Wednesday 23 January 2019

Stephen Hunt: Liverpool's superiority in all areas points to only one outcome

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Photo: PA
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Photo: PA

Stephen Hunt

Shay Given and Marcus Hahnemann were the best 'keepers I played with, but they were totally different. Shay was a brilliant shot-stopper who you always trusted in one-on-one situations and Marcus was the classic sweeper 'keeper.

David De Gea and Alisson Becker are world-class goalkeepers, and they are also from opposite sides of the goalkeeping divide. De Gea is a brilliant shot-stopper and Alisson can play a bit, as well as make world-class saves.

De Gea is going through a difficult stage of his Manchester United career and while he is obviously good enough to come through it and move on, he must be very frustrated with what is happening in front of him.

If Jose Mourinho doesn't know who will be playing in the back four how is De Gea supposed to know? He cannot predict from one game to the next how they are going to defend. And for a Mourinho team that is unheard of.

United's back four are not a solid unit. It looks like they are playing in a pattern, but they are not in line and they are completely disorganised. No wonder De Gea is under pressure every week.

I watched the Champions League game against Valencia and I know United had qualified for the knockout stages, but they were miles off where they needed to be for this game. It looked to me like they are not buying into Mourinho's style of football, which is a strong indication that the manager has lost the players.

Mourinho will select his reliable players at Anfield today. The ones like Valencia, Rashford, Lingard and Young who he knows will put a shift in and be energetic, who understand the importance of the fixture and the rivalry, and can handle the buzz and the atmosphere.

I'm not sure he will select Paul Pogba, who was horrendous on Wednesday. I'm a big fan of Pogba. He has the ability to be one of the best midfielders in the world on his day. But he strolled through the game in Spain and, if I am honest, he took the piss.

It looked like he is totally disillusioned and didn't want to be there. He passed the ball for the sake of passing it and didn't even look like he wanted to do anything with it. I watched him closely and I would be surprised if Mourinho played him against Liverpool. I think their relationship has gone septic.

I feel sorry for Phil Jones. I don't think he's that bad. His own goal the other night was typical of his luck but he had actually done really well to recover and get into position before conceding the goal. He was rash in his decision-making but it is it easy to jump on the bandwagon and criticise him.

Mourinho will be relying on players who are delighted to be playing for Manchester United and are not looking elsewhere at supposedly bigger clubs. And I think De Gea is going to be the busier 'keeper today.

Alisson's late save against Napoli gave him the limelight but it is everything that leads up to it that makes it happen; how he comes off his line and deals with everything efficiently, he is calm on the ball and can find passes into midfield, just like Ederson at Manchester City.

Alisson hardly makes a mistake, although sometimes when he's in the mood he might take chances but you never feel he's really going to lose control - even less so when he's on the edge of his box.

De Gea might not have the same confidence in his passing, but I would still pick him to be the better bet in one-on-one situations. You don't see De Gea playing as the sweeper mainly because he backs himself to make the saves. Liverpool play more of a defensive high line and it suits Alisson who can play out of his area.

I know they have a few injury problems at the back, but I think the Liverpool front three are too strong for United. Salah is on fire again after his hat-trick last week and the winner against Napoli, but even when he was supposed to be struggling he didn't shirk responsibility. He is a key team player and hasn't poisoned the team with his frustrations.

Then look at Alexis Sanchez who sulks and throws his arms around in disgust when things don't go his way. You always have a good feeling around Salah who looks on edge and dangerous and wants to do the right thing for his team.

Sané will miss chances because he is not a natural finisher, but he has frightening raw pace and skill and he terrifies the opposition. I am sure Valencia will have his hands full today.

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