MANCHESTER (Reuters) – There is never any shortage of spice to the North West derby between Manchester United and Liverpool but if any were needed the battle for second place in the Premier League surely provides it.
With neighbours Manchester City 16 points clear at the top and needing just four more wins to be sure of the title, United fans would view Liverpool finishing above them as more salt in their wounds.
United, who are two points ahead of third-placed Liverpool, have lost one derby at Old Trafford this season, 2-1 to City in December, their only home defeat of the campaign.
“It is a big game against Liverpool,” United manager Jose Mourinho said.
“I think we both want to finish in the top four, but we both want to finish second so, yes, it is a big game.”
United have frustrated their supporters at times this season, showing glimpses of turning their individual quality into a potent collective unit but failing to deliver the consistency needed for a title challenge.
On Monday at Crystal Palace, Mourinho’s side were disjointed and shapeless as they fell 2-0 down to the relegation-threatened Londoners, only to rally and get the three points thanks to a last-minute strike from midfielder Nemanja Matic.
Part of United’s lack of recent fluency can be put down to the difficulty of integrating January signing Alexis Sanchez into the side while also keeping French midfielder Paul Pogba happy in his midfield role.
While United face a tricky Champions League last 16 second leg against Seville three days after they face Liverpool, Juergen Klopp’s side go into the game having booked their place in the last eight of Europe’s elite competition
The Merseysiders go into the game on the back of three successive league wins and with just one defeat in their past 20 games in the Premier League and with striker Mohamed Salah, the joint top scorer with 24 goals.
But defender Dejan Lovren acknowledges the clash against his club’s bitterest rivals is a special occasion.
“It will be a massive game – one of the biggest games in Europe,” said the Croatian centre back. “It will be a tough game and let’s see what will happen, but we are full of confidence and it’ll be a big fight for second place.”
City will look to take another step closer to finishing the job when they travel to Stoke City on Monday while sixth-placed Arsenal, still smarting from their loss at Brighton, can ill-afford another slip-up at home to Watford on Sunday.
Fifth-placed Chelsea will need to beat Palace at Stamford Bridge if they want to start closing the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham, who are at Bournemouth on Sunday.