High stakes for managers in Liverpool-Man United clash
Tale of two desperate managers - Klopp wants to end United hoodoo, van Gaal seeks job safety
ROUND OF 16, FIRST LEG
LIVERPOOL v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 4am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
High stakes and scores to settle - Liverpool and Manchester United wouldn't dream of having it any other way.
They will, however, wonder how it ever came to this; the latest instalment of the long-running feud between English football's fallen heavyweights - European royalty, no less - being downgraded to a scrap for the salvation of their respective seasons in the continental game's poor relation.
Louis van Gaal invariably begs to differ, but the harsh reality is that the Europa League last-16 match-up between the sides tomorrow morning (Singapore time) serves as a damning indictment of how far the stocks of both Anfield and Old Trafford have continued to tumble.
This was the tie that Juergen Klopp openly relished - a chance to redress the balance of United's current four-game winning streak over their Anfield adversaries under van Gaal, as well as the effusive German's own personal standing against his former Bundesliga nemesis.
But the Liverpool manager continues to strive for more, believing in once again achieving the improbable and reaching for a second showpiece during his formative months in the hot seat.
Lifting the Europa League would signify not just piling another trophy into the club's already well-stocked, if recently sparse, cabinet, but also a sure-fire way back to the footballing promised land.
In truth, they may not need silverware in their ultimate pursuit of the latter.
Unfazed and unpressured, Liverpool have moved to within three points of United in the English Premier League table.
Win their game in hand, against Everton, and a superior goal difference would see them leapfrog their fiercest of foes and hunt down Manchester City in fourth place.
Van Gaal knows the importance of securing either a Europa League triumph or a Champions League spot through the EPL.
Preserving the Red Devils' place at the top table of European football remains the parameter by which the remainder of his tenure will be defined.
He remains on the ropes and is all too aware of the repercussions that the shortcomings of a chastening second season will bring.
Even if he is able to weather the storm until next summer, when his current contract is set to expire, the shadows will continue to loom large.
Jose Mourinho and Ryan Giggs remain widely touted as his likely successors.
One lacks the conviction to carry out the "United way", while the other lacks the authority to do - yet both are considered the lesser of two evils when stacked against van Gaal's botched two-year reign.
In Klopp, Liverpool have at least made tentative steps to halt their own decline.
Parachuted in, barely two months into the EPL season, with little expectancy and an inheritance of misfits, progress has already been heralded in last month's unsuccessful League Cup final appearance.
Van Gaal, conversely, remains steadfast in his attempts to mask United's failings, notably berating those that he perceives to "live in the past".
But, as his final shot at bounty dawns, it is one of European football's elder statesmen who continues to hark back to a bygone time.
He is a far cry from the man who steered Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich to success.
His glittering CV was last adorned with a trophy some six years ago and memories of guiding his country to a third-placed finish in the last World Cup have rapidly faded in the face of the largely dogmatic football which has plagued Old Trafford since 2014.
The Dutchman cannot complain that he has not been afforded the resources or patience necessary to restore United to former glories - he has £250 million ($491.7m) worth of reasons why he can have little complaints should Ed Woodward belatedly show him the door.
United will need little excuse when they step out at Anfield tomorrow morning.
Lose and excuses will be all that van Gaal has left to cling to.
What thEY SaY it will be tight, but Liverpool are coming off the back of good results, so they will go into the first leg with confidence. united will feel, having done the double over Liverpool, that they also have a good chance.
— Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
He is starting to show some signs that he can be that guy. is he Luis Suarez? at the moment, he isn’t Suarez. but he might be in the future. he is doing extremely well. if he can build a partnership with (Philippe) coutinho, who knows?
— Former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, saying Roberto Firmino (above) can take Luis Suarez’s place at Liverpool one day
100 per cent (it’s more important than usual). it’s another route into the champions League, so it takes on even more importance. they really need to take it seriously.
— Former Man United defender Rio Ferdinand
Five talking points
Liverpool face arch-rivals Manchester United for the first time in European competition tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Press Association Sport looks at some of the issues ahead of their Europa League last-16, first-leg clash.
1 Who will conquer their inconsistencies?
Liverpool go into the match after back-to-back wins, but that is no guarantee of success. Too many times this season, they have shot themselves in the foot just when it seemed they had turned a corner.
Similarly, United won four in a row, admittedly two were against Shrewsbury and FC Midtjylland in the FA Cup and Europa League respectively, before surprisingly getting beaten by West Brom last Sunday - which is also characteristic of their season.
The result is likely to be decided on who makes the fewest mistakes.
2 How has Louis van Gaal acquired the Indian sign over Liverpool?
The Dutchman has won all four games against the Reds since taking over at Old Trafford and Liverpool have never lost five in a row against their old enemies.
But a closer look at those wins shows van Gaal has enjoyed his fair share of luck, from Liverpool - mainly Raheem Sterling - missing a host of chances in his first encounter, through Steven Gerrard getting sent off seconds after coming on, to Wayne Rooney (below) nicking a 1-0 win at Anfield in January despite being second best.
3 How will United's defence perform against Liverpool's attack?
United have kept three clean sheets in seven encounters against fellow big-five opponents (Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal) this season, winning three and losing just once.
They have managed to score just eight goals and six of those came in two games against Liverpool and Arsenal.
Liverpool have scored 16 times in eight meetings against big-five teams - and first-choice striker Daniel Sturridge has played in just one of those.
4 Who has the best attack?
United's top four scorers have 39 goals among them, but 14-goal Wayne Rooney is out injured, although Marcus Rashford's emergence has given them a timely boost.
Liverpool's best four have 30, evenly spread among them and, crucially, all are fit.
That quartet does not include Sturridge, who has scored five times in 11 appearances this season at a far greater strike-rate than any of his teammates.
5 What role can the fans play?
There have been very few of those famous European nights at Anfield recently but, on their day, the supporters have more than played their part - just ask Chelsea about the wall of sound they faced during the 2005 Champions League semi-final.
Long-serving match-goers to both Anfield and Old Trafford have both complained about how the influx of "tourists" has watered down the atmosphere and the teams' fortunes on the pitch have contributed to that, but a midweek match under the lights should get the juices flowing again.
Rivalry by the numbers
Old foes Liverpool and Manchester United go head-to-head in European competition for the first time tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The Europa League last-16 clash promises to be the latest fascinating fixture between the long-standing rivals and north-west giants.
Here are some key numbers:
LIVERPOOL v MAN UNITED
1892 Formed 1878
5 European Cups 3
3 Uefa Cup/Europa Leagues 0
0 Uefa Cup Winners' Cups 1
3 Uefa Super Cups 1
0 Intercontinental trophies 2
18 League titles 20
7 FA Cups 11
8 League Cups 4
55 League wins in this encounter 67
7 Domestic cup wins in this encounter 11
- PA Sport.