A big game for both teams as United travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool on Sunday. If Liverpool win, they will hold onto first place in the Premier League regardless of Manchester City's result against Everton. If United win, it shows that they can perform when it matters; a confidence booster that could hurl them back into the Top 4 once again. Realistically, a draw be a good result for Manchester United as this year Anfield has seen many strong teams fall, not least PSG, Roma and Manchester City twice.
Bitter rivals, United and Liverpool have had some interesting encounters since Jose Mourinho took charge of the Red Devils. Undefeated at Anfield as United manager, he has grinded out not one but two 0-0 draws against Jurgen Klopp's heavy metal Liverpool teams with the help of an outstanding David de Gea to save United, as is standard these days, denying Can and Coutinho in 2016 and Joel Matip in 2017, reacting to the effort from six yards at a speed of over 40mph. At Old Trafford, United has fared better. Despite relying on an added time equaliser from Zlatan Ibrahimovicto earn the point, Marcus Rashford's brace proved the difference in 2018 as United sealed their first victory over the Reds since Wayne Rooney's rare strike at Anfield during Louis van Gaal's last season as United manager. Can they do it again?
- Although fit, David de Gea and Nemanja Matic didn’t travel to Valencia. This is worrying, especially considering that top goal-scorer Anthony Martial and Chris Smalling, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw are unlikely to play. Instead, a pairing of Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and/or Marcos Rojo will start against the league leaders; most likely Bailly as since returning to form he’s looked sharp, keeping Arsenal’s Aubameyang quiet for the majority of that game and showing stunning pace against Valencia, where he seemed to be United’s only competent center back.
- In left-back Rojo rarely, if ever, ventured forward to support Rashford on the left wing and was hauled off at half-time, but he was solid at centre-back when he replaced Smalling against Fulham so could still be an ideal replacement after Phil Jones' horror match in Spain.
- Antonio Valencia’s performance improved against Valencia; with Dalot injured, he should lead the team out, however if Dalot is fit in time for the game, he should start over the Ecuadorian captain as he genuinely offers more in attack and defence.?
- As for Liverpool, they are having their own defensive crisis with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip both out with long-term injuries, leaving Lovren and Van Dijk as their only possible first team centre-backs for Sunday.
- Alexander-Arnold is also a doubt and could be replaced with Nathaniel Clyne.
- The same midfield trio that played against Napoli (Milner, Henderson and Wijnaldum) are likely to start, with Keita and Fabinho on the bench for a late-booster of energy and pace (Keita) and strength and physicality (Fabinho).
- With Rashford and Lingard on the bench, it was surprising that Ashley Young was United’s half-time substitution against Valencia, but he played well and having assisted Rashford's header is almost certain to start against Liverpool, as are Herrera (solid and consistent since international break) and Matic (big improvement in recent games).
- Mata should secure the other midfield position, rather than Pogba or Fellaini. He proved that he was trying to get the game going against Valencia, whereas Pogba struggled to pass sideways or backwards. Fellaini could be an option if Mata plays on the right, but given Robertson's willingness to go forward, it seems more likely for Lingard to track the Scotsman back than Mata.
- Despite his average performance against Valencia (I can’t recall a shot from him, let alone one on target), United need to play Lukaku as his pure height can be used against Lovren to give Rashford opportunities to sneak in behind and score.
This is the third year running that Liverpool host United first before making the journey to Old Trafford in the New Year and every time Mourinho has got his tactics bang on and United have looked solid. This time round could be a little different. If United attack from the start and exploit Liverpool in wide areas, they could nick an early goal, with Mata being pivotal in making things happen. Can they win? They need to. If they lose by more than one goal, who knows how much it will knock the players’ confidence. It can’t be allowed to happen.
PREDICTED LINE-UP: De Gea, Valencia (C), Bailly, Rojo, Young, Matic, Herrera, Mata, Lingard, Rashford, Lukaku
PREDICTED SCORE: 1-1