Liverpool play host to an in-form Manchester United side in the Premier League this weekend.
Manchester United and Liverpool went into the new Premier League season with their spirits held high. Both clubs managed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League last season which helped them lure most of their desired transfer targets in the summer transfer window.
However, they have had relatively contrasting starts to the new season. United, riding high on the goals from new acquisition Romelu Lukaku and the solidity provided by Nemanja Matic, are sitting atop the Premier League table along side rivals Manchester City.
Liverpool’s form, on the other hand, has been erratic to say the least. Manager Jurgen Klopp wasted all summer trying to sign Virgil van Dijk, but his efforts were futile as Southampton were unwilling to comply. This left Klopp in jeopardy and he had to make do with the defenders that were already there at the club. With two big sides taking on each other, we take a look at the positional battles:
Lukaku vs Lovren and Matip
Despite being known to be a defensive manager, Jose Mourinho’s United side have had a fair share of action in front of the opposition goal this season. Second to only Manchester City in number of goals scored, the Red Devils have proven to be prolific on both ends of the field.
What makes them favourites going into this game is that Liverpool are equally woeful on the defensive end. While the likes of Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah have contributed in the final third, Liverpoo’s shambolic performances have arisen due to the lack of co-ordination among their defenders.
Mourinho is set to exploit this weakness of the Liverpool side and will encourage his front man Romelu Lukaku to make runs beyond the likes of Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. The Belgian forward has a strength and speed advantage on the duo, and could run rings around them if not dealt with correctly.
Coutinho vs Valencia
With Sadio Mane set to miss the game, Jurgen Klopp now has a selection dilemma on his hands. He can either play summer signing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on the left wing or play Philippe Coutinho there – someone who’s played in central midfield this season.
While logic suggests going for the Ox would be better, Klopp knows how important Coutinho was on the left side of their attack, and is likely to start with the Brazilian. The FC Barcelona target could however, have his work cut out, as he will be dealing with a stronger opposing defender in Antonio Valencia, who has been at the top of his game.
Coutinho may be the more technically sound among the two, but may not be able to outmuscle the Ecuador international. Valencia also has a slight speed advantage over the Brazilian playmaker so it remains to be seen how the Liverpool start manages to get the better of the United full back.
Can vs Herrera
Manchester United will be without the services of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini as the midfield duo are ruled out through injury. This would see last season’s United Player of the Year Ander Herrera come into the fray along side Nemanja Matic.
The Spaniard is likely to operate box-to-box while the Serbian will sit deep and dictate the game from afar. The counter Herrera’s constant movement, Klopp may order Can to be a thorn in the player’s side and stick to him for the entire duration of the game.
It is likely that Mourinho will give similar instructions to Herrera, which could call for an intriguing battle among the two. Both players have not stolen the headlines thus far this season, and a solid performance against their rivals will go a long way in doing so.
All said and done, United still go into the game as favourites. They’ve been in better form and the absence of Mane could make it that much easier for the Red Devils. Mourinho’s known to be a pragmatist while Klopp on the other hand has been criticised of being tactically inept this season. Regardless of the result, it’s guaranteed to be a heated affair and should hopefully make for good viewing for the neutral.