Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has the tough task of keeping Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah quiet as Jurgen Klopp’s entertainers roll into town at the weekend — with second place in the Premier League the prize on offer.
With Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City virtually assured of the title, northwest rivals United and Liverpool — the two most successful clubs in the English game — are left fighting for the scraps.
United’s impressive fightback from 2-0 down on Monday to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 maintained their slender two-point lead over Liverpool in the battle for the runners-up spot behind runaway leaders City.
Nemanja Matic bailed out Mourinho’s men with a stunning stoppage-time strike in London but another three points papered over the cracks in the latest in a series of unconvincing performances from United.
“We have to be honest, we have to play better,” Matic admitted once the euphoria of his first United goal died down.
“We have to do more if we want to win as Liverpool is a team with great quality.”
The onus will be on Mourinho to take the game to the visitors at Old Trafford on Saturday but the Portuguese manager, criticised for keeping his array of attackers firmly on the leash, is unlikely to risk throwing caution to the wind.
Liverpool had scored 20 goals in their previous seven games before a much-changed side drew 0-0 with Porto in midweek, a result that sealed a place in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in nine years.
With January signing Virgil van Dijk settling in well at the back and Loris Karius impressing in goal, the pieces are falling into place for Klopp’s team, who have lost just once in 20 Premier League games.
But it is their forwards, led by the irrepressible Salah alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who have scored a combined 68 goals this season, that will give Mourinho sleepless nights.
There was a palpable sensation around Anfield on Tuesday that Liverpool minds were already focused on United, with the free-scoring front three all rested at different spells of the game.
The match against Liverpool is the first of three games in eight days for United at Old Trafford that will define their season.
Sevilla visit in the last-16 of the Champions League on Tuesday with the tie delicately balanced at 0-0 after the first leg, before in-form Brighton head north for an FA Cup quarter-final.
Mourinho conceded recently “to play Liverpool has a special meaning” for United, so reserving his stars’ energies for midweek is out of the question.
However, he does have a big decision to make over whether to persist with Alexis Sanchez on the left side of United’s attack, with the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in his armoury.
The Chilean has scored just once since moving from Arsenal in January.
The eyes of the footballing world will be on Old Trafford on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s swashbuckling third-place side head to their second-place rivals.
Much has been spoken about Liverpool’s potent attack in the build-up, but United boast threats of their own and a front man coming into form as the season reaches a conclusion.
Lukaku took his tally for the season to 23 in Monday’s remarkable 3-2 comeback win at Crystal Palace, but believes he offers far more than goals to Mourinho and the team.
“It’s been really good,” the Belgium striker told Sky Sports when asked about linking up again with his former Chelsea boss in the summer. “But I think he knows that I have like a soldier mentality.
“I think the work rate that I am delivering to the team is a lot.
23 goals and seven assists for @RomeluLukaku9 in all competitions this season ✊
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 7, 2018
“I think the manager in his mind thinks that I’m like his sergeant on the pitch – and that’s strange for a striker because normally it’s normally always the midfielders.
“But he knows he can come to me whenever and he knows that I will always put the team first ahead of myself.
“And that’s something that I told him. I said, ‘for me, the team is the most important thing’.
“My desire to win is bigger than ever now since I came to this club, because I always wanted to win, I always wanted to chase trophies.
“I always put that in front of my personal objectives and he knows that, and I think that’s the reason why I’m playing all the time.”
Sanches has not featured for Swansea since damaging a hamstring in an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Notts County on January 27.
The on-loan Bayern Munich midfielder lasted only 32 minutes at Meadow Lane after suffering a similar injury in the previous round at Wolves three weeks earlier.
“I believe Renato will be available to start training and be ready this month,” Carvalhal said ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Huddersfield.
“He has missed a lot of weeks to be in a normal physical condition.
“It will take a bit of time for him to try and help the team but I believe he will be ready to be involved in the 18.”
Sanches has spent part of his rehabilitation in Portugal after the 20-year-old requested to return home.
Carvalhal said Swansea agreed to that request because the club felt the warmer weather would speed up Sanches’ recovery time.
“He did one part of the regeneration here and one part of the recovery he requested to go to Portugal because of the weather,” Carvalhal said.
“The weather can help a lot with this muscular problem, it is more difficult to recover in the cold.
“We decided that part of the recovery he could go there because it is a standard thing.
“We agreed that he can be near the family in different weather to try and be 100 per cent quicker.
“But he will be here now to do the final part of the recovery.”
Swansea climbed five places to 13th after beating West Ham 4-1 last weekend – their biggest win of the season – and move above Huddersfield on goal difference.
That represented another significant step for a team who were bottom of the table and five points adrift of safety when Carvalhal took over at the end of December.
— Swansea City AFC (@SwansOfficial) March 8, 2018
“When I arrived people said that to stay in the Premier League – like I expect – will be some kind of miracle,” Carvalhal said.
“But this is not something that is divine, it is part of this world and about hard work.
“We are fighting and we have used a lot of water to put things in a good way.
“But it is like a forest where the fire can start again if you do not check for it.”
Swansea expect veteran midfielder Leon Britton, who returned as a substitute against West Ham after a four-month absence, to shrug off a twinge in his back and take his place in the squad.