The contrarians of this world would claim the Burnley game is bigger than the Liverpool one.
But that’s not how the minds of most Manchester United fans work, nor how footballing rivalries operate, and in truth the Premier League table would say otherwise too. There is absolutely no doubt about one thing, though; the Burnley game is big. It will decide whether United head to Anfield as the league leaders — three points clear and with scope to stretch their shock lead — or in their current state as pretenders to the throne.
Jurgen Klopp has held himself recently with the air of a man who feels his drink is about to be spiked, someone who advertised a party on Facebook not expecting hundreds to show up at the front gate. With seven points now separating the top 10 teams in the league, he has every reason to feel anxious. Liverpool were 16 points clear at this point a year ago, having gone 38 league games without defeat after a 1-0 win at Tottenham. They were home and hosed.
Everyone knows this season is very different in so many ways and the fact United can actually drop points at Burnley and still end the week on top of the Premier League is incredible. It shows the resolve of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side and just how fallible Liverpool have become.
The Norwegian has a problem of his own, of course. And if he was hoping United’s FA Cup tie against Watford would be a dry run for his fringe players, to push their case for inclusion in two big league games this week, he may have been disappointed. None other than Axel Tuanzebe truly sent a message to the current first-team batch. Scott McTominay is already in that bracket, while the likes of Donny van de Beek, Mason Greenwood and Dean Henderson may well be remaining on the bench for a bit longer.
McTominay has arguably given Solskjaer his biggest selection headache as United prepare to make the short journey to Turf Moor.
His goal, part of a captain’s performance against Watford, was proof that the 23-year-old is always up for the fight. Taking the Burnley and Liverpool games in isolation and many would say a midfield duo of McTominay and his regular partner Fred is the obvious selection.
Solskjaer has certainly favoured the duo of late, and Greenwood’s poor form on the flank has meant he can accommodate both, plus Paul Pogba in a wide role.
The dilemma is whether to play either Pogba or Van de Beek in a more adventurous central midfield role against Burnley, where United will likely be asked to break down the resilient Clarets. Fred, McTominay or Nemanja Matic will sit as the holding midfielder.
Liverpool may then be a simpler selection; Fred and McTominay will hold, Pogba will probably start out wide.
Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are the only shoo-ins in attack, though Edinson Cavani should be another who gets to use Burnley as a trial run for Liverpool. His recent suspension has attracted headlines but it could be a blessing in disguise as the Uruguayan will be fresh, having missed the past three matches.
The two games will also test United’s defence, though you suspect if they get through the Burnley challenge the same four players will start at Anfield: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof (fitness pending) and Luke Shaw are Solskjaer’s quartet of choice.
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Manchester United got back to winning ways with a low-key 1-0 victory over Watford in the FA Cup.
Scott McTominay’s early header was enough for the win at Old Trafford, as United booked their place in the hat for the fourth round.
United will now refocus on their league campaign with crucial games to come this week against Burnley and Liverpool.
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It says much about Burnley’s dogged reputation under Sean Dyche that no United fan is taking Tuesday night’s game lightly, despite the big Liverpool game on the horizon. But United can certainly learn lessons at Turf Moor that they’ll take to Anfield, whatever the result.
The fear is that United could lose momentum and confidence if they don’t get things right in East Lancashire, before heading to Merseyside. So much will depend on the team played against Burnley and how it performs.
Solskjaer’s big-game line up will take shape a long time before the 4.30pm kick off on Sunday.