Mail on Sunday columnist and former Liverpool and England star DANNY MURPHY, who scored the winner in it three times, assesses where the match at Old Trafford could be won and lost…
Liverpool may be vulnerable against Manchester United if Marcus Rashford runs in behind
RASHFORD v ALEXANDER-ARNOLD
There aren’t many ways United can trouble this Liverpool defence but gambling on Marcus Rashford to take on Trent Alexander-Arnold is one of them. I remember Rashford scoring twice when United won at Old Trafford two seasons ago under Jose Mourinho. He was encouraged to stay upfield and run in behind rather than track the Liverpool full-backs.
Rashford seems to get joy playing down the left side of a 4-3-3. The question is whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is bold enough to tell Rashford to let Alexander-Arnold go so that he’ll have space on the counter.
And whether United see enough of the ball for Rashford to stand up to Alexander-Arnold one-on-one. The pair are friends as well so there will be a lot of personal pride in who comes out on top, as well as the enormity of the game.
It is worth Solskjaer taking that risk, it’s one of the few attacking weapons he has in a team struggling for goals. If Alexander-Arnold is a bit stranded, Liverpool will rely on Jordan Henderson getting across to cover, but if United can get the ball into Rashford high up and early, he won’t be caught.
Anthony Martial could also pressurise Liverpool’s right flank if he is to start
If Anthony Martial starts in the middle, he also likes drifting to the left during the game and that would put even more pressure on that side of Liverpool’s defence. I remember Thierry Henry and Roberto Pires doubling up on the left for Arsenal at times and causing difficulty.
I even wonder if Jurgen Klopp may play Joe Gomez as the right-sided central defender for his extra pace. That’s no reflection on Joel Matip’s form — he has been outstanding — but for this fixture, Gomez is a consideration. United could go 4-4-2 or a diamond to try and surprise Liverpool but, when a team is low on confidence, jiggling about with new systems doesn’t always work.
I think United will stick to 4-3-3 but that right side of Liverpool’s defence is maybe vulnerable if United are bold enough to leave Rashford up to find gaps.
MANE v WAN-BISSAKA
Sadio Mane has been Liverpool’s best player this season and probably the best in the Premier League. He has become better than I ever thought he would, offensively and defensively.
Having said that, if there is one full-back capable of matching him physically, it is Aaron Wan-Bissaka. He looks brilliant defensively which isn’t that common for full-backs in the modern era.
Assuming Sadio Mane starts on the left then Aaron Wan-Bissaka will have his hands full
Klopp does have options, he could move Mane more centrally away from Wan-Bissaka and play Roberto Firmino on the left — but I have a feeling Liverpool’s mentality at the moment is they aren’t going to shift around because they fear United.
Assuming Mane is on the left, Wan-Bissaka will have his hands full. He is as quick and good in the tackle as any defender Mane will face this season. The great thing about Mane is that if Wan-Bissaka tries to get forward, the Liverpool winger doesn’t mind doing the hard yards to stop him.
McTOMINAY v HENDERSON
There are similarities between the pair. Midfielders with great physical attributes, tenacity getting around the pitch and technically good footballers.
I suspect with Paul Pogba’s injury, Nemanja Matic and Fabinho may be the deepest of the midfielders for either side and Henderson and McTominay could come into some direct competition — the master and the apprentice.
Henderson has shown in the past couple of seasons that he’s more than just a holder. He can play a killer pass. McTominay will end up the same way, I believe. He showed against Arsenal with his equaliser that he can be more creative and incisive than we realised when he first came into the United team.
There are several noticeable similarities between Jordan Henderson and Scott McTominay
The biggest compliment I can pay them is that I wouldn’t like to play against either. They aren’t going to dazzle you with fancy footwork or have the cleverness of a Paul Scholes but they will never stop doing the right things; getting the second ball, covering their mates, playing a pass, running off the ball. They are both quick enough and decent in the air.
Henderson may have the edge this afternoon because of his greater experience. And also because he has better midfield company around him. When he started at Liverpool, he had Steven Gerrard to help him.
The problem for United is McTominay is their top midfielder when Paul Pogba’s out and that is a lot of responsibility for a 22-year-old who has had 25 Premier League starts.
ROMERO v ALISSON
Rarely can a match as big as this have as many question marks about both goalkeepers. Not because of their ability — they have been established No 1s for Argentina and Brazil — but due to their lack of recent action.
Goalkeepers are no different to other positions, training is no substitute for playing in terms of sharpness and concentration.
Romero has played just twice this season in cup competitions and Alisson hasn’t been seen since the opening league game against Norwich because of a calf injury.
Despite that, I think Klopp will bring him back for Old Trafford even though walking back into a 76,000 full house will be a good test even for someone with his experience. Alisson knows he has a very good team in front of him and his form over the past year has been so good he has credit in the bank if he makes the odd mistake.
Sergio Romero will be under pressure to perform because of United’s recent poor results
Romero will be under more pressure because of United’s recent results and the general tension around their camp. He has never let United down but rarely plays because of David de Gea. Now the Spaniard’s injury on international duty is set to give him a chance.
The interesting thing is how both managers go about trying to test the goalkeepers to see if they are rusty. They are more likely to challenge them at set-pieces and backpasses rather than urge the midfielders to shoot from distance.
Don’t be surprised if the first couple of corners and free-kicks are deliberately played closer to the goalkeeper than would be usual and that everyone in the box tries to steam into them, challenge them.
The first backpass played into Romero or Alisson, expect the opposition forwards to press them fast. It’s an early test to see if they are really ready to play in a huge match like this.
FORM OR FORTUNE?
I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning I scored three winners for Liverpool at Old Trafford.
It got to the stage where I’d turn up for games against United expecting things to go well, it gave me enormous confidence and well-being against what was the best team in Europe.
If you’re Anthony Martial, you will be mentally visualising that United debut, against Liverpool at Old Trafford, and the fantastic dribble and finish that sealed a home win.
Mohamed Salah will hope to score his first goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford
Logically, Martial isn’t quick enough to trouble Virgil van Dijk and I don’t see him having enough support around him up front. But that mindset is the X Factor.
On the other hand, Salah has never scored against United, which is a stand-out given he’s been lethal against everyone else. That can become a psychological problem if you’ve struggled against the same team for four or five years, but I don’t think it will affect Salah because it has only been four games and he doesn’t strike me as being short of confidence.
Salah will go out at Old Trafford as convinced as Martial he’s going to score and Liverpool will be set on three points, not because of the record 18th Premier League win, but because they will feel they are better than this United team.
If the match is drawn, it will be United celebrating a moral victory — and Liverpool left disappointed.
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