I actually think history will be kind to Solskjaer’s time as United manager, but it’s over now.
“Wowzers,” says Matt Dony. “Ok. Fair enough. It probably won’t go wrong.”
“This Manchester United side is like a Ferrari and caravan welded together,” says Ciaran Boland. “They are capable of brilliance and calamity in equal mesures. This is shocking stuff so far.”
I think that’s my favourite description of this United team. I keep coming back to the thought that they finished above Liverpool last season. How can you reconcile that with this?
Half time: Man Utd 0-4 Liverpool
Peep peep! The half-time whistle prompts vicious booing around the ground. United have been totally humiliated by a Liverpool side who aren’t even in top gear. Naby Keita scored the first, Diogo Jota made it two and then Mo Salah helped himself to a couple of goals. I think the record victory in this game is 7-1; if Liverpool keep pushing, they have every chance of beating that.
More horrible defending from United. Liverpool move the ball far too easily from left to right, with Jota finding the unmarked Salah in the area. He drags a precise first-time shot past de Gea at the near post. That’s an excellent finish, actually, because the ball was bobbling slightly.
45+3 min Now Fred is booked for a high foot as Keita ducks into a bouncing ball. United’s noggin is starting to go.
45+2 min Ronaldo is booked. It was seconds after Alisson blocked his shot. He had a swipe at Jones, who was shielding the ball, and then booted the ball when it was stuck against the body of Jones. He could easily have been sent off for that.
45+1 min Three minutes of added time. Alisson makes a good save from Ronaldo, who then causes a rumpus by booting the ball into the body of a Liverpool player. This could be a red card.
44 min United continue to look bright and determined in attack, which is quite admirable in the circumstances. If they get the next five goals, who knows?
40 min This is an incredible chance for Liverpool to humiliate United. If they are ruthless in the second half, they could score six or seven.
Mo Salah scores for the tenth consecutive game! His snapshot from the edge of the area was blocked by Maguire but the ball broke perfectly for Keita on the right side of the area. He looked up and fizzed a low cross back towards Salah, who sidefooted it past de Gea from six yards.
GOAL! Man Utd 0-3 Liverpool (Salah 38)
And that’s Blockbusters.
36 min Shaw fizzes the ball into Fernandes, who loops a clever first-time pass over the defence. Rashford runs onto it, 12 yards out, and shoots well wide. It was a very difficult ball to take first time, and in hindsight he should have taken a touch.
34 min A vital header from Robertson diverts Fernandes’s cross away from Ronaldo. The resuling corner leads to a bit of a scramble in the area before Keita clears.
34 min “Unfortunately, not able to watch the match,” says Matt Dony. “Didn’t have high hopes. (Do I ever?) Just checking in now, pleasantly surprised by the score line. But wondering how it might all go wrong. Why do I do this to myself, Rob? I should be able to enjoy football. I wish I wasn’t the way I am.”
Imagine what mood you’d be in if you were a United fan.
33 min An outrageous pass/cross from Alexander-Arnold just evades Jota in the area.
32 min: Vital save by de Gea! Rashford plays an appalling pass that puts Salah through on goal. He cuts infield from the right and whips a shot from a tight angle that is blocked by the chest of de Gea.
31 min: Chance for Firmino! Alexander-Arnold’s corner is headed away by Maguire to Keita, 20 yards from goal. He mishits a shot that turns into a pass for Firmino, who pokes wide from the left edge of the six-yard box. That was another decent chance.
30 min A poor header from McTominay goes straight to Keita on the edge of the area. He lays it back to Henderson, whose whipped shot is deflected behind for a corner.
29 min: Good save from Alisson! Greenwood turns on the edge of the area and, with almost no backlift, thrashes a shot across goal. Alisson dives to his right to push it behind.
28 min This is United’s best spell of the match in terms of sustained possession. They still look jittery, though, and desperately need to get one back before half-time.
25 min Now James Milner has gone down with a muscle problem, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to continue. Curtis Jones is getting ready.
23 min The crowd are groaning at every mistake, major or minor, which makes such mistakes even more likely.
22 min After a long spell of possession, Shaw rifles a long-range shot just wide of the far post. That was a fine effort. United have played quite well going forward; the problem is that their defending has been hideous.
20 min There’s a break in play while Keita receives treatment.
19 min This game is so open. Greenwood’s cross is headed away by Konate, but Fernandes pokes the loose ball to Ronaldo on the left side of the area. He takes a touch and smacks a shot over the bar. That wasn’t a bad chance either.
18 min “Ole didn’t have to win to keep his job,” says Mary Waltz. “But getting shredded and embarrassed like this will find him going back to Norway…”
I think the club are still saying his job isn’t under threat, but United have started the season so badly that it does feel like the end. A lot depends on whether they want to wait for Pochettino or not.
17 min McTominay hooks over following a corner, though the flag had gone up anyway.
15 min Ronaldo plays a good pass to Rashford on the left of the area, but he dithers and loses the ball to van Dijk.
