It speaks volumes as to the current standing of Liverpool and Manchester United that, rather than meeting in the latter stages of the Champions League, two clubs with such long, proud and illustrious histories in European football face each other for the first time in continental competition in the last 16 of the Europa League.
Nonetheless, it’s still a massive tie and in addition to local bragging rights, with neither of these clubs looking likely to secure a Premier League top four finish, continued progress in the Europa League provides a potential opening to next season’s Champions League. For Louis van Gaal, winning this competition could even provide a lifeline for his Old Trafford career.
Both teams have suffered from extensive injury lists this season, but while Liverpool now seem to be over the worst of their problems, Manchester United still have a number of issues to contend with.
Wayne Rooney; Bastian Schweinsteiger; Ashley Young and Luke Shaw all remain sidelined, while Jesse Lingard is suspended. On the plus side, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Michael Carrick all started at the Hawthorns, while Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini are also now all fit and available if required. Van Gaal is no longer reliant on using youngsters to pad out his starting XI.
In terms of head-to-head results, Manchester United have done the double over Liverpool in the Premier League this season, winning 3-1 at Old Trafford back in September and 1-0 at Anfield in January. They also did the double last season, but the injury situation and general momentum would seem to favour Liverpool at present.
Liverpool’s home form under Jurgen Klopp has been largely disappointing, but they did recently dismantle Manchester City 3-0 in an evening kick-off and a big European night at Anfield could well bring out the best in them.
Where Liverpool look to have a significant advantage is in terms of a goal threat, with Klopp able to call upon the likes of Daniel Sturridge; Roberto Firmino; Divock Origi; Philippe Coutinho and Christian Benteke. By contrast the Manchester United goal threat is largely reliant on three youngsters – Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
This will be an evening where players will need to deal with the occasion as much as the match itself and Liverpool just look more suited to that as things stand.