Danny Murphy exclusive interview - Manchester United v Liverpool and transfers
The ex-Liverpool star discusses Liverpool's and Manchester United's seasons so far, ahead of the big clash on Sunday.
Liverpool - Premier League
Liverpool are tied with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, with a game in hand. Who do you think will win the Premier League this year?
"I think Liverpool will win the Premier League this year. Liverpool have played tremendously well to put themselves into this position and to have only lost one game at this stage of the season is remarkable. They’re up against one of the best teams in Premier League history in Manchester City and they might need to push towards 100 points to get the job done, but I think they will get over the line.
"I think you need a degree of luck to win the Premier League and I just think it is going to be Liverpool’s year. I think back to the Pickford mistake against Everton, the Mahrez penalty miss against Manchester City and the offside goal against West Ham and those decisions could well be the difference between winning and losing the Premier League come May."
Does Manchester City’s experience of winning the Premier League play into their favour?
"I think Manchester City have a psychological edge over Liverpool in the title race. Having won the Premier League as a collective last year, this group of players know how to get over the line and trust each other that they’re capable of doing it again. There’s less pressure on you as an individual once you’ve won that trophy. However, I actually think that this Liverpool side is so motivated, so hungry and so tenacious to make history that it works in their favour that they haven’t won the Premier League before."
Would you rather be leading or chasing?
"There’s going to be a lot of chat about whether it’s better to be leading or chasing as the fixtures come out and the two sides try to one up each other, however there’s no doubt in my mind that you’d rather be leading. You sit comfortably hoping your rivals slip up while you’ve already got points in the bag. I think whoever is leading with 5 or 6 games to go will be in a telling position and it then becomes who can handle the pressure."
Is there a pressure on Liverpool to capitalise on winning the Premier League this time?
"There will always be pressure to win the Premier League and that will build from week to week as we close in on the end of the season. There is that extra pressure on Liverpool players because this is a great opportunity for them to win the club’s first league title for 30 years and they don’t want to let it slip. You can never take it for granted they’ll be in this position again next year. Manchester City might hope Liverpool crumble under that expectation, but I think it will actually drive them onto lifting the Premier League."
Liverpool - the players
Virgil van Dijk has been fantastic for Liverpool. Do you expect him to win the Premier League Player of the Year?
"Virgil van Dijk would be my Player of the Year at the moment. I think he has made the biggest impact on a team in the Premier League, he has been huge and it’s hard to believe how much Liverpool’s defence has improved since his arrival. His leadership qualities make him the full package as a footballer, there’s not a weakness to his game. He’s technically very good, he’s quick, he’s strong and he’s good in the air. He doesn’t get beat in one on ones and he’s starting to lead by example, whilst helping others around him. There’s no coincidence the players around him are looking better as well.
"It becomes more relevant if Liverpool go on to win the Premier League as a result of his performances. It always means more if you’ve delivered a trophy at the end and I think that might tip the scales either for or against him. I think it’s hard to see beyond a Liverpool or Manchester City player winning Player of the Year."
Is Salah getting the plaudits that he deserves this season?
"I think Salah will win the golden boot in the Premier League this season. He has played more centrally this season, rather than out on the wing, so it is a different role than last year, but he is still finding the back of the net. His movement and his pace mean he will always score goals no matter where he is across that front line.
"I don’t think he is getting the plaudits because there is now an expectancy that he will perform, while he was more of a surprise package last year. Despite his goals, I don’t think Salah is a contender for Player of the Year because van Dijk has had a markedly bigger impact on the success of the team. Salah was scoring these goals last year but we never competed in the Premier League, but we are now because van Dijk has locked the door in defence.
"I think moving Salah central has had an impact on Firmino, who has been much more inconsistent this season and unable to repeat his heroics of last year. He’s had to come a lot deeper to collect the ball so he’s had less of an impact, but I think it has strengthened the team’s defensive shape."
Liverpool - transfers
Juventus are reportedly interested in Salah and are willing to offer Dybala in part exchange. Is this something that Liverpool would ever consider?
"I don’t see Salah being remotely tempted to leave Liverpool and the Premier League. I’ve seen reports that Juventus are interested, but that’s not going to happen. The Premier League is far more competitive and stimulating than Serie A and Liverpool are more capable of winning the Champions League than Juventus.
"Salah is a player who will always now be linked with Europe’s biggest teams, but he is happy at Liverpool and the fans love him. He’s playing the best football of his career at Liverpool. I don’t think it would ever be a Coutinho style situation, where he always wanted to play for Barcelona and forced through a move."
PSG’s Adrien Rabiot reportedly turned down Tottenham because he wants to join Liverpool. Can you see this move happening?
"Rabiot is a quality footballer who is technically very good and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in a Liverpool shirt next season. It’s potentially the one area that Liverpool are missing since Coutinho went to Barcelona and he is a very attractive proposition on a free transfer. Klopp might feel he offers something different to what we can offer in midfield at the moment so it certainly wouldn’t be a bad addition.
"The question marks would be whether he is athletic and tenacious enough to fit Klopp’s style of play at Liverpool. He is more of a Lallana mould player who has quick feet and is creative on the ball, but he has had limited opportunities as a result. It remains to be seen if Rabiot would be a starter at Liverpool unless they changed to a plan B."
Lallana and Sturridge have become the forgotten men at Liverpool. Do you think Liverpool might be starting to offload some of those players during the summer?
