When Manchester United were drawn against PSG in the Champions League Round of 16 last season, they faced a backlash from fans, press and the social media meme brigade.
The joke at the time was what Neymar et al were going to do to Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and company.
United had just been dismantled at Anfield and were all over the place before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in and steadied the ship – for a while at least.
Now they face their old foes again, seemingly in disarray after the worst league start in 30 odd years. And everyone is laughing once again.
United’s cause really isn’t helped by David de Gea’s injury sustained on duty for Spain in the week. The joke doing the rounds this time is that the Spaniard won’t be able to concede five or six against Liverpool if he isn’t on the pitch on Sunday.
Danny Mills chose no United players in his combined XI from the two squads on Sky Sports. What you might expect from a former City and Leeds defender, although it’s difficult to argue with him.
The jokes are coming from all angles. Ole is second favourite to be sacked next and United are 66/1 to go down.
Whilst no one at Old Trafford may be laughing, the question is, what are they going to do about it?
The fact of the matter is that the United players simply need to step up against Liverpool. If they don’t it could be humiliating. If they do, it could finally be the catalyst to get the season started again.
Let’s put a few things straight. There are a few mitigating factors in United’s current predicament. The injury crisis is horrific – they’re still without Paul Pogba, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial – and they have been unlucky with some close VAR calls.
But that’s about it. There are no other excuses. Performances simply haven’t been good enough, culminating in the atrocious loss at Newcastle before the international break.
How exactly are United going to get anything from the encounter with Liverpool? They need some genuine top performances from players who so far haven’t performed this season.
Harry Maguire has been OK. Now’s the time for him to show the real qualities that led to United parting with so much cash for him. This is especially the case without de Gea. He has to lead from the back and marshal what is likely to once again be a second-choice full-back on either flank.
If selected, Victor Lindelöf has to put his shaky early season form behind him and Ashley Young must justify wearing the armband in such a big encounter.
Sergio Romero will likely need to show he deserves his tag as one of the best number two keepers in the league.
These are big challenges, but it’s these matches when you need your experienced players to perform. And it’s something that hasn’t happened enough this season. It has to start now.
But players taking responsibility isn’t enough on its own. The manager and coaching staff need the right tactics to frustrate Liverpool.
What are they going to do to make sure Scott McTominay isn’t over-exposed against a hard-working, high-intensity Liverpool midfield? The answer isn’t immediately obvious. This is where Ole needs a plan. It can’t simply be going with a three and trying to stand toe to toe. That won’t work. There have to be tactical tweaks to stifle the quick forward passes to the front three.
Now’s the time for Ole to show he has the ability to spring a surprise against the best in the league. He did it a couple of times in the winning run during his caretaker spell, but tactical aptitude has been sorely missing so far this season.
A high line has to be avoided, especially considering Maguire’s difficulty on the turn, which means space in midfield.
Further forward, a goal for England should help Marcus Rashford’s confidence. But the pressure is clearly getting to him. Put simply he needs help and he isn’t getting it from those around him.
Jurgen Klopp will expect Rashford through the middle, with a supporting cast made up of Dan James, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata or Mason Greenwood. I don’t think he’ll be too worried.
The United attack has lacked ideas for weeks. Will the quality of the opposition spur them into action? It simply has to.
Just as it was with PSG last season, now’s the time to prove United aren’t a laughing stock.
Over to you Ole. Show us what you’ve got.