Jose Mourinho relishing the opportunity to test Liverpool’s mettle
Manchester United manager calls for his side to take the game to their great rivals
Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United in action against Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson during the Premier League clash at Anfield. Photo: Matthew Peters/Getty Images)
His side take on their fiercest rivals for the second time this season with the mood transformed from when they met at Anfield in October. Then, United were under pressure, having already lost two league games and desperate to avoid a third defeat. They defended for most of the game and came away with a point.
Now they are on a high, after nine consecutive wins, and hope to deal a severe blow to a Liverpool side yet to win in 2017. And, as Mourinho is keen to point out, teams are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with United, especially at Old Trafford.
In mid-November Arsenal were overrun throughout the contest before grabbing a point with an 89th-minute Olivier Giroud header. Three weeks later Spurs were beaten with another display of powerful play, having no reply to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first-half strike.
Gone seem the days of draws against, Burnley, Stoke City, West Ham United and Everton (as well as Arsenal). Now it is all about winning. And if Europa League defeats are disregarded, they are unbeaten against English opposition since the defeat at Chelsea on 24 October, a run of 16 outings.
And so, three months after the drab goalless draw at Anfield, Mourinho is in no doubt that Liverpool will face a United onslaught this time.
He said: “We try. We did it against Arsenal and Tottenham. We are going to try to do it against Liverpool. Arsenal could not be in control of that match. Tottenham could not be in control of that match. Let’s see if Liverpool can, against big opponents, big players. Everything is more difficult but we are going to try.”
“Because the results are better than before, this changes a lot of things. At that time [the Anfield match] I had less time working together with my players. Now we know each other better, we have a certain way to think and play football. We don’t just have good performances, we have good results, we play at home not away [tomorrow]. Little details that change a bit. But it’s a big match – let’s enjoy the match.”
Mourinho did not concede the draw between the sides was insipid.
“Some people say 0-0 is not a good game because no goals. I accept that way of analysing it but it doesn’t mean I always agree with that. Nil-nil can be a good game. If Liverpool are better than us, have more shots, are close to winning, then a point is good. If we are the best team and dominate and have more chances then a point is a bad result.”
The prize for beating Liverpool is not only bragging rights and a spring in the step for their fans. Victory will close the gap to Jürgen Klopp’s side, who began the weekend in second, to two points.
“I am not worried about that,” Mourinho said. “I just want to win the next match. And no matter what happens against Liverpool, I will want to win against Stoke [next Saturday].
“We don’t choose competitions or opponents. No competition is more important than another. We just try to win matches while we are improving the team. The team has to be improving all the time. Next season has to be better than this season. This is our way. We don’t look for nine victories or 10, or six or seven, unbeaten in 15 or 16. It is just the next match. Now it is Liverpool and we are going to try to win.
“We are in the race to win the next match. After Liverpool, if you ask me I will say we want to, and we can, win against Stoke. That is our approach. Mathematically the numbers are huge: 18 matches to play, 54 points to play for. The last three or four matches with nine, 12 points available; that is the moment to say what can we do for up and down. Now is too early.”
Strong atmosphereLeague Cup
“They have to make us feel that feeling we felt at Anfield – we felt clearly for the Liverpool fans it was more than a match. Now we play at home we have a huge percentage of our fans compared with Liverpool fans.
“In modern football there is no more intimidation. These guys are used to strong atmospheres. It cannot affect the Liverpool players. A strong atmosphere from our fans cannot intimidate the Liverpool players. What it can do is give something more to ours.
“I don’t think it can influence. Anfield was no influence on us, not at all; it gave something more to them. That is what Old Trafford can do to our boys. That little extra. You are tired but you have a little more to give. You are confident, so you are going to be ultra confident. But this will not interfere with Liverpool.
“They come here with stability to do their game and follow Jürgen’s game plan, what he thinks can be their game. I think they will play their game. Our boys, with a special support, they can have a special performance.”
There have already been some impressive performances in United’s winning streak. If a 10th comes tomorrow by beating Klopp’s resurgent side, then it could be argued that Mourinho may be, in his first season, starting to create the kind of teak-tough winning machine similar to his previous champion sides at Chelsea, Internazionale and Real Madrid.