Liverpool and Man United resume rivalry with Klopp riding high and Ten Hag under pressure

Thu, Mar 14, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Liverpool and Man United resume rivalry with Klopp riding high and Ten Hag under pressure

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Manchester United versus Liverpool is widely considered English soccer's fiercest rivalry. Yet on the field, it has often felt like a mismatch in recent years.

Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup quarterfinal match at Old Trafford, the contrasting fortunes of the teams are stark.

Liverpool is riding high in the Premier League, has one trophy in the bag and is in contention for another three.

United, meanwhile, is fighting to keep its season alive and the stakes are highest for manager Erik ten Hag amid speculation about his job and major changes to the running of the club.

New co-owner Jim Ratcliffe is in a hurry to get United back to winning ways. A new CEO has been hired. A new sporting director has been identified. How much further down the chain Ratcliffe is prepared to go to bring about success is not yet known.

But Ten Hag will know things need to improve after such a troubled campaign.

The best he can hope for this year is to win the one trophy still in reach - the FA Cup - and to qualify for the Champions League.

The latter looks unlikely, with United eight points adrift of the top four, while the visit of Liverpool in the Cup was about as daunting a prospect as Ten Hag could face.

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Jurgen Klopp looks determined to go out on a high when he steps down at the end of the season. And his players have responded to the announcement of his imminent departure by producing inspired performances.

The League Cup was secured in February and last week's 1-1 draw against defending champions Manchester City backed up Liverpool's Premier League title credentials, even in the face of a long injury list and Klopp's reliance a number of young and unproven players.

The Merseysiders head to Old Trafford with confidence high and second in the league standings. Unlike United, however, the Cup is far from a priority for Liverpool, which has its sights on a second title for Klopp to give the German coach the perfect send off.

A first title in more than a decade feels a long way off for United.

Its only success has come in cup competition since former manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 - and even that has been sparse. One FA Cup, two League Cups and a Europa League title is all it has to show after spending around $2 billion on players in that time.

It has been particularly painful for fans to watch on as its two fiercest rivals - City and Liverpool - battle it out for the biggest trophies.

Recent collisions with Liverpool have been just as difficult to watch.

In four of the last six meetings, Liverpool has scored four or more goals on its way to resounding wins.

In March last year, Liverpool handed United its worst competitive defeat in 90 years with a 7-0 rout at Anfield.

In the 2021-22 season it won 4-0 and 5-0. The year before there was a 4-2 win at Old Trafford.

How Ten Hag needs to change that script.

There are mitigating factors for his team's struggles this season. He has had to contend with a host of injuries to key players like Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund.

Ten Hag has also had to operate under the uncertainty surrounding the potential sale of the club and Ratcliffe's eventual minority investment.

That still might not be enough to earn him more patience from fans who have jeered after repeated setbacks this season.

While Ten Hag may see a morale-boosting win against United's biggest rival as a launchpad for a successful end to the campaign, there is also the potential that Liverpool could effectively kill off his team's season over the next few weeks.

Soon after Sunday's FA Cup match the teams go head-to-head in the league on April 17. Back-to-back losses would not only eliminate United from the Cup but further dent Ten Hag's faltering bid for Champions League qualification.

With a new co-owner to impress, the stakes could hardly be higher for Ten Hag.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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