Two of the Premier League’s greatest rivals, Manchester United and Liverpool, are set to meet at Old Trafford on Sunday – a titanic clash that could go a long way towards deciding whether the title remains in (the light blue half of) Manchester, or finally finds its way to Merseyside.
Jurgen Klopp’s side will be desperate to take all three points. With Manchester City engaged in Carabao Cup action this weekend, a victory for the Reds would see them pull clear at the top of the table. Psychologically, this match could have a massive and lasting impact on Liverpool for the rest of the campaign.
However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be determined to make life miserable for the visitors. The Red Devils have been in fine form since the Norwegian coach’s appointment as interim boss, and will fancy their chances of wounding Liverpool’s title ambitions.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the 2.05pm kick-off…
In the Premier League era, United have largely had the better of this rivalry. Certainly, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge at Old Trafford, the Red Devils enjoyed sustained domestic dominance over the Anfield club.
However, Liverpool have enjoyed some notable wins at Old Trafford. A memorable recent triumph came in 2014, when the Reds, then under Brendan Rodgers, were inspired to a 3-0 win over their old foe by iconic former club captain Steven Gerrard, who scored two penalties and hit the woodwork with a third.
Klopp will be hoping for another outing like that one this weekend. In that campaign, despite the success at the Theatre of Dreams, Liverpool’s title bid ultimately faltered and Manchester City were able to claim the league crown. The setup this season is certainly familiar, but will the outcome be any different?
In the modern game, full-backs are an integral part of how many teams attack. Liverpool are certainly no different in this regard. 20-year-old right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has been one of the breakout stars in Klopp’s squad, whilst ex-Hull City man Andrew Robertson has been a revelation in the left-hand berth.
Although the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane tend to hog the headlines, Liverpool’s coveted frontline would be far less effective without the ammunition Robertson provides. The 24-year-old Scot has already racked up six Premier League assists this season, and produces 1.3 key passes per game.
An incredible 10 yellow cards and a red were dished out in the first leg of the UCL clash between Man Utd and PSG. Watch 442oons hilarious take on the game in the video below…
He is equally effective defensively, consistently producing committed, disciplined performances, as evidenced by his average of 2.5 tackles per game.
United would certainly be wise to pay plenty of attention to keeping Robertson quiet on Sunday. Solskjaer will also be looking to his own left-back, Luke Shaw, to prove himself a valuable weapon too.
Shaw’s career at Old Trafford has been impacted by numerous injuries and fitness concerns. The 23-year-old is now getting an extended run in the starting XI though and his quality is showing through. Whilst he can’t match Robertson’s end product, the 8-cap England international still provides the Red Devils with a creative outlet, as his average of 1.1 key passes per Premier League game proves.
Michael Oliver is one of the top flight’s most respected officials. The 33-year-old is one of only two English referees – along with Anthony Taylor – to be counted amongst the ‘elite’ category of referees by UEFA. Oliver, then, is well-placed to be able to maintain control of what will likely be a fiery and emotionally-charged encounter at Old Trafford on Sunday.
That being said, matches overseen by Oliver rarely pass without incident. Only one of the 18 referees to have overseen a Premier League game this season averages more penalty awards per game than Oliver.
Liverpool fans especially ought to be pleased with this appointment. Not only does his 48% away team win bias this season bode well for them, the Reds have also won all four of the matches they’ve played on his watch this season. By contrast, Oliver has taken charge of two United games this season, of which the Red Devils have won one and lost the other.
In Solskjaer’s pre-match press conference, as quoted by the Manchester Evening News, he gave an update on the fitness of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial. The Manager sounded more confident of a return for the Frenchman, who Transfermarkt value at £54million, saying that they think the 23-year-old “might be ready” after missing the FA Cup win over Chelsea.
Aside from these fitness concerns, Solskjaer has further selection headaches to contend with. With Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all available, the Norwegian must pick a centre-back pairing capable of shutting out the visitors’ dazzling attack.
What’s more, he must elect one of either Marcus Rashford or Romelu Lukaku to lead the line. Whilst the Belgian would provide greater aerial threat and physicality, 21-year-old Rashford would be the wise choice. The 31-cap England striker has been in fine form in recent weeks and has the pace and finishing ability to punish Liverpool if given the chance on the break.
With Virgil van Dijk having been suspended for Liverpool’s midweek Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, the 6’4” defender will be well-rested and ready to organise and lead his side’s defence. The Dutchman’s return will allow for Fabinho to be reinstated in the middle of the park too.
Alongside the Brazilian midfielder, club captain Jordan Henderson deserves to retain his place in the starting XI. The midfielder was fantastic against the German giants last time out and is clearly in fine form and supremely confident at this time. Between Fabinho and Henderson, Liverpool ought to possess enough midfield steel and defensive discipline to curtail the threat posed by Paul Pogba.
Klopp’s front three basically picks itself, but Xherdan Shaqiri is someone that the German coach will be looking to to provide a spark from the bench, should his side find themselves in need of it. Overall then, that’s just one change from the side that drew in midweek, with van Dijk replacing Naby Keita.