Finally, after years of underachievement, Manchester United are starting to look like an attacking force again, led by the vibrancy and exciting promise of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial.
The experience of Edinson Cavani has added another element, while Bruno Fernandes continues to establish himself as one of the most gifted attacking midfielders in world football.
Their potency was on show on Thursday night as United, having trailed at half-time, fired six goals past Roma in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final. Despite Martial’s absence, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were rampant, and that’s becoming a more regular occurrence.
There is no question, by now, that United look like a more dangerous proposition for opposition defences than Liverpool. They are direct and purposeful, while the champions have too often been laboured and predictable this season.
Diogo Jota’s arrival has been refreshing, and when he’s been involved the Reds have looked far more threatening. But the original front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané no longer strikes fear into the hearts of centre-backs. With the exception of Salah, Liverpool’s attackers have looked jaded, understandable given the exertion of the last few seasons.
United have had no such problems. They are, assuming all goes to plan, still in the nascent stages of their development under Solskjaer. Their front three are young and energetic, fresh of mind and body.
Liverpool, by contrast, will at some point in the near future have to turn their attention towards reinventing their attack. Salah, Firmino and Mané are all approaching 30, hardly over the hill but not at the peak of their powers. A lack of real depth – particularly when Jota was out injured – has damaged Jürgen Klopp’s team, whereas United have been able to rotate more often.
It’s also clear that United have benefitted from the creativity and goal scoring of Fernandes. His attacking output means there is less of a burden on the likes of Rashford and Greenwood, though they’ve managed their fair share of goals, too. For Liverpool, Salah has too often been the man expected to find a breakthrough.
The Egyptian has scored 36 percent of his side’s total Premier League goals (55) this season. Fernandes, meanwhile, has hit 25 percent of United’s total goals (64). They have been shared around, which only makes it harder for opponents to identify and stop one particular player.
All of this could be temporary, of course. Liverpool, next season, could be back to their best, with Jota fully integrated and Mané and Firmino revitalised. There could also be new additions to the squad, potentially resolving some of this season’s obvious problems.
As of now, though, United, as an attacking unit, are in a better place. They are confident, and Liverpool are not. They are decisive and penetrative, while Liverpool are hesitant and ponderous.
This is unlikely to be a quick fix. As Klopp put it earlier this month: “In other moments you are flying and you cannot explain it really – you think all the balls are flying in the net. How is that possible? There is only one real chance – you have to carry on, trust yourselves still, you have to be positive and to go for it.”
All of this is easier said than done, of course. Self-belief is hugely important for attacking players. At the moment, Liverpool are severely lacking it, while United are full of it. It wouldn’t be a surprise, then, if that is what makes the difference on Sunday afternoon.