Manchester United didn’t smell the blood in the water when they faced Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League last weekend. Or, if they did, it came too late in the day to make it count.
More blood has been spilled on Merseyside since then as a result of Burnley ending Liverpool’s unbeaten home streak on Thursday night, the first team to win at Anfield in the Premier League in three years and 10 months. It was also another league game in which the reigning champions have failed to score a goal – that’s now four in a row.
United now face Liverpool again, this time at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. The chance for a victory is there, and even though it won’t count in the Premier League title race, it is important Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side goes for it because the FA Cup is still the best chance of silverware this season.
United sit first in the Premier League, sent back to the top thanks to Paul Pogba’s exquisite long-range winner against Fulham in midweek, but there is still an awful lot of football left to be played.
They are in the mix earlier than expected, before the current redevelopment project has really neared completion, largely because Liverpool’s drop-off from last season has made it a wide open race that anyone who shows a degree of consistency is likely to win.
United have 19 league games left to play. Manchester City are right there – with a game in hand, Leicester are right there. Liverpool could yet turn things around, while Tottenham have shown at times this season they are capable of a surge that would put them back in contention.
Solskjaer’s side have every chance of ending an eight-year title drought if they keep doing what they are doing and they should absolutely not take their off the ball. But it will only take five one-off games to win the FA Cup, which makes it a whole lot more within reach.
What’s more, if United can get the better of Liverpool on Sunday that is one less danger in the competition. They have shown over the past couple of years they can beat anyone on any given day and no team, whether it be City, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea or whoever, need be feared.
The Premier League is the ultimate prize, yet the competition is so fierce and there is half a season that is still to unfold. There is plenty to be said for playing the percentages and they are more likely to face a fourth consecutive campaign without a single trophy if they rotate too much this weekend and crash out of the FA Cup.