The blood and thunder of derby day. It’s amazing. The sights, the sounds, the random supporters taunting the opposition about tragedies from each other’s past – there’s nothing quite like it.
United head into it on the back of a five game winning streak. Hooray! Yes that form is faker than 90% of Renee Zellweger’s face and they haven’t suddenly become title contenders – or good even – but they’ve the points on the board. They go into this match with a significantly better points per game average than their Scouse rivals. Over the universal standard unit of measure for recent form, six games, they’ve taken 2.5 points per game versus Liverpool’s 1.17.
Traditional derby-based clichés tell us that this doesn’t matter whatsoever. ‘Throw the form book out the window’ comes the refrain, sometimes followed by ‘and set it on fire and piss on the ashes’ by more maverick elements of the cliche-shouters.
In the white heat of a derby, the players forget they made Crystal Palace look like Brazil of the 1970s only a couple of weeks ago, and this suddenly transforms them to new heights. Hell, the last time Liverpool went to Old Trafford we’re pretty sure we saw Joe Allen transcend his physical body, become a cloud of cosmic dust and silently pull the strings of the entire universe in a state of karmic nirvana.
Of course that’s utter bollocks and we have the numbers to prove it.
In this case, the ‘ignore the form book’ theory basically a device TV channels use to get you to watch even when you have a decent idea of how it’s going to go. Jamie Redknapp is currently laughing at you. Laughing in your face and calling you a mug.
Yes, we don’t know what the result will be and surprises do happen, but form is useful, even if you’re playing a team you don’t really like 30 miles up the M62. There’s enough drama and talking points to make it feel like a contest, but the reality is, most of the time, the result goes the way the recent form suggests. In the last 20 league derbies going back to 2004:
- The team who have gained more points per game in the previous six* matches has won 65% of the time
- The team who average fewer points per game in the previous six upset the form just 25% of the time
- The 10% represents two times when Man United had the better form and came away from Anfield with a point
*Not always six games. Sometimes only the number of league games the teams had under their belt before playing each other early in the season.
That’s bad news for Sunday’s visitors who are in significantly poorer form. We’ve even ignored cup competition results and it still doesn’t look good. United have been flattered by their results and Fraser Forster’s inability to close his legs and they aren’t as dominant as their win column suggests, but they are scoring goals and that’s something Liverpool have struggled with. That and defending. And goalkeeping. Well, pretty much everything really, you get the picture.
Having said that, regardless of the form and Liverpool’s generous defence, these games tend to be tight. 65% of the last 20 derbies have been decided by one goal margins and that’s very possible this Sunday. Considering the form indicators that points towards a tasty little bet on Manchester United to win by exactly one goal at 5/2. That covers a multitude of scorelines – 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, 23-22 – some of which are more likely than others.
It is a great derby, but the best course of action may be to not expect any great surprises.