Louis van Gaal faces his most critical match of the season at Anfield as United hope to open up a five-point gap between them and their rivals.
British football’s two most successful clubs meet for their most pivotal clash in years today, only neither are competing for a trophy.
Liverpool and Manchester United have both suffered falls from grace over the last two years and this particular run-in is focused on a top four finish for both clubs.
United failed woefully to halt Liverpool’s title momentum last season in a disjointed 3-0 defeat that fueled Brendan Rodgers’ side’s belief. It was another nail in the coffin for David Moyes and, although his season will also end trophyless, Louis van Gaal can console himself that he is not in as tenuous a position.
Van Gaal, lectured by Rodgers in pre-season, taught the Ulsterman a harsher lesson in December when United clinically beat Liverpool 3-0, a result that went some way to making amends for the previous season’s abject showing.
In his 29 years as a coach, Van Gaal has never coached at Anfield but the ground is not as hostile as it was on Ron Atkinson’s last trip there as United manager in 1986, when the team’s coach was greeted with tear gas.
“We got off the coach and all of a sudden something hit us,” Atkinson told Andy Mitten. ?”I thought it was paint fumes, but it was tear gas.
“In our dressing room before the game there were a lot of fans, Liverpool fans too, kids, all sorts, eyes streaming. Clayton Blackmore was so bad he wasn’t able to play. I was in an awful state.”
“I used to say those games were like Vietnam,” he added understatedly.
Van Gaal has experienced the hostility of the Bernabeu and the poisonous atmosphere of the Dutch Klassiker between Feyenoord and Ajax. He has rarely looked nervous this season and isn’t about to start feeling jittery at Anfield.
Although the Premier League table makes for uncomfortable reading. United are, somehow, still in the top four but just two points ahead of fifth-place Liverpool, unbeaten in the League since December’s defeat at Old Trafford.
Jordan Henderson’s winner at Swansea on Monday night, in which a Jordi Amat clearance bounced off the midfielder, into the ground and over Lukasz Fabianski, was the kind of good fortune Liverpool enjoyed during last season’s run-in until Steven Gerrard literally slipped up.