Tough games kick off for United

Cape Times - - SPORT -

LON­DON: Jose Mour­inho’s un­beaten Manch­ester United face the big­gest test yet of their ti­tle cre­den­tials when they visit Liver­pool at An­field on Satur­day – a fix­ture that al­ways has a lit­tle ex­tra spice.

United are sec­ond in the Premier League, level on 19 points with neigh­bours Manch­ester City, but so far Mour­inho’s side have yet to face any of last sea­son’s top five.

Six wins from their open­ing seven games, with 21 goals scored and only two con­ceded, have raised ex­pec­ta­tions at Old Traf­ford, but the com­ing weeks should give a stronger in­di­ca­tion of just how ready United are for a real push for the ti­tle.

Spurs visit Old Traf­ford on Oc­to­ber 28 and then a week later United travel to Stam­ford Bridge to take on de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Chelsea, Mour­inho’s for­mer club.

The North West derby has al­ways had an ex­tra edge and even though the lack of lo­cal play­ers for both clubs could take away some of the nee­dle from the game, the pas­sion from the stands con­tin­ues to cre­ate a spe­cial at­mos­phere.

“An­field away is the ul­ti­mate test, men­tally and phys­i­cally with the in­ten­sity,” for­mer United cap­tain Gary Neville told Sky Sports.

“There’s ob­vi­ously less home-grown tal­ent but the at­mos­phere will be bril­liant and it is a game which you dare not lose as a player.”

Par­tic­u­lar fo­cus will be on United’s £75 mil­lion Bel­gian striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been in pro­lific form, scor­ing in 12 of his last 13 games for club and coun­try.

The pow­er­ful for­ward joined United from Ever­ton dur­ing the close-sea­son and has been an in­stant suc­cess – but there are still some who ques­tion whether he can be just as ef­fec­tive against bet­ter op­po­nents.

While Lukaku – and United – will want to prove that they are the real deal, Liver­pool badly need to kick-start their cam­paign after a shaky be­gin­ning.

Jur­gen Klopp’s side have taken just five points from their last four games, leav­ing them seven points be­hind the Manch­ester clubs.

The ex­cit­ing at­tack­ing tal­ent in the team, de­spite the loss to in­jury of Sa­dio Mane who is out for six weeks, should test the United de­fence that has had a rel­a­tively com­fort­able cam­paign so far.

For­mer Liver­pool striker and man­ager Kenny Dal­glish ex­pects Mour­inho to pro­tect his de­fence with a cau­tious ap­proach, sim­i­lar to how they played in last sea­son’s 1-1 draw on Mersey­side.

“Last year, when United came to Liver­pool, Jose Mour­inho parked the bus. But it wasn’t just one bus, I think it was a cou­ple of dou­ble-deck­ers put there,” said Dal­glish. “I think United will come and set up quite de­fen­sively...

“I think Jose will try to make sure the pres­sure is on Liver­pool, but the pres­sure is on ev­ery­one when it comes to a game like that.”

Pic­ture: BACKPAGEPIX

PRO­LIFIC: Manch­ester United striker Romelu Lukaku has been in great form all sea­son.

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