On Sunday afternoon Liverpool will host Manchester United and will be looking to overtake their rivals at the top of the Premier League.
A disappointing Christmas run for the Reds has seen them lose their lead at the top of the table, with United capitalising on this. However, Jurgen Klopp’s side can put this right with a win against their rivals as they look to defend their title.
Since beating Crystal Palace 7-0 on 19th December, Liverpool have taken just two points from a potential nine. Their only win in this time came in the FA Cup against an inexperienced Aston Villa side. They have struggled to break teams down and score goals, looking predictable and physically drained at times. This comes after seeing a number of players return to the team like Thiago Alcantara and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It has been bitterly disappointing and uncharacteristic from the Reds. In recent years and certainly last year, Liverpool would have been able to put their foot down and extend their lead at the top of the table. Instead, they have stuttered and allowed the chasing pack to re-enter the title race conversation.
United have been the team to take advantage of this, currently sitting three points clear of Liverpool. Despite being knocked out of the Champions League in early December, they have done an impressive job in picking themselves back up and remained unbeaten in the league since then. In that time they have taken 17 points from a possible 21.
They have developed both a ruthlessness and an ability to grind out results. These characteristics are extremely important for a title race, which surprisingly many now believe they are in.
Across the pitch, there will be many key battles that could very well decide the match depending on who benefits from them. These sub-plots add to the excitement and make the game very tough to call.
Two local lads renew their battle
Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s enjoyed similar paths to fame. The two local lads have become prominent parts of their teams and are set to renew their own mini-battle on Sunday.
Both are superstars in their own rights and have often pushed each other to their bests during their encounters. Rashford got the better of Trent in the 2017/18 season when he scored twice to help the Red Devils defeat their rivals. His first of the two goals exposed Trent’s defending and remains a classic goal for the 23-year-old.
Since then Trent has matured and his defending has significantly improved. He has already been a Champions League and Premier League winner and is widely regarded as the best right-back in the world.
Despite this, the Scouser has struggled to find his momentum so far this season and found it difficult to play at his best with Liverpool’s defensive problems disrupting his rhythm. Trent will certainly need to be at his best if he is to win his battle against Rashford.
The two midfield maestros
This fixture will also see Bruno Fernandes and Thiago face each other in the midfield as they will aim to be the creative sparks for both sides. The two players are amongst the best midfielders in the world and it will be interesting to see which one can have a say in this game.
United’s meteoric improvement since Fernandes came into the side has been spectacular. He has made a weak and dejected team look their most impressive since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. His impact on the team has been incredible and seen United take the most amount of points in the Premier League since he signed.
The only worry for United fans will be whether they are now too reliant on the Portuguese midfielder.
As for Liverpool, their brilliance from midfield should come from Thiago. Since his arrival from Bayern Munich in the summer, Liverpool fans haven’t seen too much of him. Injuries at the start of his Liverpool career halted his progress with the English champions.
He is now beginning to feature and already playing a vital role for Liverpool by supplying the front three. His weight of pass and forward-thinking is exquisite and hasn’t been seen at Liverpool since Philippe Coutinho left the Reds.
It takes a special player to receive their own Liverpool song before even signing for the club. Liverpool fans already adore him and will be hoping to sing his name after the game.
United fullbacks will need to concentrate
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are to walk away with anything after the game, his fullbacks are going to need to remain concentrated throughout the 90 minutes. Luke Shaw is likely to be facing Mohamed Salah whilst Aaron Wan-Bissaka is anticipating a match-up against Sadio Mane.
Both the Liverpool wingers are amongst the best in the world and although they do not enter the game in the best form, they will still pose threats to the United goal.
Solskjaer will tactically have to think about the threat of the wingers on the counter-attack. Should Shaw or Wan-Bissaka attack too much, it will leave space for the wingers to operate in.
Salah was the matchwinner the last time Liverpool faced United at Anfield and put to bed his record of not scoring against them.