Get all you need to know on the huge showdown between Manchester United and Liverpool on Sunday with our tactical analysis preview package.
It’s one of the biggest games in world football, but Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford is even bigger for the visitors this year as they head to the home of their arch rivals for the start of what could be a season-defining week.
We’re well used to the Premier League title being in the balance over the last couple of decades but it’s more often than not been the Red Devils who have been chasing the trophy with Liverpool merely looking to put a dent in their title charge.
This time the roles are reversed with United desperate to hindered Liverpool’s pursuit of a first league title since 1990 – a title that would bring them to within one of United’s record of 20.
But what type of game will it be? Who will be in the starting XIs? And where will the game be won and lost? Paul Higham takes a look at the major talking points ahead of this huge showdown on Sunday.
Man Utd v Liverpool (1405 GMT - Sky Sports Premier League)
Match odds: Man Utd 19/10 | Draw 5/2 | Liverpool 13/10
Will we finally see a good game between United and Liverpool?
The Jose Mourinho-made shackles have well and truly been cast aside since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived at United – many say a friendly early fixture list helped and that anyone who followed Mourinho’s morale-sapping stint would be a success, but you can’t deny there’s been a huge up-turn in performances.
A run of snoozefests threatened to eradicate this fierce rivalry from the public consciousness, while even Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Anfield this season wasn’t hugely entertaining given how one-sides it was.
Now, though, it’s a level playing field with high-flying and free-scoring United more than capable of winning at home with a buoyant home crowd behind them. There are plenty of attacking options on both sides – we know all about Liverpool’s but United now have a cutting edge that has seen off the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal.
A reborn Paul Pogba has outscored Roberto Firmino this season after his resurgence so, while I’m not expecting a goal fest, there should be plenty of entertainment and quality on show.
Who is under the most pressure to win?
The pressure going into the game is all on Liverpool – they’re the ones going for the title and by kick-off they could be only two points ahead of Spurs so it’ll be a genuine three-horse race. The thought of losing yet more ground in Man Utd’s backyard is unthinkable.
Not that United won’t have pressure to perform as well, by the same token the home fans will be furious if Liverpool go three points ahead of Man City courtesy of victory in their toughest away day of the season.
A draw would not be the end of the world for either side but, with Liverpool also having to make the trip to Everton next week after a home game midweek with high-flying Watford, defeat for the Reds would be a huge blow to start what could be the defining week of their season.
Probable Man Utd v Liverpool line-ups
Man Utd (4-3-2-1): De Gea, Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw, Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Lukaku
This is subject to Lingard and Martial not being available and it’s the same team that beat Chelsea that are rewarded with staying in the side for this huge game. Matic and Herrera will hold allowing Pogba to roam forward, with Mata and Rashford starting a touch wider but given licence to go and try to influence the play.
Mata has a decent record against Liverpool, while the much-maligned Lukaku also played well in the win at Old Trafford last season. His presence caused problems and allowed Rashford to flourish – Solskjaer will be well aware of this.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Salah, Firmino, Mane.
No real surprises in defence or attack for Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp’s only selection issues, as they have been all season, coming in midfield where the picture is getting a bit clearer as Wijnaldum and Fabinho have been his best players of late.
Keita started at Anfield but his form has dipped since then so, while he could well start, someone more familiar like a Milner or, as predicted, Henderson would probably be the safer play.
What are the key tactics to win this game?
Liverpool’s game at Man City provides a few clues for both sides to try and get the upper hand in this game – firstly for Man Utd they have to try and emulate City’s pace and aggression in the final third when applying pressure from the start.
While the Reds were well in that game, and were millimetres from scoring the crucial first goal, they were undoubtedly second best to a lot of 50-50 challenges and they were soon on the back foot and in passive mode.
Klopp will want a more traditional fast start from his side at Old Trafford, but he’ll also want to try and retain possession and try and give the crowd as little to shout about as possible. Given United’s defence a decent ploy may be to go back-to-front quicker and then press United’s weaker ball players at the back.
If Shaw plays then his battle with Salah will be key, while in midfield Pogba looks to be the stand-out creative force in what otherwise could be five more defensively-minded runners. Fabinho could have a key role as he showed in the reverse fixture he can produce a killer ball.
The key to it all though could well be Rashford’s battle with Alexander-Arnold, if they line-up as expected, as both goals in United’s home win last season came from Rashford down that left hand side.
Each time there was a muscular impact from Lukaku and Alexander-Arnold was caught under the ball and out of position. Liverpool’s young right back has very seldom put a foot wrong but Rashford has troubled him and the form the United man has been in means he’ll have to be at his very best to keep him quiet.
What are the consequences of the result for either side?
As always with these big games the temptation is to overstate the consequences of every possible outcome – in this one it’s that Liverpool’s title challenge can come crashing down with defeat, while you might as well starting carving their names on the trophy if they win.
Usually the truth lies somewhere in between and the title race will not be over should United win, neither will Liverpool be confirmed as champions with three points. It could well be a pivotal week for the Reds, but it’s the week as a whole that will have a far greater say than this one result.
Of course, the rest of the week could be affected one way or the other by this result, as the confidence gained, or lost, from such a big game’s result could prove the difference going forward. But there are plenty of points left to play for and plenty of twists and turns still left in what should be a thrilling title race.
For United, the main story remains Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s performance in what is turning out to be the most high-profile job interview imaginable.
Again, we’ve been dealing in extremes as he’s been hailed as the football managing messiah for most of his tenure, before ‘being found wanting’ against PSG, before switching back to tactical genius when defeating Chelsea.
Having won at Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea, a victory over Liverpool would add yet another tick on his CV and increase the already burgeoning clamour for him to be given the job full time.