Jürgen Klopp has billed tonight’s Europa League clash with Manchester United as “the mother of all games”, presumably in an effort to liken his last run in with the Red Devils at Anfield, which ended 0-1 in the visitors' favour, to a less prominent family member, perhaps an estranged cousin who moved to Australia after uni and now only comes home every other Christmas.
Both clubs’ topsy-turvsy domestic campaigns make it less and less likely that either will qualify for next season’s Champions League by taking the top-four finish route and consensus is growing in the North-West of England that the most viable way into the continent’s premier competition is by winning the Europa League. So in a turn up for the books, the two Premier League sides will actually be looking to stay in the tournament.
Tonight will be the first time two English sides have met in Europe’s second tier club competition since 1973, when Liverpool squared off with Spurs.
The Reds have experienced an upsurge in form in recent weeks, having racked up three straight wins in the Premier League, including a 3-0 revenge-filled drubbing of Manchester City just days after being denied their first piece of silverware of the season by a big bald Willy at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Louis van Gaal’s United come into this encounter fresh off the back of disappointing 1-0 defeat at The Hawtorns that brought the red half of Manchester - high off the fumes of the Marcus ‘knight in shining armour’ Rashford narrative - crashing back down to earth.
The two managers have only duked it out once on English soil, with the Dutchman taking the spoils from the aforementioned encounter back in January. However, their head-to-head record includes four showdowns in the Bundesliga, where they held each other to two wins apiece during their spells in charge of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
History dictates that it’s the bespectacled German’s turn to get a win but should David Moyes’ successor spoil the party on Merseyside tonight, he will become the first United manager in history to have beaten the eternal rivals on five successive occasions.
Klopp is likely to start with Kop favourite Daniel Sturridge but will lose the midfield steel of James Milner, who is reportedly too under the weather to play.
Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Will Keane, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jesse Lingard are unavailable for the trip to Anfield, while Adnan Januzaj is cup-tied. As such, all eyes will be on new kid on the block Rashford.
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