Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher sat down and dicussed the big game and the big rivalry in a Sky Sports round table (via MEN). They talked United expectation, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jurgen Klopp and the “favourable decisions”.
Take it away, chaps…
“There is no expectation that Man United will win the league yet,” Neville stresses. “I don’t think anyone is thinking that. Even now. I think the fact is that six to eight weeks ago it looked inconsistent. Going out of Europe, it seemed it would all catch up with them.
“All of a sudden, momentum builds and resilience builds, especially with those comebacks in away games. City dropped points, Liverpool dropped points. That has given everyone encouragement. There is no one in this country who watches football who expected United to be top of the league in January.
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“So the idea of United fans getting carried away? I don’t think the answer is yes. It may seem like that when you read Twitter because you get the extremes of people like me looking like we are getting carried away. When you ask us professionally? No. We are just having a bit of fun. The target at the start of the season was to get closer to City and Liverpool. That was imperative for Ole to maintain his progression. That is what I am most relieved about.
“After the City game there was pressure on Ole. They had just gone out of Europe and that game was dire. It looked like it would have to be reviewed at the end of the season. To go from that mindset to where we are now is an unexpected shift and we are enjoying ourselves, which is nice because it has not been enjoyable the last seven or eight years.”
On battles against Liverpool in his playing days, Neville added: “Liverpool was always the team to beat and Anfield was always the best place to win for a Manchester United player. If you left Anfield with a victory, you felt on top of the world. If you left Anfield or Old Trafford with a defeat, you always felt terrible. If you are a Manchester United player and you lose against Liverpool or City – even for the youth team – then it was bad.
“Sir Alex’s mood was terrible. The mood around the club was terrible and it didn’t get any better for a few days after that. It was a really sombre club. It was a defeat that wasn’t just forgotten about. Defeats to Liverpool hung around our club like a bad smell. Even if the next game came quickly, it was still there. Sir Alex’s next team talk after a Liverpool defeat was never pleasant.
“You knew going into a game against Liverpool that the result set the mood for the next five or six days because it would affect the mood of the manager so much. Sir Alex used to say, ‘if you win at Anfield, then you’ve got a great chance of winning the league.’ That was his belief because it was the ultimate test for a United team.”
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Solskjaer regards the absence of Liverpool fans on Sunday as an “advantage”, and Neville agrees.
“You would have to think that can only suit United,” Neville opines. “In terms of the noise that would normally be there…”
“So you might have to attack, then?” Carragher quips.
“What Jamie seems to be wanting from this game is for United to go gung-ho and attack like mad so his mob can counter-attack! I would be delighted for it to be 0-0 with half-hour to go. United need to get through that first 15 or 20 minutes, do not overcommit – it would be madness to overcommit against this Liverpool team. Keep it tight and compact, stop the passes into the front three, stop the full-backs. If it goes into the latter part of the game I fancy United.”
Carragher then spoke of the “joke” admission made by Mark Clattenburg, that Man United have been given “favourable decisions”, particularly in the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
“Now they are getting penalties again, and they are challenging again,” Carragher laments. “Mad isn’t it – what a coincidence!”
Carragher is then asked if any part of him is glad United are competing with Liverpool again.
“No, not really! Listen, that’s me with my Liverpool hat on. If you’re thinking of me with my Sky Sports hat on and what it is for the season – not just Liverpool-United – I think we always start the season hoping that there will be three or four teams challenging for the title and it never seems to happen.”
“That’s the headline: ‘Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher welcomes United’s challenge’,” Neville laughs.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been under pressure at times this season, but Neville has been impressed by United’s progress under his former teammate.
“Ole has to get United closer to City and Liverpool,” Neville stresses. “United have been miles away from them for two years, so I think if they are within two or three games of City and Liverpool at the end of the season I would say that’s probably where he needs to be. That would be progression this season. That feels really defeatist when United are three points clear at the top of the league but we know this season has been awkward and inconsistent.
“What I would say is that, over 12 months, Manchester United have put together a really consistent run of performances. They are hard to beat, they win a lot of away games, but their home record has been a little bit disappointing.
“I would say at this moment in time that Ole is on track to extend that contract – if he stays around City and Liverpool towards the end of the season. That would represent massive progression from where they were.
“He has to win the Premier League title – or he won’t live as Manchester United’s manager for a long time. We know that. Ole knows that. At the end of next season, he will have had three-and-a-half years at the club. That’s enough time.
“Jurgen Klopp had four years to win it, but he also got to a Champions League final, so you could see there was real progress. Ole has to get a lot closer this season and then next season he really has to challenge. That will be the plan.
“Even now, I think to myself if they had just got a top centre-back and a top right winger then it would be even better. I also think centre-forward is an issue if Cavani was to leave. If Ole can get close to City and Liverpool this year, then next season he has to challenge for the title. He will have had a fair amount of time at that point.
“The worst thing that can happen on Sunday is that we end up joint top of the league! It’s no problem!
“That’s why I’ve enjoyed the last couple of weeks. It just seems as though the Liverpool fans are just biting a little bit – for no reason!”