Mourinho takes his Manchester United side to Anfield on Sunday with Liverpool 16 points ahead of their bitter rivals and yet to lose in the league this season. But Mourinho is loath to rank Jurgen Klopp’s team above Liverpool’s Champions League winners from 2005.
He told Sky Sports: “I played against a Liverpool that was European champion. I don’t know if it was better or not better; I know the other team was European champion and that this team won nothing. So I think I have to respect the ones that did it, and I have to respect the ambition of the ones that didn’t.
“In the end it is about respect, but I would expect maybe Rafa (Benitez), (Jamie) Carragher, Steven Gerrard would not be happy with me if I said this team is better than that team.”
Klopp has led Liverpool to three finals – the League Cup and Europa League in 2016 and last year’s Champions League – but has lost on each occasion.
Asked whether trophies matter in assessing the calibre of a team, Mourinho said: “I think trophies matter, especially when you have the potential to fight for trophies and especially when you clearly say the objective is to win the trophy. I think Jurgen said already their objective is to win the Premier League.”
Liverpool fans will no doubt revel in their current superiority, especially if they end an eight-game winless run against United in the league, but Mourinho insisted he is looking forward to the occasion.
“I always say I enjoy these places,” he said. “Liverpool is a place where I had difficult times, but also amazing times and amazing victories. I love to go there, and totally respect that warm support from the fans to their team, and I like the feeling of the big matches.”
Marcus Rashford’s form has been one of the bright spots for United, and the forward sees no reason why United should not travel with confidence.
“We don’t go there as underdogs, I think we go there to win the game, like any game,” he said.
“They are a good team, the intensity they play at makes the game difficult, but we have to match that and try to improve it. But I think it is important to focus on us, and see how we can hurt them, and score some goals.”
Manchester United travel to Anfield hoping to hand Liverpool their first defeat of the season. If we are to go by the last two meetings between the two teams at Anfield, we can expect an uninspiring 0-0 draw on Sunday.
The hosts find themselves in top form going into this fixture and United will have to be at their defensive best to contain one of the best attacks in the league.
We take a look at the tactics Mourinho could employ in this crunch fixture.
DEEP BLOCK AND DROPPING WINGERS
United usually set up a mid-block with the likes of Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera pushing their opponents to play the ball wide and blocking channels that run through the centre of the pitch.
Against Liverpool, the visitors will have to employ a deep-block to keep Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at bay.
A 4-4-2 formation that shifts to a 6-3-1 without the ball can be the answer to United’s defensive woes ahead of the big tie. Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford will have a tough task ahead of them, patrolling the wings and dropping deep in order to keep Andrew Robertson and James Milner from conjuring anything dangerous.
BYPASSING THE MIDFIELD
United’s midfield is currently a notch below that of Liverpool and it would be very optimistic of the visitors to try and dominate the midfield.
Long balls to Romelu Lukaku that bypass the midfield could be a handy tactic. Lukaku’s competence in the air when combined with Rashford’s ability to carry the ball on from there could provide United the edge in attack. The visitors can hope to prove lethal on the break.
In fact, this sequence of play was responsible for United’s first goal in their 2-1 win when the two sides met at Anfield earlier this year. Lukaku’s presence can be vital, despite his poor touches and finishing.
The hosts are at the top of the table and are favourites against a struggling United that went down to Valencia in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Here are some of the tactics that Jurgen Klopp could employ against United:
STRETCH UNITED’S BACKLINE
It will be extremely hard for Liverpool to break down United’s six-man defence and the answer might simply lie in achieving a numerical superiority by creating overloads on the wing.
Liverpool’s frontline is accustomed to playing narrow and cutting in, rather than going wide and crossing the ball. The full-backs must push high up the pitch to create overloads and allow Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to operate from the half-spaces.
Starting Xherdan Shaqiri in midfield can be crucial here, given how the Switzerland international is equally potent in the half-space and out wide.
CUT SERVICE TO RASHFORD
The hosts might not be as concerned about holding fort at the back as much as the visitors are, given how impotent Romelu Lukaku has been in front of goal.
However, United can not be underestimated and an in-form Marcus Rashford can hurt the table-toppers on the break.
Assuming Virgil van Dijk sticks to Lukaku for an even match-up in aerial duels, Dejan Lovren and James Milner must ensure that Rashford is isolated and kept in check throughout the 90 minutes.
Milner’s sense of positioning and Lovren’s ability to stick to his man, preventing him from taking too many touches, will be key to Liverpool keeping a clean sheet.