Liverpool vs Manchester United: 3 Key Battles
The two of the most successful clubs from England lock horns again this weekend as Jose Mourinho's Manchester United travel to Anfield on matchday 17. While Liverpool have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season, Manchester United are struggling to put together a decent run of form and as a result, they are languishing at sixth place on the table.
Liverpool's front three Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammad Salah have merged as one of the most lethal strike force across Europe. On the other hand, Manchester United's backline has proven to be the most fragile out of all the top six teams in England. Based on recent form, this may look like a walk in the park for the Reds but one would be doing a mistake if they underestimate Manchester United.
Going into the match, Liverpool are in red-hot form five wins out of their last five matches while Manchester United have managed just one win in the same period. It must be said, however, form matters little in fixtures as big as this one.
Jurgen Klopp in his pre-match conference provided injury update and one glaring miss is sure to be right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold due to an ankle injury. Nathaniel Clyne, who himself is coming back from an injury may step in, Rafa Camacho is another option for the Merseyside club. With, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip also out, Liverpool also have only two senior centre-backs at their disposal.
Jose Mourinho gave a list of a whopping nine first-team players who would be missing out- Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez, Scott Mctominay, Diogo Dalot, Matteo Darmian, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, and Marcos Rojo. The two managers are sure to have a selection headache ahead of Sunday's clash.
With two of the best tactical minds in football on show at Anfield this weekend, the margin for error will be very fine. Not paying attention to fine details can cause the other team to get away with three points. In the larger context of the match, some key battles would be playing out which may have an effect on the result in the clash.
Romelu Lukaku vs Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren
Romelu Lukaku is no stranger to the Liverpool rivalry. Having played for four seasons with Everton in the Merseyside derby, he knows the atmosphere at Anfield better than anyone. However, the Belgian has not looked his Everton self ever since he joined Manchester United at the start of last season. Becoming a subject of sharp criticism, he needs to have a good a performance against his former Merseyside rivals in order to turn around the season for his team and also for his personal form.
On his day, the 25-year-old is menacing and can trouble the whole of opposition's backline by himself. He will certainly look to exploit chinks in the Liverpool's armour as right back position for the Reds is currently in doubt in terms of participation.
This is because Trent Alexander-Arnold is out and the options are either labouring for match fitness (Clyne), out of position (Milner) or inexperienced (Camacho). Lukaku's game is all about running through the channels and he can certainly exploit the spaces between the centre-back and right-back. The striker is one of the few who can match up to Van Dijk's physicality and is exceptionally quick.
It must be said that he might be isolated for the large part of the game as United will look to play on the counter and he needs to focus on his hold-up play in order so that his fellow teammates can play off him. A motivated Romelu Lukaku can win this match for Manchester United.
Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez have been one of the best centre-back pairings in the league. The same pairing will not take the field as Gomez has been ruled out due to injury which means Dejan Lovren will be Van Dijk's partner.
Liverpool this season have the most amount of clean sheets this season (10) thanks to their formidable defence. With a depleted Manchester United team (both in terms of playing personnel and morale), they have a good chance of adding another one to their clean sheet tally. But they must guard against the aerial threat of Manchester United from Lukaku, Fellaini and Pogba.