Liverpool v Manchester United is one of the biggest matches in the Premier League this weekend. This match sees the only team to have taken points off the league leaders try to go a step further and be the first team to beat them in the league for over a year. It looks to be an exciting game, with Manchester United needing the win for their league position while Liverpool needing it for breaking yet more records on this spectacular season for them so far.
Liverpool Look to Extend Lead Atop Premier League
The Reverse Fixture
Manchester United played Liverpool in October 2019 at Old Trafford. The Manchester side were desperate for a win after a horrendous start to the season left them in 12th, while the Reds were already eight points clear and were looking to continue their unbeaten run. Marcus Rashford scored 10 minutes from half-time to hand the Red Devils the lead, however, thanks to a rare goal, his only of the season, from substitute Adam Lallana, the side from Merseyside were able to secure a draw and keep their unbeaten streak going. They haven’t dropped points in a league game since.
Team and Tactics News
Following a particularly busy festive period unpopular among players and managers alike, there are many injuries. In particular, Manchester United have been hit badly by injuries in this period of fixture congestion.
United have a total of eight injuries going into this one. Although many of them are not to first-team players, arguably their best three are either a doubt or totally ruled out for this game against their bitter rivals.
Paul Pogba is a long-term miss, with two failed comebacks. An ankle injury picked up during United’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in late August saw Pogba out for a month, however, he was deemed fit to return for an EFL Cup game against Rochdale and a Premier League match against Arsenal. Both of these saw him play the full 90 minutes. These two fixtures seemed to aggravate the injury, and Pogba then sat on the sidelines for another three months. He came back once again with two substitute appearances against Norwich City and Newcastle United. He looked one of the best players on the pitch, however, following his complaint of discomfort in his ankle, he was once again sidelined. The Frenchman has now undergone surgery on his ankle and seems set to return to the pitch in a month.
Scott McTominay has also been missing for United for much of this season. He missed the Red Devils’ two draws against newly-promoted opposition in Aston Villa and Sheffield United, in which their midfield looked very weak, due to an injury sustained late into injury time against Brighton & Hove Albion. He returned a month later and helped United to two tremendous wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. The joy of McTominay’s return, however, did not last long. He came off injured in United’s Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle and looks to be out for almost two months.
Marcus Rashford is very likely to miss the Liverpool game. He looks like Manchester United’s biggest miss in the North-West derby. The Englishman came off in United’s 4-0 thrashing of Norwich due to fitness concerns. He came on as a substitute in their FA Cup replay against Wolverhampton Wanderers but came off just 16 minutes later due to a back injury. It remains to be seen whether he will feature against Liverpool, however, he is certainly a doubt.
These injuries are severe, but they have not affected Manchester United’s formation. We do not yet know how missing Rashford will affect Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics going into this game, however, we have seen the midfield be slightly physically weaker since McTominay and Pogba’s injuries. There is also less speed in Nemanja Matic, but that is made up for by Fred being both agile and fast. Matic may not bring speed, but he does provide an unparalleled experience necessary in a youthful Manchester United side.
Liverpool go into this game with six fitness concerns overall. Most of these are, once again, backup players, however, some first-team players are unlikely to feature.
Naby Keita picked up a knock prior to Liverpool’s premier league meeting with Sheffield United. His season has already been stunted by injury, with a back muscle tear forcing him out of most of Liverpool’s opening fixtures. He has featured inconsistently this season, however, a consistent run of game time preceded his injury. He won’t play in the United clash, and we do not currently have an expected return date.
James Milner will also miss Liverpool’s game on Sunday. He was forced off against Everton in the first half of an FA Cup match. The Englishman’s game time has been more consistent that that of Keita this season, however, he did not feature in their match with United earlier in the season.
Upon recovery from injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson in midfield for their most recent Premier League game, vs Spurs. This has seemingly been the preferred midfield this season, and although Keita and Milner may not force any tactical change, they will still be missed.
Outlook Going into Liverpool v Manchester United
With Manchester United the only team in the league to have taken points off Liverpool this season, it seems like they could be the only team to do it again. Liverpool are in near perfect form, and although United’s is worse, a solid festive period has seen them lose just two of their last 11 games. United may fancy themselves in this one.
The fact that this game is away may suit United, but it may also hinder them. Anfield is a very difficult place to go, and Liverpool have not dropped points there all season. Being an away fixture, however, will suit United’s counter-attacking style of play.
Whether Marcus Rashford is missing for Manchester United or not may prove a decisive factor in this game. Without him, United may lack the cutting edge needed to break down Liverpool’s defence, but if he plays, he will add to their already deadly counter-attacking threat. The outcome of this game is almost certain to hinge on how Rashford will feature in it. Managing to play the whole game would give United the best possible chance of taking any points away. Without him, however, it is hard to see the Red Devils even managing to score.