Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his team are facing Manchester United at the "worst moment" on Sunday.
The two rivals meet at Old Trafford in a huge Premier League encounter, as a win would see Liverpool move three points ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table.
While Liverpool breezed past United when the two sides met in December, the Red Devils are a much more formidable prospect under caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Klopp is well aware of the size of the task facing his team, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo:
James Pearce @JamesPearceEcho
Klopp: “We can’t make the game bigger, we just have to do the best we can do. I know what you have in your minds - for us it’s worst moment to face United & the best moment for them. But it’s not that we go there as a weak opponent. We are a pretty well organised football team.”
The United side Liverpool faced before Christmas had just compounded the club's worst start to a Premier League season.
Not only that, under former manager Jose Mourinho, the players appeared uninspired, and key figures like Paul Pogba were struggling for consistency. In Mourinho's final game at Anfield, Pogba was left on the bench for the duration despite the fact that his team were chasing the game.
Now United look like one of the best sides in the country, with Solskjaer bringing productivity and positivity back to the club. They have won 11, drawn one and lost one since he took charge, with Pogba a prominent force for the team.
Klopp said he expects a totally different type of challenge from this rejuvenated outfit:
The German also praised the impact Solskjaer has had and spoke of how he was able to seize an opportunity early in his own managerial career:
From a Liverpool perspective, the manager revealed that his team are still short in defence, with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren sidelined.
Klopp also provided positive news on the fitness of Rhian Brewster and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who are both recovering from long-term layoffs:
They will be able to welcome back Virgil van Dijk for this crucial game after he was suspended for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 showdown with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
In that match, Fabinho dropped back into the centre of defence to partner Joel Matip and did admirably. Klopp praised the Brazilian's effort but said he will still continue to be used as a midfielder in the main:
The manager also emphasised how important the entire squad will be at this point in the season:
Liverpool have overcome numerous tests this term on their way to being in pole position for the title. Sunday's match, at the home of an in-form rival after a challenging Champions League encounter, may be the most difficult yet.
With a home fixture against Watford to come on Wednesday and the Merseyside derby against Everton the following Sunday, the encounter at Old Trafford marks the start of a defining week for Liverpool's title ambitions.