Arch rivals Manchester United and Liverpool will face each other in a Premier League match at Old Trafford on Sunday. With both sides having played 33 games, United are second in the league table, with 67 points, while Liverpool are sixth, with 54.
The league title has been all but won by table toppers Manchester City, as United are extremely unlikely to erase the 10-point gap between the top two sides in their remaining five matches. So this fixture might not hold too much significance for United. However, Liverpool would still like to compete for a top 4 finish, thereby ensuring their Champions League qualification next season.
Moreover, a face-off between United and Liverpool is always going to be a battle for prestige and bragging rights for their supporters. Therefore, it should be a well-contested game, and we look at three factors which are likely to determine the outcome:
1. The battle between United’s potent attack and Liverpool’s brittle defence
Liverpool have played the majority of the current season without their first-choice centre-backs, and their defense has suffered as a result. They have only been able to keep eight clean sheets in the Premier League so far, and conceded a late goal in their last match to give away two points to Newcastle United. Forced to play as a centre-back, defensive midfielder Fabinho has often struggled to cope with the pace of opposition forwards.
Pace is a weapon that United possess in plenty, as both their wing forwards - Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood - are quick operators. Moreover, Edinson Cavani is strong in the air, and has so far scored five goals through headers this season. His link-up play is also very good, and he can prove to be lethal with his exquisite short passes.
So the United forwards will fancy their chances of scoring against a weakened Liverpool defense. Their confidence will also be bolstered by the fact that they registered a resounding 6-2 win over AS Roma in their last Europa League match.
2. The absorbing clash on the flanks
Both teams have quality players on either flank, with United's Luke Shaw and Liverpool's Trent-Alexander Arnold capable of making overlapping runs to build the attacks of their respective teams.
However, both are likely to exercise caution in their approach as they face each other, for they cannot afford to leave large spaces behind them for too long in the upcoming fixture.
That said, Aaron Wan-Bissaka does not usually go into overlaps too frequently, and will prefer to stay back in order to halt the surging runs of Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson. The presence of pacey, skilled wing forwards like Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will only add to the complexity and intensity of the battle on the flanks.
The trio of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Cavani were brilliant against Roma, and worked very well together. Should Pogba start against Liverpool on Sunday, either Rashford or Greenwood would have to sit out, depriving United of the attacking edge through the left flank as a result.
3. The stark contrast between Liverpool’s passing football and United’s explosive counter-attacking play
Liverpool's playing style has changed somewhat since the advent of Thiago Alcantara in their midfield. Their dependence on the surging runs of their fullbacks has reduced, and they typically build attacks by playing short passes in the midfield. They played a number of passes in their match against Newcastle as Alcantara pulled the strings from midfield.
Moreover, owing to the lack of a genuine destroyer in their midfield and the frailties of their centre-backs, Liverpool will be wary of United's quick counter-attacks and avoid playing the high line, preferring instead to sit deep and gradually build moves from their own half.
United, on the other hand, will be wanting to play to their strengths and exploit any empty space in the Liverpool half with explosive runs from Rashford and Greenwood. They will also depend on the one-touch passes and flicks of Bruno Fernandes to create space quickly and dent Liverpool's defense.
However, Fred and Scott McTominay will not be able to aid in United’s attack too much, as they will have their hands full with protecting their defense from Liverpool’s formidable forward trio.