By Mike Collett
MANCHESTER United manager Louis van Gaal would rather be taking his under-performing team anywhere but bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday (4.05pm) as speculation continues over his future at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal’s trials and tribulations are continuing to dominate the back pages with United slipping to sixth after conceding a last-minute equaliser to draw 3-3 at Newcastle United on Tuesday, a result the Dutchman said felt like a defeat.
In contrast, Liverpool’s 3-3 draw with Arsenal 24 hours later felt more like a win to boss Jurgen Klopp after Joe Allen’s 90th minute equaliser stopped Arsene Wenger’s table-toppers in their tracks.
Liverpool’s rivalry with United is one of the most intense in English football and even after the thrilling draw with Arsenal Klopp was already thinking about United’s visit to Anfield.
“It was a great game of football,” he said, “and ultimately, we will talk about this game, maybe not for too long, because on Sunday we play Manchester United, but it will not be easy to forget it,” he said.
Van Gaal’s mood was far less upbeat, ruing the loss of two important points, and then insulting a journalist at the end of his post-match news conference.
“We had to win and we didn’t do it, we are very disappointed but can only blame ourselves,” he said.
The biggest problem facing Liverpool might be their own crippling injury concerns rather than United’s indifferent form which has seen them win twice in eight league matches.
Liverpool, in ninth place, have 11 players in the treatment room, although they showed real resilience to gain a point against Arsenal.
Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino meanwhile has said he is keen to emulate his performance in Wednesday’s draw with Arsenal on a more consistent basis.
The 24-year-old Brazil international gave Liverpool the lead twice within the opening 20 minutes against the Gunners, including a stunning strike from outside the box.
Firmino’s only other goal came in the Merseyside club’s 4-1 thumping of Manchester City in November, when he was also named man of the match.
“I hope I can play like that against all teams, not only the big teams,” Firmino told the club’s website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
“Manchester United are a big team and I know how big this derby is here… If we do as well as we did up front against Arsenal against them, we have a good chance to win on Sunday.”
Arsenal, who top the table with 43 points after 21 games, ahead of Leicester City on goal difference, travel to Stoke City tomorrow (6.15pm) and could start the match in second place if Leicester win at bottom side Aston Villa on Saturday (7.30pm).
Leicester ended a run of three league matches without a goal with a late Robert Huth header giving them a 1-0 win at fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
Spurs, who are now seven points behind the leaders, host relegation-threatened Sunderland in Saturday’s early kick-off (2.45pm) with Sunderland buoyed by a 4-2 win at Swansea City on Wednesday with former Spurs favourite Jermain Defoe scoring a hat-trick.