Liverpool v Man Utd: Why Sunday is much bigger for Jurgen Klopp’s side – Danny Murphy analysis

Fourth place is everything to Liverpool now, which is why Sunday’s game at Anfield is much bigger for them than it is for Manchester United.

United are in a great position going into it, and not just because they are in terrific form. They have cemented themselves in the top three, have already lifted one trophy and more silverware could follow this season.

They can afford a bad game, or even a bad result, this weekend without it derailing their entire campaign. Unfortunately for Liverpool, their situation is completely different.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are already playing catch-up in the Premier League after some disappointing results and their heavy defeat by Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie means that finishing fourth is, realistically, the only target they have left.

Whether they make it or not is vital for what happens next, too.

The size of that Real defeat was another example of why it will be time for a big reset at Liverpool this summer, which I think could see as many as five or six players leave and the same number signed in their place.

Whoever they try to bring in, having Champions League football is a great carrot to be able to offer and of course the finances that come with qualification would be crucial for any squad rebuild as well.

Liverpool made almost £100m by reaching the Champions League final last season and just by reaching the knockout stages this time they have already banked around £40m.

That money is extremely important to them and being in the Europa League does not bring anything like the same reward.

Will top four make or break any Bellingham deal?

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham
Liverpool are reportedly keen to sign Bellingham this summer but Real Madrid, Manchester City and Manchester United are also believed to be targeting the teenage England midfield star

There is no way Liverpool will struggle to attract top players this summer if they aren’t in next season’s Champions League but if they want someone who also has offers from clubs who have qualified, it could be a deciding factor.

I don’t think it would affect the decision of Borussia Dortmund and England midfielder Jude Bellingham, though, to pick out just one player who has been strongly linked with the Reds.

If he is keen on going to Liverpool in the first place, then Bellingham will surely believe that his presence would help the club be back involved in the Champions League the following campaign.

He only turns 20 in June so I doubt he would be bothered about missing out for one season in that competition because he has got so many years ahead of him to play in it.

If Klopp does need to persuade Bellingham – or anyone else – he can always point at his record with Liverpool. So far, the Reds have finished in the top four in every full season since he took charge in October 2015. If they don’t make it this time, then there is nothing to suggest it is anything other than a hiccup.

What happens on Sunday will not decide anything, either. There will still be 13 games to go and the teams immediately above Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle, are blowing hot and cold.

So, if Liverpool lose, their hopes of finishing fourth will not be all over. They still have to play Spurs at Anfield, and they have been in a similar position before where they successfully chased teams down in the final few weeks – they did it 2021, when they needed a injury-time goal from their goalkeeper to keep them in the hunt.

Alisson scores for Liverpool against West Brom in May 2021
Saved by their goalkeeper – Liverpool had to win their final five games of the 2020-21 season to secure a top-four finish, with Alisson’s 95th-minute winner against West Brom putting their fate in their own hands with two matches to go

The way I see it, though, United is the biggest game of Liverpool’s season, the same as it was in my playing days. If they beat them, it is a huge boost for the task ahead.

As a player, especially, you would look at the table and think ‘you know what, we’ve got a real chance’ and everyone gains a bit of impetus.

Klopp has some big decisions to make

Beating United is not easy at the moment. They have had games in the past few weeks where they have played well and won but they have also come through some matches where they were not at their best.

They have lost only one of their past 22 games in all competitions – against leaders Arsenal in January – and that run has been down to their resilience and character as well as their quality. Even against West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday, they did not play particularly well but they got the job done.

They have got some brilliant players who are also in great form, like Marcus Rashford and Casemiro, but the most important thing is that they are all on board with what their manager wants them to do, and they are experienced enough to see games out if they have to.

What I like about United is that they don’t mind digging in, sitting back and playing on the counter-attack, especially when they go a goal up.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with the Carabao Cup trophy
United beat Newcastle to win the Carabao Cup at Wembley last weekend – Erik Ten Hag could still win three more trophies this season, in the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League

They managed the second half of their Carabao Cup final really well in that respect, and it’s not just down to tenacity – they have become a well-balanced, well-coached and determined team.

Liverpool remain capable of beating anyone on their day, even with their current issues, and their home form is decent – they have only lost once in the Premier League at Anfield this season, against Leeds in October.

But this United team will test them in lots of different ways, with a defence that is difficult to break down and through their forwards who are confident and have lots of pace.

To beat them, Liverpool will have to start well, and stay at that level for 90 minutes. I was at the Real game and, for half an hour, the Reds were exceptional and played high-energy and exciting attacking football that caused Madrid all kinds of problems, but they were unable to sustain it and we all saw what happened.

United can punish them the same way Real did, and there are so many different areas of the pitch that could dictate the direction of the game. It means Klopp has some big decisions to make.

Will he play Darwin Nunez down the middle or off the flank? How will he give Trent Alexander-Arnold some help with Rashford if he plays off the left for United? Will he try to stop Casemiro dominating midfield or focus on Liverpool playing their own game.

Those are the little things that will help to decide which way the game goes, and it will be fascinating to see Klopp’s approach.

What do Liverpool need to do to win?

Liverpool celebrate their fourth goal during their 4-0 win over Manchester United at Anfield in April 2022
Liverpool thrashed United 4-0 on their last visit to Anfield in April 2022, with Mohamed Salah shown celebrating after rounding off the scoring. Klopp’s overall record at home against United is P8 W4 D3 L1 F11 A2

Klopp has faced United eight times at Anfield and lost only once.

That defeat came in their first meeting when he was Liverpool manager – in January 2016, when Louis van Gaal was in charge of United and Wayne Rooney scored a late winner.

The key for Liverpool winning this time will be their tempo. They have got to really go after United and unsettle them.

That was almost always our tactic back in my days as a Reds player, when United were clearly the better team and were winning everything. It often worked.

So, what I want to see this time is a really front-foot, high energy performance from Liverpool. The result is far more important to them than how well they play, but I don’t think they are able to perform badly and win.

There is so much know-how in this United side now that that they don’t seem to panic if they go behind – they still look comfortable in what they are trying to do.

I am not so sure Liverpool will react the same way if they fall behind and I think they have to score first to get something out of the game.

The first goal is going to be crucial, and I’d go as far as saying that whoever gets it, doesn’t lose.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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