It’s two years since Jurgen Klopp took the reigns, to much fanfare, at Anfield. The two-time Bundesliga title winner was suppose to turn a great club around; to provide the catalyst for the kind of renaissance that Sir Alex Ferguson once offered Manchester United. Two years in and Klopp is floundering, no nearer to restoring Liverpool to greatness than Ferguson was in his first two seasons at Old Trafford three decades ago. Meanwhile, José Mourinho has led a resurgent United side to three trophies and a place near the top of the Premier League. It surely couldn’t go wrong at Anfield this Saturday. Could it?
José Mourinho has called on his Manchester United squad to score more goals as the Reds seek to regain the Premier League for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. United scored just 54 on the way to sixth place in the league last season. This term, Mourinho wants his team to score more by spreading the burden around, starting with Sunday’s visit to Old Trafford by West Ham United.
Manchester United takes on Ajax almost six years to the day since the Reds last European final – few could have predicted that the face of the club would have changed so dramatically in the intervening time. The Reds’ 3-1 “hiding”- as Sir Alex Ferguson put it – at the hands of Barcelona in 2011 marked the natural end of a successful period in the team’s history. Could another one begin in Stockholm on Wednesday night?
Sunday’s result against Arsenal was the game in which José Mourinho finally delivered on his threat to forsake Manchester United’s top-four hopes in search of a Europa League triumph. The Reds suffered a torrid afternoon at the Emirates, marking the end of a 25 game Premier League unbeaten run, one which must rank among the most uninspiring in football history. During the run United slipped from six points off the league leaders to nineteen. It is a damning statistic, yet the Reds are is still in the hunt for a second piece of silverware as the club welcomes Celta Vigo to Old Trafford with a place in the Europa League final at stake.
The Europa League has provided United fans with something resembling a welcome break from the disappointment of the Premier League campaign. After the now typical draw against Swansea City last weekend, attention turned to continental conquests, and the first European semi-final involving Manchester United in six seasons. Celta Vigo stands between José Mourinho’s side and the Europa League final, but for the moment the focus comes back to the Premier League and Sunday’s fixture against Arsenal.
It is a little under three years since Swansea City arrived at Old Trafford and embarrassed Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United side in the Dutchman’s first competitive fixture in charge . It wouldn’t be the last time the Dutchman was humiliated while at United, but it is a result that remains lodged in the memory, as if to underline the mediocrity that has engulfed the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. It is almost 12 months since the Iron Tulip’s tenure at United came to end, and there are plenty of reasons to believe progress is being made. Signs that it hasn’t come fast enough as well.
It may have taken the best part of eight months, but at long last José Mourinho’s Manchester United finally lived up the manager’s lofty billing. On Sunday, facing a side that once threatened to win the Premier League title with months to spare, Mourinho offered his most impressive performance of his short tenure in Manchester. There was little expectation of victory, but United pulled off an unlikely win. Thursday’s Europa League fixture with Anderlecht is a different proposition again.