Just a few months ago Steven Gerrard walked up to the penalty spot ready to clinch Liverpool’s victory and complete his trio of goals at Old Trafford. It was horrible to watch and even though the Captain eventually missed the penalty, Liverpool were far ahead of United on the day and the season.
Ahead of this week’s derby though the tables have shifted slightly if not moved completely. United have been indifferent yet continue to rack up the points while Liverpool, recently eliminated from Europe’s elite having won just once, are stumbling or as you’d be happy to call it…slipping.
Brendan Rogers was keen to point out to his opposite number at the beginning of the season that the competitiveness of the Barclays Premier League will surprise Louis Van Gaal. And while the Dutchman may be the first to admit it, he has coped incredibly well given the amount of injuries his side have been hit by.
Van Gaal confirmed that Angel Di Maria will miss his third consecutive match since suffering a hamstring injury but says that the injuries are getting better. Rafael and Phil Jones are back in training but may lack match fitness. Fellow defender Chris Smalling will be sidelined for two weeks along with Luke Shaw and Daley Blind.
The manager confirmed that Radamel Falcao is ready for his first taste of a derby(Perhaps his recent revelation of his admiration of Ruud Van Nisterlooy has got him in Van Gaal’s good books!)
Not so Super Mario has returned to training in the Liverpool camp and Rogers has said they’ll do everything to get him in the match day squad. Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan are the other notable absentees.
Adam Lallana missed the game against Basel but should be back.
United will look to extend their five-match winning streak on Sunday and will have to improve from Monday’s lucky victory away at Southampton. The midfield in particular will have to raise their standards or face the risk of making Liverpool look better than they actually are…again.
Juan Mata could be dropped after another toothless outing with Falcao slot in alongside Van Persie or for Ander Herrera to play as a number 10.
Herrera and Falcao could yet be in the starting 11 together if Michael Carrick is yet again called in to play in the heart of defence alongside Marcos Rojo and/or Jonny Evans.
Robin van Persie will look to continue where he left off on Monday. The Dutchman’s link up play was phenomenal and reminiscent of his title winning form. He’ll be key in bagging the three points.
Predicted line up(4-3-1-2): De Gea,Valencia,Evans,Rojo,Young,Carrick,Fellaini,Herrera,Rooney,Falcao,RVP
Liverpool have been struggling to find last season’s winning formula without the same ingredients. The absence of Daniel Sturridge and departure of Luis Suarez has seen them considerably depleted up front.
Ricky Lambert was hauled off in midweek but should start with Sterling and Coutinho on either side. Steven Gerrard might find himself on the bench after playing the full 90 minutes against Basel. Emre Can could replace him.
Predicted line up(4-3-3): Mignolet,Johnson,Lovren,Skrtel,Moreno,Henderson,Allen,Lallana,Sterling,Lambert,Coutinho
Van Persie vs Skrtel/Lovren
The key battle of the afternoon. Liverpool’s defence, like United’s, has been below par thus far. They’re particularly vulnerable to set pieces and RVP may be licking his lips as he looks to finally get his season going.
Valencia/Rafael vs Sterling
Valencia has been efficient in his right (wing) back role although not as vibrant as Rafael in attack. The Brazilian could be a risk as his habitual “dive in first ” tackles could land him in trouble against Liverpool’s main threat.