United, Reds fight for scraps

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - SPORT -

MANCH­ESTER United boss Jose Mour­inho has the tough task of keep­ing Liver­pool’s Mo­hamed Salah quiet as Jur­gen Klopp’s en­ter­tain­ers roll into town at the week­end – with sec­ond place in the Pre­mier League the prize on of­fer.

With Pep Guardi­ola’s Manch­ester City vir­tu­ally as­sured of the ti­tle, north­west ri­vals United and Liver­pool – the two most suc­cess­ful clubs in the English game – are left fight­ing for the scraps.

United’s im­pres­sive fight-back from 2-0 down on Mon­day to beat Crys­tal Palace 3-2 main­tained their slen­der two-point lead over Liver­pool in the bat­tle for the run­ners-up spot be­hind run­away lead­ers City.

Ne­manja Matic bailed out Mour­inho’s men with a stun­ning stop­page-time strike in Lon­don, but an­other three points pa­pered over the cracks in the lat­est in a se­ries of un­con­vinc­ing per­for­mances from United.

“We have to be hon­est, we have to play bet­ter,” Matic ad­mit­ted once the eupho­ria of his first United goal died down.

“We have to do more if we want to win as Liver­pool is a team with great qual­ity.”

The onus will be on Mour­inho to take the game to the vis­i­tors at Old Traf­ford to­day, but the Por­tuguese man­ager, crit­i­cised for keep­ing his ar­ray of at­tack­ers firmly on the leash, is un­likely to risk throw­ing cau­tion to the wind.

Liver­pool had scored 20 goals in their pre­vi­ous seven games be­fore a much-changed side drew 0-0 with Porto in mid­week, a re­sult that sealed a place in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nals for the first time in nine years.

With Jan­uary sign­ing Vir­gil van Dijk set­tling in well at the back and Loris Kar­ius im­press­ing in goal, the pieces are fall­ing into place for Klopp’s team, who have lost once in 20 Pre­mier League games.

But it is their for­wards, led by the ir­re­press­ible Salah along­side Roberto Firmino and Sa­dio Mane, who have scored a com­bined 68 goals this sea­son, that will give Mour­inho sleep­less nights.

There was a pal­pa­ble sen­sa­tion around An­field on Tues­day that Liver­pool minds were al­ready fo­cused on United, with the free-scor­ing front three all rested at dif­fer­ent spells of the game.

The match against Liver­pool is the first of three games in eight days for United at Old Traf­ford that will de­fine their sea­son.

Sevilla visit in the last-16 of the Cham­pi­ons League on Tues­day with the tie del­i­cately bal­anced at 0-0 after the first leg, be­fore in-form Brighton head north for an FA Cup quar­ter­fi­nal.

Mour­inho con­ceded re­cently “to play Liver­pool has a spe­cial mean­ing” for United, so re­serv­ing his stars’ en­er­gies for mid­week is out of the ques­tion. Fix­tures:

To­day: Manch­ester United v Liver­pool, New­cas­tle v Southamp­ton, West Brom v Le­ices­ter, West Ham v Burn­ley, Ever­ton v Brighton, Hud­der­s­field v Swansea, Chelsea v Crys­tal Palace

To­mor­row: Arse­nal v Wat­ford, Bournemouth v Tot­ten­ham Mon­day: Stoke v Manch­ester City.

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