22nd March, 2015; 13:30 GMT
On Sunday, Brendan Rodgersa Liverpool FC will face off against Louis van Gaala s Manchester United, in a match which might just have a big say in who finishes in the top 4.
Since the 3-0 defeat to Man United in mid-December, Liverpool have gone on a 13 game unbeaten run. This is an opportunity to put a cherry on the cake by beating their bitter rivals and perceived competitors for the 4th place. It would bring Liverpoola s resurgence full circle, especially since the reverse leg was the first time Brendan Rodgers went for a 3-4-3 formation. The switch in tactics has reaped him some hearty rewards, but nothing would be sweeter than the scalp of their most bitter rivals.
Manchester United have had the strangest of seasons. Fans were excited when a total-footballa lover van Gaal arrived upon these shores to take over from David Moyes. But since then they have been left scratching their heads, as their team have somehow managed to keep a hold on the top 4 spots in the table, while managing to look utterly disjointed. To his credit, it does seem like van Gaal might have discovered the right team mix in their 3-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur last week.
Team News and Tactics
Brendan Rodgers has no new injury worries, with only Jordon Ibe being a big name missing. Lucas Leiva and Jon Flanagana s fitness will be assessed, but it is unlikely they will be start the game.
The last time the two teams faced off, things were quite different. Liverpool were languishing in mid-table, and people were starting to question Brendan Rodgersa future at the club. His line-up took everyone by surprise, as he chose to start without a striker (Raheem Sterling played as a makeshift center forward), and with a 3 man defense. Liverpool lost, as the defense didna t look solid enough and Sterling simply didna t have the finishing needed to kill the game when the chances came to him.
But that formation has been fine-tuned since then. Glen Johnson and Dejan Lovren have been removed from the back 3, as Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho flank Martin Skrtel instead. Playing Steven Gerrard in a 2 man central midfield meant there wasna t enough energy in that area, with Jordan Henderson out right didna t offer any major threat out wide. Henderson has since taken up the central position alongside Joe Allen, and the two of them now run around that area like two Energizer bunnies, keeping the team buzzing. Rodgers also now has Daniel Sturridge available to lead the line. The Englishman hasna t looked his lethal self recently, but hea s still by far the best goal threat available.
Another big difference, not to be understated, is the resurgence of Simon Mignolet. The Belgian has gone from being dropped in the reverse fixture to being lauded for some massive saves against Swansea City. Liverpool need him to carry that form into this game.
Probable Starting Eleven (3-4-3): Mignolet (GK); Can, Skrtel, Sakho; Markovic, Henderson, Allen, Moreno; Sterling, Sturridge, Coutinho
Manchester United are missing Robin van Persie through injury and Jonny Evans through a ban for spitting, while Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and James Wilson are also doubtful starters.
Louis van Gaal reaped the benefits of playing a lop-sided 4-2-3-1 formation against Tottenham Hotspur, where Angel di Maria was dropped to the bench and Juan Mata started on the right. With Antonio Valencia playing as a right wing-back, United are able to have sufficient width when Mata drifts into central zones, as is his usual tendency. On the opposite flank, Daley Blind gives a better defensive cover at left back, allowing Ashley Young to prosper as an out-and-out winger. Marouane Fellaini was played behind Wayne Rooney in a more attacking role, giving Young, Mata and Valencia something to aim for in the box with his runs.
Rooney will drop deep regularly to support his midfield, while Fellaini will make runs towards the left. This means Emre Can will have a torrid time dealing with the pacey Young and the goliath Fellaini. The young German has done well in the right center back role, but hea s not a defender by trade, and will need constant support from Lazar Markovic and even Martin Skrtel. The fear for Liverpool would be that this might open up space for Wayne Rooney, who would love to score again in this leg.
Crucial for this setup is the Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera pairing in central midfield, two that players are very tidy in possession. Carrick is especially critical, as he carries a mean footballing brain. Hea s someone who always seems to know when to hang back and defend and when to forage forward to support attack.
Probable Starting Eleven (4-2-3-1): De Gea (GK); Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Blind; Herrera, Carrick; Mata, Fellaini, Young; Rooney
Player To Watch Out For: Raheem Sterling
The young Englishman has had an unimpressive run of form in recent weeks, only appearing in the news for his stalled contract negotiations. He has also looked likely to lose his position as Liverpoola s best winger to Jordon Ibe, who was giving some incredible performances before he got injured. He will also be carrying some painful memories from Old Trafford, where he missed some great chances to score. This is his chance to put his name back in the headlines, and for all the right reasons.
Liverpool FC 3-2 Manchester United
Manchester United won the previous fixture against a weak Liverpool side, and impressed against Tottenham last week, but they still dona t look a complete unit. Liverpool FC on the other hand are the most in-form team in the League is 2015, and with the Anfield Kop behind them, are likely to steal the points here.