From a United perspective, that was shambolic. Maguire and Shaw faffed on the edge of the D, allowing Keita to pinch the ball and play in Alexander-Arnold to the right. He slid a immaculate low cross to the far post, where Jota stretched to steer the ball into the empty net.
13 min Fernandes and Rashford have swapped places, at least for now.
12 min Both teams look extremely dangerous in transition, Liverpool in particular. “Fernandes will be kicking himself for not scoring,” says Ian Copestake. “But he might also miss…”
10 min Fred robs Keita and gives the ball to Rashford, who shoots just wide from 25 yards. Alisson had it covered but it was a decent effort from Rashford, who has a terrific record in this fixture.
9 min Konate deals brusquely with Ronaldo and Liverpool break. Firmino releases Salah on the right; he cuts inside and drags a low shot wide of the near post. He looked offside but the flag didn’t go up.
7 min: Good save from de Gea! United are all over the show. Keita wins the ball off Fred in a dangerous area and plays in Firmino, who screws a shot that is saved to his left by de Gea. The pass from Keita pushed Firmino slightly wide but it was still a decent chance.
Naby Keita has given Liverpool the lead! It was hideous defending from United, whose clumsy pressing meant they ended up with just Luke Shaw against three Liverpool players. Salah had Robertson to his left and Keita to his right. He chose to play in Keita, who slid the ball calmly past de Gea.
4 min: Fernandes misses a great chance! United should be ahead. They opened Liverpool up with some quick passing on the left: Fred to Ronaldo to Greenwood, who played in the unmarked Bruno Fernandes to his right. He took a touch but then lashed his shot high and wide.
3 min It’s been a fairly scruffy start to the game, with nothing much to report as yet.
1 min No funky tactics from either manager – both teams have lined up as expected.
After all the chit and all the chat, it’s time for business. Let’s get it on.
“Afternoon Rob,” says Stephen Carr. “Just reading Solskjaer’s prematch comments there. Like Boris Johnson, he appears to be managing by soundbite and similarly has stayed in a job despite achieving close to eff all.”
He finished second last season. He’s beaten Pep Guardiola four times. He’s produced the most exciting United team since 2009. He may not be good enough to win the league, but some of the sneering is scandalous.
This is the first United/Liverpool game in front of a full house since January 2020, when Mo Salah sealed a 2-0 victory and even the most pessimistic Liverpool fan accepted they were going to win the league.
Jurgen Klopp’s pre-match thoughts
“Diogo was in outstanding form before the international break and he is training at a very high level. We saw a few things that made us think it would be a good game [to play Konate].
“You have to be brave, you have to play football. You have to respect their strength but at the same time try to deny them in all areas. We all know how good they are: the individual quality is crazy, the counter-attacking threat is massive.
“It’s a special game but in the end it’s still a football game and you have to play well. I can’t wait for the first whistle.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s pre-match thoughts
“We need to start on the front foot and stamp our authority on the game. The crowd will give us an extra 10 per cent energy, and it’s up to the players to do the same for the crowd. When we’ve got the ball, we need to use it well. They’re a good team if you give them easy turnovers.”
“No one who has anything invested (emotionally) in this game ever thinks it is dull,” says Ian Copestake. “It just matters way too much and the result is everything.”
United are unchanged but there are a couple of surprises in the Liverpool team. Sadio Mane and Joel Matip are both on the bench, and Fabinho is out with a knee injury. Ibrahima Konate and Diogo Jota come into the team.
Man Utd (4-2-3-1) de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo. Substitutes: Henderson, Bailly, Dalot, Lingard, Matic, Pogba, van de Beek, Cavani, Sancho.
Ambassador, with all this hatred you’re really spoiling us. Today’s sporting schedule has more rivalries than you can shake a fist at: India v Pakistan, Barcelona v Real Madrid, Marseille v PSG, Inter v Juventus, Max Verstappen v Lewis Hamilton, West Ham v Spurs, Ajax v PSV, Logan v Kendall – and, at Old Trafford, Manchester United v Liverpool. It might not be the biggest game in English football just now – Liverpool v Manchester City is on another level – but it still has a unique intensity.
Between us, this fixture is often quite dull. But there’s always a context that makes us think the next game will be a thriller. Today is about the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, the form of Mo Salah, the mood of both teams and, most of all, the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Liverpool wouldn’t mind moving him closer to unemployment; he would love a narrative-changing victory. More than anything, though, this is a mustn’t-lose game for United.
The next six weeks are likely to decide Solskjaer’s future. As well as crucial trips to Atalanta and Villarreal, United play all the other Big Six teams between now and the first weekend in December. If they lose today they will be six points behind Manchester City, seven behind Liverpool and eight behind Chelsea. But if they win, those upcoming fixtures against City and Chelsea will feel like an opportunity rather than a trial.
United are the most mercurial team in England, so anything is possible. But Liverpool have scored 30 goals in their last nine games and will expect to do damage against a defence that has kept only one clean sheet in 20 games. Liverpool have insecurities of their own, though, mainly because of their relatively poor record at Old Trafford. Jurgen Klopp has won only once on this ground, a 4-2 victory in May. With the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, there’s every chance we’ll get a few more goals today.