For Manchester United, the biggest news heading into the weekend was that Paul Pogba and David De Gea would both miss the game against Liverpool. The Red Devils are the underdogs in the fixture and face the daunting task of stopping a Liverpool side who have won their previous 17 games in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have a 100% record in the league this season. Liverpool has won all of their first eight games so far, scoring 20 goals and conceding just six. They are eight points clear at the top of the table and all the have momentum on their side. For the hosts, however, the situation is quite grave.
The Red Devils have won just two of their eight games so far in the league and are stranded in 12th position. A defeat at the hands of their bitter rivals at home would be demoralising, while they would also be at the risk of sliding further down the table.
United have won just once in the last five games in the league, drawing twice and losing twice in the process. That solitary victory arrived in mid-September, against Leicester City at home and it already seems like that was ages ago.
Despite the fact that United will be missing two of their most important players, the Red Devils will hope to start their turnaround by ending Liverpool’s 100% record in the league. Here are four players, who will be vital for United against Liverpool on Sunday.
#4 Sergio Romero
The Argentine goalkeeper is a brilliant back up to De Gea and has already shown in the past that he is ready to rise to the occasion. Sergio Romero was stellar for United in their maiden UEFA Europa League winning campaign a couple of seasons ago and could be called into action on Sunday, with De Gea almost certain to miss the game due to injury.
The Argentine is a tremendous shot-stopper and also reads the game very well. Against the league leaders on Sunday, Romero will have to be at his best to keep out a dangerous Liverpool attack. However, the task is not beyond the man and his performance on the night could very well define the game for his team.
#3 Harry Maguire
The game on Sunday will be Harry Maguire’s first tryst with the United-Liverpool rivalry but the Englishman will be well aware of the intense demands of the tie. The former Leicester City man’s arrival has added a much-needed solidity in the United team, as the Red Devils have let in the third-lowest goals so far in the league. United’s failure to score has taken up the limelight, but there’s no denying that Maguire is looking like a good buy already.
The Englishman will have his work cut out on Sunday though, as he will have to marshal his defence against perhaps the best attack in the league right now. However, Maguire himself has shown that he is up to the challenge and deep down, the Englishman will relish the opportunity to test his abilities against the Liverpool front line.
The game will also pit two of the costliest defenders in the world against each other and the Englishman will be desperate to show the world that he is in the same league as Virgil van Dijk. Interestingly this season, both players have managed 2 clean sheets, while Maguire’s defence has conceded only 2 more goals than van Dijk’s. The Englishman has been dribbled past just once, while the Dutchman has been dribbled past on two occasions so far.
Maguire’s leadership qualities will be put to test on the day, and the Englishman will be key to United’s success on the pitch.
#2 Juan Mata
With Pogba set to miss the game due to injury, Manchester United will once again be without their key creative player. The Red Devils have lacked imagination and guile in the final third of the pitch and they have struggled to carve out chances in games. Against a Liverpool team who have once again conceded the least goals in the league so far, the task will be a tad tougher. Which is why Juan Mata will be absolutely pivotal to the game.
The Spaniard is arguably the most creative player in the team after Pogba but has failed to flourish due to the rigidity of his midfield partners this season. However, Mata will have to overcome those drawbacks on Sunday and it will be up to him to inspire a young United attack.
The Spaniard has the ability to open up the opposition at will and his final passes and brilliant off the ball runs will be crucial against the Reds. If the United team can compliment Mata on the field and allow him to play his natural game, the Red Devils could put the Liverpool defense under some duress.
#1 Anthony Martial
If there’s one player Manchester United has missed more than Pogba this season, it is Anthony Martial. The Frenchman started the season brilliantly and looked very comfortable in the No. 9 role. Sadly he picked up an injury and that was the start of United’s troubles.
The Red Devils tried a lot of combinations upfront in the Frenchman’s absence, but none of them worked. Manchester United looked lost in attack without Martial, which is why it is a huge boost for the home side that he could play some part against Liverpool.
The Frenchman has the finishing abilities and turn of pace that compliments the new look United attack. His presence at the tip of United attack will help the club in more ways than one. While the Red Devils will certainly be replenished with his return to the team, it will also ease the pressure on his fellow attackers.
Martial’s return will give the United attack a much-needed goal threat, while it will also enable both Marcus Rashford and Daniel James to play their natural game. However, the Frenchman is rumoured to be fit enough for only 30 minutes but he could play a vital role from the bench.
If Martial manages to be back on the bench against Liverpool, United will have reasons to be optimistic. Because it was against some opponents that the Frenchman broke into the scene at Old Trafford a little over four years ago, scoring a brilliant solo goal and announcing himself to the world.