The beautiful game has never been short of derbies proclaiming themselves to be the biggest, baddest and bitterest around. Any self-respecting supporter would, of course, insist their particular local skirmish is the fiercest in football, but in truth, all must bow down to the biannual battle royale that is the North-West derby: Liverpool vs Manchester United.
Hostilities will be renewed between these two rivals for the 169th time in the league at Anfield this Saturday. For those with faint hearts, a nervous disposition or in peril of a perforated eardrum, stand back at a safe distance. It’s going to be as loud, pyrotechnic and potentially ungentlemanly as ever.
Some premature pundits have already anointed United as the champions-elect this season.
The Merseysiders are seven points adrift of their M62 neighbours after only seven games, however, venturing to Anfield is the first credible test for José Mourinho. The jury will be out for the unbeaten joint league leaders, to see just how good they really are.
Interestingly, Liverpool began the week’s betting as marginal favourites for the three points, but news that forward Sadio Mané is out for six weeks with a hamstring injury – coupled with the confirmation that United’s Romelu Lukaku has recovered from his ankle problem – has seen a role reversal in the odds: the Red Devils now 33/20 to take the spoils. The home side is 7/4 to send the Kop into a frenzy.
The draw is 47/20 and given that the last three North-West derbies – two in last season’s Premier League and the second leg of their Last 16 clash in the 2015-16 Europa League – have all ended in a stalemate, it’s not a massive leap of faith to back another inconclusive result.
League goals have been relatively easy to come by for both sides this term, with United banging in 21 and Liverpool 13. Grosvenor Sport is giving 4/6 on the two teams mustering at least one between them on Merseyside this weekend. If you believe both sides will fire blanks for 90 minutes at Anfield – a result which would give the much-maligned and alarmingly porous Liverpool defence a timely boost – it’s 11/10.
The odds for possible Liverpool scorers make for surprising reading.
Daniel Sturridge is installed as the most likely to pierce the United defence, at 21/10, while red-hot Philippe Coutinho is further out at 14/5 to score anytime. Sturridge has just the one goal for club and country in eight appearances this season, while his Brazilian team-mate has been on target in each of his last three outings for Jürgen Klopp’s side.
It’s been a great week for the Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah – his two goals for Egypt against Congo booking his country’s place in the World Cup finals for the first time in 28 years. He is the club’s top scorer with six goals and is 23/10 to continue his rich vein of form in front of goal against the Red Devils.
Lukaku to take his form to Anfield
There are no prizes for predicting Lukaku is the shortest-priced United player to find the back of the net at 29/20. The big Belgian proved his fitness on Tuesday night on international duty with Belgium – scoring against Cyprus – and with 11 goals in 10 appearances for Mourinho since his summer switch from Everton, it’s hard to imagine United making inroads at Anfield without Lukaku being involved.
Potentially more lucrative odds are on offer for the rest of the United squad to score anytime, with Marcus Rashford 11/4. The England youngster has five goals to his name this season and although he’s yet to open his account against Liverpool in three previous appearances in the North-West derby, he has the pace and technique to trouble any defence.
The most recent United player to score against Klopp’s boys was Zlatan Ibrahimović, in January, but the giant Swede is off the Mourinho selection menu for the time being, leaving Anthony Martial as the last fit Red Devil to get his name on the scoresheet against the Reds. That goal came from the spot in the Europa League in March last year and the Frenchman is a 29/10 shot to repeat the trick on Saturday.