defending from the front and attacking at pace in the opening 30 minutes, that could win them this game.
Brendan Rodgers has his team set up to assert their advantage early. Just ask Arsenal (4-0 down after 20 minutes), Everton (3-0 down at half-time) or Tottenham (2-0 down at half-time at White Hart Lane). They attack relentlessly and never has that been more evident than against the then league leaders Arsenal last month. The clock had barely ticked past 20 minutes and Liverpool had had nine attempts on goal, scored four and struck the post. Game over.
- This season, Liverpool have racked up 47 goals in the first half – more than double what Manchester United have managed before the break
- On the road Liverpool have scored 18 goals in the first half of games, more than any other team. On the other hand, United have scored just seven times in the first period at Old Trafford – that’s fewer first half home goals than West Ham, Aston Villa, Hull or Crystal Palace
- United can boast a record of conceding just four first half goals at Old Trafford this season. However, they have made five defensive errors in the opening 45 minutes, two of which have led directly to goals. Only five top flight teams are more prone to a defensive brain-fart during the first half at home
The intensity of Liverpool’s start to games is their greatest strength and, if Brendan Rodgers continues this tactic against Man United, there is no reason to see David Moyes’ men being able to contain them.
The difference in confidence and mental strength is very obvious when comparing a team who are flying high and challenging for the title, to a side that are in decline, struggling in the league, and being hammered in the press on a regular basis. It’s not easy to boost team morale when even a teenager with basic Photoshop skills can create a meme embarrassing you.
- Will it be more quick thinking from Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool. Get the latest odds here: Desktop | Mobile
When Manchester United go behind, they rarely look like mounting a sustainable or convincing comeback. Not compared to the reputation they enforced consistently during Ferguson’s tenure.
In Ferguson’s last season at the helm, United conceded first in 42 per cent of games, which is not massively different to Moyes’ record of going behind first in 46 per cent of matches this year. What is different is the player’s ability to pick themselves up and turn the game around.
Ferguson’s win rate after conceding the first goal in league games during the 2012/13 season was 56 per cent. David Moyes’ win rate after conceding the first goal of the game this season is just 23 per cent. In his last season in charge, Sir Alex Ferguson lost 31 per cent of games in which United had conceded the first goal, but this season under Moyes that number has doubled to 62 per cent.
At that rate, if United concede the first goal in 16 games over the course of this season – that’s a difference of 15 points. The margin between challenging for the title, and scrapping it out with Newcastle for seventh.
Liverpool, in stark comparison are frequently scoring first, and early – they have broken the deadlock in 75 per cent of their league games this season. Confidence is high, and that shows, as the Merseyside club go on to win 81 per cent of those games. Their only two defeats after scoring first have come against Manchester City and Chelsea in two games away from home. Brendan Rodgers will point to refereeing decisions and a dodgy call by the linesman in both of those losses.
On the road this year Liverpool have been ahead in seven of their 14 games and have gone on to lose none of them. One man who starts quicker than most is in-form striker Danny Sturridge.
- A staggering 78 per cent of Sturridge’s 18 league goals have come in the first half of games
- Daniel Sturridge has taken, on average, just 29 minutes to find the back of the net in games in which he has scored in
- Five of Sturridge’s first half goals have come on the road. Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez is the only man to have scored more away goals before the break and he has played five more games than the Liverpool man
Expect Liverpool to start fast and hard again on Sunday. The question will be whether United can withstand the assault, and if they can’t, can they raise enough of a battling performance to at least keep Liverpool in sight?