Jurgen Klopp called Manchester United a “results machine” and backed fierce rivals Liverpool to fight for the Premier League title.
United will go to Anfield on Sunday unbeaten in 11 matches and have lost just one of their 20 games since the World Cup break, having won 16 of them.
This set of kits put the Red Devils 11 points behind leaders Arsenal and a six-year trophy drought ended with a 2-0 win over Newcastle United in the EFL Cup final last Sunday.
Indeed, no Premier League team has racked up more points than United (23) since the campaign resumed in December, which Klopp believes will serve them well in the title challenge.
“They have become a results machine,” Klopp said at Friday’s pre-match press conference. “They are squeezing out results with really good performances.
“They play top football and if things don’t go well for them, they still get results. That’s why they are there [in the table].
“Everyone knows it: they are totally in contention to win the league. It’s not really important for Sunday because we’re there too when we’re trying to be at our best.”
Marcus Rashford’s goal form played a huge role in United’s impressive first campaign under Erik ten Hag, especially after the World Cup.
The England international has scored 10 goals in his last 10 league games, scoring in each of his last five matches, and has 25 goals in a season in all competitions.
Only Ruud van Nistelrooy (three separate runs), Eric Cantona (in April 1996) and Cristiano Ronaldo (in April 2008) have scored in six consecutive Premier League matches for United.
Unwilling to praise the players of Liverpool’s archenemies, Klopp says it’s hard not to rejoice at Rashford’s fortunes.
“It’s almost impossible to be happy about something positive at Manchester United when you’re the manager of Liverpool, but I’m very happy for Rashford,” Klopp said.
“He had a very difficult last year where he didn’t perform at the level he is capable of.
“I knew it would change again, but sometimes in life we don’t have enough time to change it. Now he’s playing amazing. His speed, his technique is a mixture of everything.
“How calm he is in front of the gate. He scores worlds, he scores simples, he can stick his head in. All such things.
“We have to defend against this collectively. He’s not their only world-class player.”
With one trophy in the bag, United are still vying for silver on three more fronts, while Liverpool are now effectively vying for fourth place in the league.
The Reds are 5-2 behind Real Madrid ahead of the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, but Klopp remains optimistic ahead of some key fixtures.
“I said before the last game that this is the week to give the season a proper boost. Now we have to take the next steps,” he said.
“So far nothing has been done that would be good for us. We all know that anything is possible in football. We need to use the fans at home games.”
Liverpool are unbeaten in six home matches against United (W3 D3) since a 1-0 defeat in January 2016 – their longest unbeaten streak since a run of nine in the 1970s.
United will be confident to end the streak at Merseyside this weekend, but Klopp insists form will play no role in what remains one of the most important fixtures in the game.
“They have had the best season so far, but thank God it means absolutely nothing on Sunday,” Klopp said.
“We have to show that it’s still incredibly difficult to play against us. We need to make sure they understand this. I can’t help but be interested in what United is doing, I just respect it.
“That’s what I like the most. Around these games, we get out of this sometimes not very pleasant reality and immerse ourselves in the game.
“Football is the most important thing for 98 minutes or so. I like it. The whole world will watch it. I would have looked if I wasn’t here.
“It’s a game”. They’re having a much better season than us, but that doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean you win the game, it just means you have more points.”