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Manchester United have finally found their Luis Suarez but Liverpool won’t care

Where did they come from?!

Heading into 2021, Liverpool find themselves precariously-perched ahead of Manchester United in a potential title-race that nobody saw coming.

In the build-up to the Premier League festive period, the Reds could have been forgiven for overlooking the teams below them as they focused on wrestling top spot from Tottenham Hotspur.

Afterall, Man City remain an inconsistent shadow of the side that Jurgen Klopp’s side fought so valiantly in 2018/19, and had conquered all before them as centurions the year before.

Chelsea are equally unpredictable with Frank Lampard navigating an imbalanced squad despite mass summer investment while Tottenham, as has been proven since Roberto Firmino’s late winner against Jose Mourinho’s men last month, can always be relied upon to ‘do a Tottenham’.

Meanwhile, the likes of Leicester City, Everton, Aston Villa and Southampton remain, let’s face it, pretenders trying to find a seat at the big boys’ table. And then there’s Arsenal, further away from a Premier League title race than ever before.

But United, we were led to believe, were a club in crisis with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer facing the growing possibility of receiving his P45 for Christmas.

As Liverpool celebrated victory over Tottenham to claim top spot, United were still licking their wounds from a shock Champions League group-stage exit the week before, not yet in a perilous-enough position to consider a 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby in their last outing an achievement.

Observers had watched on as Solskjaer’s men were turned over at home by Crystal Palace on the opening day of the season before suffering a humiliating 6-1 defeat to Spurs at Old Trafford in October.

A 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal came the following month, while there were plenty of smug faces when the Red Devils defence went missing in Turkey, gifting victory to a Demba Ba-led Istanbul Basaksehir.

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And then there’s the error-strewn performances of captain Harry Maguire, with goalkeepers David De Gea and Dean Henderson also both taking it in turns to perform their own faux pas.

These were not a team Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp had to concern themselves with. Until, in fact, they were.

Two weeks ago, the Reds found themselves leading the table with an eight-point advantage over ninth-placed United and about to send out a statement with a devastating 7-0 victory at Crystal Palace.

Now, they start 2021 level on points with their old foes following their underwhelming draws with West Brom and Newcastle, with Solskjaer’s men second in the table on goal difference.

Following domestic cup exploits, United travel to Burnley before locking horns with Liverpool at Anfield on January 17.

As the Reds prepare for a trip to Southampton, Solskjaer’s men could realistically find themselves in unfamiliar territory at the top of the table within the next couple of weeks – a far cry from the Norwegian’s own playing days at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson.

With their Champions League exit cloaking their Premier League form, the Red Devils have quietly emerged as the English top-flight’s in-form side having not lost in the league since the start of November.

Key to that surge has been the eye-catching form of Bruno Fernandes.

The Portuguese playmaker, previously linked with Liverpool before ensuring such a move would never be possible by completing a £67.6m transfer to Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon last January, has placed himself in the same bracket as Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah as the Premier League’s outstanding elite talent in the past 12 months.

Second only to Salah in the scoring charts for the calendar year, the 26-year-old netted 19 times in 2020 and boasts 11 goals and seven assists so far this season to frog-march his side out of the depths of mid-table mediocrity, scrambling for Champions League qualification, and into a Premier League title race.

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Of course Liverpool are no strangers to seeing one sensational star have such an impact.

In 2013/14, Luis Suarez returned from suspension to drag the Reds to within a whisker of clinching a maiden Premier League title.

Registering 31 goals and 12 assists from just 33 appearances, the Uruguayan’s performances drove his team-mates to new heights as Brendan Rodgers’ side embarked on an incredible run of results in the second half of the season.

Sitting fifth heading into 2014, six points behind leaders Arsenal with Man City, Chelsea and Everton all ahead of them, Suarez helped Liverpool forge a 16-game unbeaten run, dropping points in just two matches, to open a five-point lead at the stop of the table with three games left to play.

Now, of course, we all know what happened next as a lack of title-winning experience, headlined by a Steven Gerrard slip against Chelsea and ‘Crystanbul’, cost the Reds dear, with Kopites having to wait a further six years for Klopp to exorcise such demons.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah

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But Liverpool’s collapse despite Suarez’s majestic form should provide a firm warning to Manchester United.

The brilliance of one individual might be enough to launch a title challenge, and indeed in this case keep Solskjaer in a job, but it will take much more to lift aloft the Premier League title.

If United wish to maintain credible hopes of topping Klopp’s men off their perch, their trip to Anfield will prove crucial and will be a game where they need Fernandes at his very best.

But his mere presence doesn’t equal the title-winning experience that Liverpool have now forged over the past two years.

The Reds found out that lesson the hard way back in 2014 but now that shoe is on the other foot.

It’s all very well being a title-challenger when you get your first glimpse of the top, it’s another matter entirely being the Champions in May.

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