Liverpool and Manchester United suffered contrasting results in the Champions League during midweek, and in some ways the two results were indicative of their seasons so far.
The Merseyside outfit scraped through to the knockout stages of the competition thanks to an impressive 1-0 win at home to Napoli whilst, even though they were already through to the next round, United suffered an embarrassing loss to Valencia.
Things will be interesting when United visit Anfield on Sunday then, and as form often goes out of the window when these two old foes meet, here at Football FanCast we’ve taken a closer look at the tactical factors that will decide the outcome.
Although much of the build up will be dominated by how Liverpool can hurt United, and rightly so given their league positions, Marcus Rashford could be the key weapon for the visitors on Sunday.
The 21-year-old has been in blistering form in recent weeks and is perhaps one of the main reasons that the wheels haven’t completely fallen off for Jose Mourinho. In fact, Rashford has netted twice and provided four assists in United’s last four games in all competitions, so he is certainly the man that Jurgen Klopp will be worrying about.
Rashford also netted both of Manchester United’s goals when the two sides last met in the league in March earlier this year. The youngster bagged twice in the first half at Old Trafford that day to give his side all three points, and he will be hoping to do the same this weekend.
He will be boosted by the fact that Liverpool have had a deluge of defensive injuries in the past week, and it would seem that Trent Alexander-Arnold will miss the game, along with Joe Gomez who would be the natural second choice at right-back for the Reds.
Given that Nathaniel Clyne won’t be back to full fitness either, it appears James Milner will once again fill in at full-back. The 32-year-old is an exceptionally versatile player and he played the role in the recent 4-0 win over Bournemouth. Rashford though will provide a completely different test for the former Leeds and Manchester City man.
In recent seasons, games between Liverpool and Manchester United have been extremely tight and often scrappy affairs, with the same fixture at Anfield last term resulting in a 0-0 draw.
With Jose Mourinho in charge, the Red Devils have tended to set up with plenty of men behind the ball and the sole intention of not losing the game to one of their most bitter rivals – we can’t see the Portuguese boss straying from tradition this weekend.
Liverpool then will have to play on the front-foot, but luckily for Klopp this is how most teams have approached the Reds this season and his side have produced some extremely impressive and professional performances.
United will be hoping to hit the home side on the counter attack, but if Liverpool can dominate possession then Mourinho’s side may not have a chance to get out of their own half.
The deciding factor in the game then could be whether Liverpool’s midfield and strike force are able to open up a packed United defence.
So far this season we haven’t seen the blistering starts from Liverpool that were custom at the start of Jurgen Klopp’s reign, but they are now a far more balanced team. It also says a lot that when watching them, we now expect the Reds to find a way to break the deadlock no matter how long that may take.
For example, in the 3-1 win against Burnley at Turf Moor, Klopp’s side had to wait and wait, even falling behind before they eventually found the key to unlocking Sean Dyche’s well-drilled side.
Comparing Manchester United to Burnley won’t please many Red Devils fans, but that is the reality of the situation under Mourinho when playing a top six rival.
Liverpool’s £13m signing of Xherdan Shaqiri now looks to be one of the best bargains of the summer window. The diminutive Swiss winger has serious quality and his eye for a pass means he could be the one to breach the United defence on Sunday, especially if he comes off the bench when legs are tiring.
Since his move from Stoke, the 27-year-old has recorded three goals and three assists for his new club, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he added to that against the Red Devils.
For United, their impact sub is someone at the opposite end of the spectrum to Shaqiri, but he can be just as effective in his own right.
When United are in trouble, Mourinho calls upon Marouane Fellaini. The 6 foot 4 former Everton man has plenty of experience in derby games against Liverpool, and up against Dejan Lovren you would back him to win the header every time.