"I think Liverpool will look to sell Lallana and Sturridge this summer. It’s difficult because you need a competitive squad that offers a plan B and they’re quality players, but they’ve been severely hampered by injuries and I just can’t see them getting enough games. They will need replacing though and that is the balancing act of keeping a big squad happy when only 11 players can get on the pitch.
"I don’t think Henderson falls into that category though, who has also had his share of injury problems. I think Henderson is somebody who’s very reliable, very disciplined, very athletic and very good at leading others. He’s very good at pressing and the tenacious part of the game where he gets around and breaks up play. Henderson won’t be worrying about his place."
Coutinho hasn’t made the desired impact at Barcelona. Do you think Liverpool fans would ever welcome him back to Anfield, if he became available?
"Coutinho would never be welcomed back at Liverpool. It hasn’t worked out for him at Barcelona, but he made his bed by declaring how much he wanted to leave and now he has to sleep in it. I think even if Liverpool thought it was something they wanted, the fans would make it perfectly clear it wasn’t acceptable and would force them to pull the plug. The fans didn’t necessarily begrudge him his move to Barcelona, but he left himself no way to come back."
Manchester United vs Liverpool
Manchester United vs Liverpool this weekend. It is essentially Liverpool’s game in hand. Who do you think will come out on top?
"I can’t see Liverpool losing at Old Trafford this weekend. It’s a very different proposition under Solskjaer as it was Mourinho a few months ago, but they will now attack and I think that plays into Liverpool’s hands. Liverpool’s front three will expose Manchester United’s defence if they’re given the opportunity and I think they will because United will be gunning to ruin Liverpool’s title challenge.
"It’s an interesting game for Manchester United who will be especially motivated to beat Liverpool. It’s a rivalry that demands attention, but this is Manchester United’s opportunity to put a dent in Liverpool’s Premier League title aspirations so I’m expecting a very special game. We all know Manchester United would rather their neighbours Manchester City win the title over Liverpool. I’m expecting a similar response that led Manchester United to win at the Etihad last season."
Would Solskjaer be a good candidate to be the next permanent manager at Manchester United?
"There’s no denying that Solskjaer has had a huge impact on Manchester United and he has put himself into the driving seat to get the job on a permanent basis. I don’t think anybody thought he would be able to have the impact he has done as these players look unrecognisable from what we have seen for the majority of the season. They’re playing free flowing, entertaining and attacking football and it is paying dividends with big wins away at Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal already. The Utd fans have taken to Solskjaer very quickly and I think they would want him in charge given the choice.
"I don’t think Manchester United will rush into a decision though as they’ve been stung badly too many times since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. His first real test was against PSG and Utd lost the game. He will have to secure wins against the likes of Man City and Liverpool to prove he’s got the credentials for the job beyond doubt."
What do you think to Paul Pogba since Solskjaer has come in at Man Utd?
"I think Paul Pogba has always been one of the best midfielders in the Premier League and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s showing unbelievable form since the shackles have come off. His ability has always been unquestionable. He is technically superb, he’s strong, he’s quick, he can score a goal and he can see a pass. We’re now seeing a player who is capable of winning matches on his own because he no longer fears repercussions or the wrath of his manager. He’s now encouraged to try be great rather than punished for it.
"I think Pogba would have likely left Manchester United this summer if Mourinho was still in charge, but I don’t see that happening if Solskjaer is there. Pogba might still wait until the summer to see who the next appointment will be before making a decision, but I think he is really enjoying himself at Old Trafford at the moment. Pogba knows he could go on to become a legend at the club and that’s enough motivation for him to ignore advances from La Liga and fulfil his potential as one of the best players in the world."
Will Romelu Lukaku still be at Manchester United next season?
"Manchester United will find themselves facing a difficult decision if Rashford continuesto play ahead of Lukaku under Solskjaer. I think Lukaku will look to leave this summer if he isn’t first choice and there will be a queue of Europe’s biggest clubs wanting to sign him. Lukaku isn’t going to sit on the bench and be second fiddle to Rashford. The injuries to Martial and Lingard may prove decisive whether he takes his chance in their absence.
"I think Lukaku’s future depends on what Manchester United choose to do with Rashford. Does the club trust Rashford to be the main man who will fire the goals that will win them the Premier League and Champions League? He’s still only a young man so they may feel there’s no rush to put that kind of pressure on him and instead encourage him to keep learning and improving without the demands of centre stage."
What can Rashford achieve at Manchester United?
"I think Rashford will continue to be Manchester United’s first choice striker if Solskjaer gets the job and though that spells bad news for Lukaku, it’s very exciting to think what Rashford might be capable of if given that opportunity. I believe Rashford is good enough and has all the attributes he needs to be the main man at Manchester United already.
"I think Rashford has the potential to become Manchester United’s and the Premier League’s leading goal scorer. I think he is that good and as a homegrown talent I don’t think he would ever be tempted to leave Manchester United so he has plenty of time on his side. He reminds me of a Michael Owen when he first came onto the scene and we never questioned his age so I don’t think we should be questioning Rashford’s either."
Icardi is having a difficult time at Inter Milan. Do you think he would be a good addition if Lukaku were to leave?
"Icardi is a proven goal scorer and he would continue to score goals in the Premier League, there’s no doubt about that. However, I don’t see him joining Manchester United unless they make him the main man and play him every week. Similar to the situation we might see unfolding with Lukaku and we do find at Tottenham with Harry Kane, Manchester United may struggle to sign a world class striker because any potential signing will be eyeing Rashford as their competition and they don’t want to sit on the bench."