United and Liverpool facing the same problems
United versus Pool still the biggest rivalry but both managers share the same plight
MAN UNITED v LIVERPOOL
(Sunday, 12.30am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Now more than ever before, Manchester United and Liverpool are more alike than either would dare to concede.
Theirs has been, and remains, the English Premier League's incomparable rivalry.
No other has been more competitive, more toxic, than when football's most notorious inter-city rivals face off in this long-running, all-encompassing dissension.
"For sure, it's the maximum rivalry in England. You just have to look at the stats," said Pako Ayestaran, Liverpool's assistant manager under Rafael Benitez at the height of the feud in the mid-2000s.
"It's the most important game for both teams, independent of their positions in the table.
"Sometimes, it's difficult to keep the emotions under control. I think it's one of the difficulties for the coaches and the managers in these games.
"I was one who tried to keep the emotions under control because, if not, your decisions are not the right ones."
Long defined by one-upmanship, equilibrium has become a surprising addition to the fracas.
Far more than the seven points apiece from their opening four EPL games makes these fiercest of foes the most unlikely of kindred spirits.
Sunday morning's (Singapore time) Old Trafford showdown brings a meeting of managers facing similar and unenviable predicaments.
For Louis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers, the challenge to drag their respective clubs out from the shadows of insurmountable history is made all the more difficult by decreasing levels of faith in either incumbent.
The Dutchman had forewarned that United's reawakening may take longer than was widely anticipated. Few suspected that they would, 13 months on, be in danger of sleepwalking into the wilderness in a not too dissimilar fashion to Sunday morning's counterparts.
Liverpool's rise and subsequent fall from grace was the yardstick against which Sir Alex Ferguson measured the aspirations and avoidances of his United tenure.
Now, it represents a warning from history of the risks befalling the club under van Gaal's leadership.
Mutiny already rages within the ranks. Methods which yielded success at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and internationally with Holland have won few friends or influence at United's Carrington training ground.
The 64-year-old can have little complaints. He has been afforded all the freedom and amenities that saw Ferguson thrive during 27 years at the Old Trafford helm.
He was given complete jurisdiction of United's movements in the transfer market; from those they signed, including the £36 million ($78.3m) gamble on Anthony Martial; the pursuit of those they failed to sign, such as Gareth Bale and Neymar; and those offloaded, including Angel di Maria.
Irrespective of the fallout behind David de Gea's protracted move to Real Madrid - a messy and public slanging match between the clubs - it, too, was a gameplan which lay at his behest.
Verdicts were reached on David Moyes after his short-lived spell yielded 27 wins from his first 50 games with a quarter of the £256.7m budget his successor has spent, with near-identical results.
Only Real Madrid and Manchester City boast more expensive squads than the one van Gaal has assembled.
Yet there have been notable failings. A lack of contingency to contend with de Gea's impending departure, well-documented months in advance, and an inability to remedy quality and depth issues at both ends of the field have done little to support his case.
He continues to look over his shoulder, and with good reason; his Old Trafford reign is tainted by the sceptre of Ferguson.
The decimation of his 2013 title-winning charges - just nine of that 29-man squad remain - serves to intensify that burden of expectancy on van Gaal.
The stand bearing the legendary Scottish manager's name towers ever higher over the home dugout, not least with a potential successor sitting mere feet away.
Ryan Giggs remains Ferguson's heir apparent. Agitation is currently not the United No. 2's remit but his temporary spell in charge, following Moyes' departure, is considered the club's natural succession plan; a link with its glorious past and fabled "Class of 92".
Van Gaal's plight will resonate with Rodgers. At Anfield, he is also waylaid by the trappings of yesteryear.
Four games into the campaign, the doubts which left him facing an end-of-season autopsy with owners Fenway Sports Group have resurfaced.
Room for mulligans has been expunged. Juergen Klopp's continual hints at a return to management and the impending availability of Andre Villas-Boas provides a looming sense of inevitability that Rodgers is on increasingly borrowed time.
He, too, has minimal grounds for discourse. Absolute control was afforded to Rodgers following years of a recruitment policy that left question marks as to which of Liverpool's failed signings belong to the club's conflated transfer committee and those attributable to the 42-year-old.
That record in the transfer market has been laid bare, with 13 of the 24 players signed in the first two years of his tenure now either on loan or have left permanently. Those who remain prompt an equal level of scrutiny to those that have arrived.
An assured defence gave way to a horror show as West Ham ended a 52-year wait for victory at Anfield two weeks ago.
A repeat performance at the Theatre of Dreams would intensify the pressure on Rodgers, crowned Manager of the Year less than 18 months ago.
Ferguson famously vowed to knock Liverpool "off their perch" but United now find themselves similarly dislodged.
With Chelsea and City disappearing into the middle-distance, the race to the top that once defined this fixture has been downgraded to a scrap to maintain their diminishing relevance.
They are no longer so different after all.
Cloud of rebellion at Old Trafford
A storm appears to be brewing over Old Trafford as manager Louis van Gaal faces signs of rebellion in the Manchester United dressing room.
Newspapers in the UK have reported that a group of senior players confronted the Dutchman a few weeks ago, blaming his "rigid" training regimen for the lack of attacking flair.
Yesterday, The Times and The Sun reported that the players feel van Gaal's methodical approach does not allow them to express themselves.
The atmosphere at the club's Carrington training complex was said to be tense, with players, led by captain Wayne Rooney and vice-captain Michael Carrick, unhappy that they were being turned into "robots", reported the Daily Mail.
The paper quoted a source as saying: "Nobody is allowed to take a chance.
"They (the players) feel like they are wearing straitjackets. Everything is in zones. It's a case of 'you can only go this far'. The feeling is that they are being turned into robots.
"Everything is structured. The manager enjoys a laugh but they rarely see that on the training ground. It's a case of you work here and you have a laugh outside.
"He is set in his ways. Because they have worked before he is unwilling to change them."
The players, according to The Telegraph, were also frustrated by the lengthy sessions conducted by video analyst Max Reckers and the lack of respect towards Brazilian fullback Rafael da Silva, who left for Lyon during the recent transfer window.
Indeed, van Gaal has shown little signs of changing his ways despite the confrontation, which came after United managed just one shot on target in the 1-0 opening day win over Tottenham, thanks to a Kyle Walker own goal.
Since then, they have beaten Aston Villa 1-0, drawn with Newcastle (0-0) and lost 2-1 to Swansea.
United are fifth in the Premier League standings with seven points, trailing leaders Manchester City by five ahead of the visit of Liverpool on Sunday morning (Singapore time).
The Dutchman is famous for his stubbornness and penchant for tactical discipline, a contrast to the cavalier approach of previous Manchester United sides under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
That trait is best summed up by Angel di Maria, who said after his move to Paris St Germain last month: "Louis van Gaal has his philosophy, and that is one of the things that made me want to leave. It is difficult to adapt to van Gaal. I had a couple of rows with him."
The signing of French prodigy Anthony Martial from Monaco on transfer-deadline day could provide some creativity to help Rooney in attack, while van Gaal could have goalkeeper David de Gea back in contention for the game against their Merseyside arch-rivals.
De Gea has not played for United this season after he was embroiled in a tug of war with Real Madrid. - Wire Services.