Erik ten Hag has ended United’s six-year trophy drought by winning the Carabao Cup
A new team was taking shape. Six months later, it is United, not Liverpool, who are still going on four fronts. Ten Hag’s United have replaced Klopp’s Liverpool as Carabao Cup winners. Afterwards, in the bowels of Wembley, the trophy in front of him, the Dutchman said: “I just love United”. They were not words that Rangnick felt likely to voice as he became United’s most incisive critic.
This season, Klopp has used Rashford as an example to inspire his players, to remind them that they, too, can transform their fortunes. Perhaps it reflected a generosity of spirit as well as an admiration: were he not from the red half of Manchester, Rashford might feel an ideal Klopp player. He has taken Mohamed Salah’s mantle as the most prolific winger around, even if the Egyptian brought up 20 goals for the campaign himself on Wednesday.
In midfield, Casemiro is having the season Liverpool hoped Fabinho would. One Brazilian is the catalyst –“a big leader,” in Fred’s words – and the other has been dropped for a teenager, in Stefan Bajcetic. In defence, they have conceded the same number of goals but if improvement came early for United – their statistics are still distorted by conceding four to Brentford and six to City – it has been a more recent phenomenon for Liverpool and even then four consecutive clean sheets have been interrupted by letting in five to Real Madrid.
Perhaps it means the burden of proof now rests with them. Assuming United are unlikely to win the title and safely ensconced in the top four, Liverpool seem to have a greater need for victory. Whereas Ten Hag’s team, with only two defeats in 32 games in all competitions, have greater consistency, Liverpool have more of an enigmatic feel. Procuring 10 points from four games could be the start of a revival that propels them back into the Champions League, but United can help ensure otherwise.
Liverpool remain in the hunt for the top four but United could strike a blow with their first win at Anfield since 2016
History favours them, but they are a team who have made history, often for better, occasionally for worse. United’s only win at Anfield in Klopp’s tenure came three months into his reign. Since then, they have one goal in seven visits, scored by Jesse Lingard on a day when Liverpool finished off Jose Mourinho. Meanwhile, Salah, with 10, has become the top scorer in the history of the rivalry; five of them came last season alone.
Solskjaer can argue United are merely on course to finish ahead of Liverpool for the second time in three seasons but in a tale of achievers and underachievers there has seemed a seismic role reversal this season. There is a question if it is a longer-term shift, if Ten Hag, like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, will knock Liverpool off their perch. For now, however, while Liverpool’s six years of success under Klopp has not been wiped out, Rangnick has been left looking like the man who underestimated his successor. Or maybe six years have passed quickly and Manchester United have mastered the art of time travel.
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