Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Man United are a lame horse with a strong kick

Ten years on Sunday, Manchester City came to Old Trafford and won 6-1. 

At half-time of Manchester United’s Champions League match on Wednesday night against Atalanta, as former stars like Paul Scholes muttered darkly in TV studios, it was hard not to wonder just how that anniversary would be marked.

Liverpool are the visitors and they have scored at least three times in every away game they have played this season.

By full time against Atalanta, it felt different. A 2-0 deficit had been transformed quite thrillingly into a 3-2 victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. From inept to inspired. Clueless to fearless. The two sides of the modern puzzle that is Manchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must fear an in-form Liverpool wreaking havoc at Old Trafford

For sure, United will start this game as underdogs. There are not many times we have said that down the years, no matter the identity of the opposition.

Equally they are a lame horse with a hell of a kick. In seven home games this season, United have scored 15 goals. ‘If we didn’t think we could defend well at United then there would be no reason to even get on the coach,’ said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

‘The quality they have offensively is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t think it’s likely we will score three goals at United but we never think more about scoring then we do about defending before a game.

‘To get in the game, to stay in the game and to win the game at United, you have to defend at your absolute highest level.

‘It’s important to be incredibly brave because each ball you lose against United is a massive red flag. Then it’s a counter-attack which is a red flag because of the speed they have.

‘So it’s a proper task to play United. We all know it’s one of the biggest games in the world. It will be a good one.’

Klopp’s summary was on the money. His team have been relatively consistent this season. Broadly, we know what we will get from them.

So it is United’s form that makes up the backdrop to the game. Can they survive their first encounter this season with what we may call a really big team? And if they can’t, what hope do they have against Tottenham, City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the coming weeks?

There are huge holes in this United team. In players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes — an injury doubt for this one — they have significant players, too.

But it’s a big ask to expect them to hold tight every week. Against Atalanta they managed it. Last weekend, as United lost 4-2 at Leicester, they did not.

One feels Solskjaer knows all this, too, which was probably why he was so deferential when talking about his club’s great rivals.

‘Liverpool are one of the teams we are trying to catch up on,’ said Solskjaer. ‘Even though last season we were ahead of them in the league, maybe it was because of their bad luck with injuries.

‘We know we still have to improve to get up to their level of the last four years. It’s going to take everything to get results against the best teams in the world and Europe — and Liverpool are one of them.

‘We have not won the league in the last eight years. You can understand Manchester City or Liverpool walking on to the pitch and think quality is enough. We have players who need to keep on improving and developing.’

David Moyes once said something similar about Manchester City when he sat in Solskjaer’s chair. He was never allowed to forget it.

Solskjaer, so fondly thought of as a former United player, is given greater leeway but it is hard to contest the suggestion that early winter will be a huge period for the Norwegian.

As long as he holds United as a top-four club, he will be safe enough in his post. But United are sixth this morning and in all likelihood will be lower by Sunday’s kick-off.

Liverpool are not without their own vulnerabilities. As irresistible as they have been with the ball — Mo Salah is on a nine-game scoring streak — the defensive pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip has not been watertight.

In their five games against what you may call the better footballing sides this season — City, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Brentford — Liverpool have conceded 10 goals.

As always ahead of these fixtures, both teams and certainly both sets of fans would take a point.

‘With the quality they have, they can be dangerous,’ said Klopp. ‘United are able to do incredible stuff.’ They certainly are. At both ends of the field.

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