All eyes on Anfield for United’s biggest test
January 19, 2020 was the day Liverpool fans had seen enough, after 30 long years of heartache and false dawn their title aspirations had come true, and Anfield made it known.
A 2-0 win over Manchester United that day pushed Jurgen Klopp’s side 16 points clear at the top and 30 points ahead of their age-old rivals, prompting cries of ‘we are going to win the league ” of the exuberant. Faithful to Anfield.
A year later, we are presented with a very different picture as England’s two biggest football clubs prepare to renew their rivalry.
Since that fateful day at Anfield, United have not lost a Premier League game away from home, and their latest road triumph at Burnley sees them returning to the home of the Premier League-leading champions and with a three-goal cushion.
In less than 12 months, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer transformed Manchester United’s fortunes and the prospect of potentially opening a six-point gap between them and Liverpool shows how far they’ve come.
But as Liverpool will attest, it’s at this point in the season – and what comes next – that the champions are really won, a sentiment echoed by Solskjaer who rightly pointed out that no one remembers who dominated the all-season league in mid-January.
Manchester United are undoubtedly back in the title race but that’s no feat in itself for a club of such stature. The hard work has only just begun and all eyes will be on Anfield to see if they can make their biggest statement yet.
The Everton defender is nearing the peak of his career and he’s playing like a man at his peak. Having turned 28 on Monday, Keane is now looking at the finished article. The whole pre-game talk against Wolves was about how much the Toffees would miss Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s influence, but that performance suggested Keane is Everton’s most important player right now.
Since moving to four fullbacks in the draw at Burnley, Everton have conceded just three goals in six games. And the only loss in that race came at home to West Ham when Keane was missing. His influence was evident in Molineux.
No player has made more clearances than him (8) and of course he came out with the winning goal, his fourth goal of the campaign.
Remember the days under Marco Silva when Everton were shipping goals at an alarming rate? Well, those days are behind us. They have the best set-piece defense record in the division, conceding only once all season.
With Keane at heart, Everton don’t roll easily anymore. Who knows where this might lead them?
Steve Bruce has deflected questions about his future at Newcastle after their eighth winless game at Sheffield United previously winless, claiming he was “the wrong man to ask” if he would get the chance to continue at St James’ Park.
He’s right, but it shouldn’t offer any comfort to see Newcastle fans still mourning for the Rafa Benitez era, or at least hope for progression on the horizon.
Pressure from Newcastle’s fan base – and can be judged amid still empty seats on Tyneside in every home game since March – has intensified with the Toon leaving both cup competitions in the space of a week , and now falling to arguably their lowest result and performance of the season.
But what did it matter in Mike Ashley’s day? The only metric that matters is survival in the Premier League. Newcastle are, so far at least, eight points ahead of the downside, and as long as their top-flight status is not seriously questioned, or perhaps even if it is, the The story strongly suggests that the manager is not going anywhere.
Finally, the first victory came for Sheffield United and Chris Wilder. It’s been, as the director said, “a long time to come” – but maybe it’s more than just three points in the grand scheme of things.
Wilder’s Blades certainly haven’t played like a side with the worst start in Premier League history, collecting just two points from their previous 17 games this season.
It may give them a bit of optimism, any more than it given their miserable position that the unthinkable may just be possible.
They once said the same thing about being down on Christmas. Ask Bryan Robson’s West Bromwich Albion what they thought.
“The season is not over in January,” Wilder said in his generally optimistic press conference after the well-deserved victory. If the Blades had lost to another team, they would be hoping to get into the mix, maybe it would have been. But now finally operational on the back of two wins in four days in all competitions, never say never.