Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday, 13:30 GMT
Manchester United host Liverpool this Sunday at lunchtime and the fortunes of both the clubs are greatly reversed since the corresponding fixture last season. Going into that game United led their arch rivals by a whopping 21 points. This time around it is the Merseysiders who lead the Mancunians by an impressive 11 points.
A win for Brendan Rodgers’ side would help them firmly establish their title credentials, while a win for United and David Moyes would help ease some of the doom and gloom that has engulfed the club following the shock defeat at Olympiakos.
Team News and Tactical Brief
There was talk following United’s abysmal showing in Greece that their season has finally hit the nadir and the only way forward was up. The result against West Bromwich Albion last weekend led further credence to that theory. Added to that was Robin Van Persie’s announcement of wanting to stay at Old Trafford when his current contract expires. It can thus be safely said that this is as positive an atmosphere that Moyes has encountered this season.
What would be interesting to see come kick off is whether Moyes sticks with the pairing of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling which proved to be successful against West Brom or does he introduce Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand or both. The most likely outcome would be a central defensive pairing of Vidc and Jones given the former’s greater experience and the latter’s energy. At right back Rafael seems to have recovered from an ankle knock and would be expected to continue from where he left off against West Brom, where he was the man of the match according to Moyes.
In the middle of the park both Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini should retain their places but they have their task cut out in dealing with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, et al. in addition to the SAS.
Further upfield, Moyes would have to decide whether to start with Adnan Januzaj or save him for the midweek Champions League clash against Olympiakos especially with Juan Mata cup tied. Though Nani could also be in contention following his comeback from a severe hamstring injury it is safe to assume that the Portuguese, at best, would be limited to a role from the bench.
Upfront Moyes could either start with Van Persie or decide in favour of Danny Welbeck who had a very successful cameo last weekend. If the latter starts then Wayne Rooney would be the lone striker supported by Welbeck, Mata and Januzaj. If Moyes decides to go with RvP then Mata, Rooney and Januzaj would be playing behind him.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Jones, Evra; Fellaini, Carrick; Mata, Rooney, Januzaj; Van Persie
Liverpool’s storming run since the turn of the year has all the hall marks of being championship winning form. They have won seven and drawn two of their nine league fixtures and have scored a bucket load of goals in the process. Their strike duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge seem to have formed as potent a partnership as any seen in the Premier League era. They are also ably assisted by the rising talents of Sterling and Coutinho. But it is not upfront where the problem lies for Brendan Rodgers side but at the back. Amongst the top 7 only Tottenham Hotspur have conceded more goals than the Reds.
Rodgers centre back pairing for this match should be pretty straight forward with both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel picking themselves. Despite Mamadou Sakho’s return to training it would be a major surprise if he were to replace either of the aforementioned pair. Glen Johnson should continue to deputise at left back in the absence of Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho.
In midfield captain Steven Gerrard should continue to play the quarter back role at the front of the back four and he has a crucial role in stopping the combination play between Mata and Rooney. In centre midfield Joe Allen and Henderson should start and if both of them play to their potential then the Anfield giants could wrest the midfield from United and with it the match.
The front three pick themselves with Coutinho supporting Sturridge and Suarez. England youngster Sterling could also have an important role to play like he did against Southampton when he really capitalized on some tired defending.
Expected starting line-up (4-1-2-1-2): Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard; Henderson, Allen; Coutinho; Sturridge, Suarez
Key Facts (courtesy Opta)
1. Robin Van Persie has found the back of the net six times in his last seven starts against Liverpool
2. Liverpool have been awarded seven penalties this season which is the most in the Premier League
3. Liverpool have scored the most number of away goals (31) this season
4. Manchester United v Liverpool has seen 14 red cards in the Premier League era which is only bettered by the 20 produced between Liverpool and Everton
Player to Watch out for
Juan Mata (Manchester United)
It is for these kind of games that the Spaniard was brought to Old Trafford and Mata will be buzzing to show what he can do against the top sides. Recently he has been given the licence to roam and how he links with Rooney would be crucial in deciding the outcome of this match. Liverpool must also remember that he has a fair shot on him.
Manchester United 3-1 Liverpool. Though this prediction might surprise many there is too much riding on this game for David Moyes. If he loses then it could be ‘Ta Ra Moyes’ time. If he wins though a lot of what has gone on before would be forgotten and thus Moyes would be itching to get a result.
Blast from the Past
Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool (2008/09)