Mour­inho wants fans pumped for Reds clash

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

IT IS al­ways risky to tick off your own sup­port­ers, but Jose Mour­inho’s pointed plea to Manch­ester United’s faith­ful not to treat Liver­pool’s visit like a trip to the theatre in­di­cates just how crit­i­cal Sun­day’s Old Traf­ford clash feels to him.

Liver­pool fans, who have never needed any en­cour­age­ment to turn their An­field home into an in­tim­i­dat­ing caul­dron of noise for United, have ev­i­dently found it amus­ing that Mour­inho should need to urge his side’s fans to make them­selves heard.

There is, of course, method in the United man­ager’s gen­tle chid­ing of the club’s sup­port­ers, who were con­spic­u­ously muted dur­ing the 2-0 mid­week win over Hull City in the first leg of their League Cup semi-fi­nal.

“What I feel is Sun­day is a spe­cial match for the Man United fans. So my in­vi­ta­tion is ‘don’t come to the theatre, come to play, play with us’,” Mour­inho urged.

The lat­est edition of the Eng­lish game’s most seething ri­valry could prove piv­otal. If a packed Old Traf­ford can roar Mour­inho’s in­creas­ingly im­pres­sive cre­ation to a 10th suc­ces­sive win in all com­pe­ti­tions, United will be only two points be­hind a free-scor­ing Liver­pool side li­onised all sea­son as po­ten­tial cham­pi­ons.

Yet if Juer­gen Klopp’s Liver­pool can get over their New Year hang­over – they have yet to win in 2017 and were aw­ful as they lost in the first leg of their League Cup semi-fi­nal against Southamp­ton – they can reignite their ti­tle am­bi­tions while de­liv­er­ing a sav­age blow to United as re­al­is­tic con­tenders.

Mean­while, Mour­inho’s claim that Sun­day will be a “spe­cial match” for United fans will be vin­di­cated glo­ri­ously should United pre­vail with a Wayne Rooney goal. Rooney net­ted his 249th for the club in Satur­day’s FA Cup tie against Read­ing and needs only one more to pass Bobby Charl­ton’s record.

Yet this is not about in­di­vid­ual mile­stones, says Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, who with 13 goals to his name is him­self in the thick of the race to be the Premier League’s lead­ing marks­man.

“I said from the be­gin­ning – slowly, slowly, we will get bet­ter and ev­ery­thing was about the click. We needed to click as a team. Now you see the iden­tity of the team,” Ibrahi­movic, who missed the Hull game with ill­ness but will be back on Sun­day, said.

“The last one-and-a-half months have shown the right way. We wait for the other teams to have their dips, to make their mis­takes, and we will be there.”

The old Swedish thor­ough­bred made United sound like a qual­ity race­horse tim­ing its run over the fi­nal fur­longs to per­fec­tion. And with Mour­inho’s help, the Old Traf­ford faith­ful could yet roar them home. (All games 5pm SA time un­less stated)

To­mor­row: Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur v West Bromwich Al­bion, White Hart Lane, 2.30pm, Wat­ford v Mid­dles­brough, Vicarage Road Sta­dium, 5pm, Hull City v AFC Bournemouth, Kingston Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Sta­dium, Swansea City v Ar­se­nal, Lib­erty Sta­dium, Burn­ley v Southamp­ton, Turf Moor, West Ham United v Crys­tal Palace, Lon­don Sta­dium, Sun­der­land v Stoke City, Sta­dium of Light, Le­ices­ter City v Chelsea, King Power Sta­dium, 7.30pm

Sun­day: Ever­ton v Manch­ester City, Good­i­son Park, 3.30pm, Manch­ester United v Liver­pool, Old Traf­ford, 6pm) – Reuters

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