Straight to the point, has there ever been a bigger Liverpool-Manchester United clash in the Premier League era than the one on Sunday? I really doubt there has, when you consider what is at stake and also the timing of this fixture. A massive derby, arguably still the biggest match-up in English football regardless of where the teams stand in the league table and it’s an absolute certainty that the animosity between two most successful institutions in the English game can well be taken to a whole new level after Sunday no matter what the outcome.
Liverpool, being the most in-form team in the league with their previous defeat in the league coming against their most hated rivals in December at Old Trafford, will go into this game in high spirits after they ground another important victory at the Liberty Stadium, which has taken them within two points of fourth placed Manchester United, meaning a win at their fabled Anfield could see them leapfrog Van Gaal’s Red Devils in this pivotal business end of the season with as little as 8 games to go (after Sunday). Brendan Rodgers will face some serious selection dilemma surrounding club captain Steven Gerrard with this game likely to be his last appearance in a Liverpool-Man United contest and also issues with picking his front line with/without Daniel Sturridge but the manager did sound relaxed in his pre-match press conference soaking in all the media hype around this match. He said,
“We have good momentum. Shown our qualities over past three months. Players deserve huge amount of credit. At home we’re always confident. United have been up there. They’ve got good players, and a world class manager. They’ll look to continue to stay in that top four. Coming into Premier League is different to where he (Van Gaal) has managed before. For us the challenge is to get above them. There is still a lot of work to do. We’ve found solutions to issues we had at the beginning of the season.They’re very comfortable in the way of working. We showed a different side against Swansea on Monday and came through.”
This will be Louis Van Gaal’s first visit to what is expected to be a raucous and electric Anfield after managing an impressive 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, in what was widely regarded as United’s finest performance since the Dutchman took over in the summer. Three first half goals inside 35 minutes were as surprising as it was clinical as Manchester United made a statement of intent with that result showing their intent to bring the European nights back to Old Trafford, although they would be aware of the fact that Anfield hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them with just 1 win there in the last six years. They have been coming good in recent weeks it has to be said with the side managing to win 4 of their last 5 games in the league but it should be interesting to see what eleven Van Gaal picks on the day whether or not he fancies to make any changes at all to the team that started the game against Spurs. Van Gaal was his usual unpredictable self in the pre-match chat with the media. He said,
“Every win is better than a loss or draw, you start better. We played very well in the first half. But it says nothing when you lose the next match. Liverpool is not the ground that United has won a lot on. I think every player knows the importance of this game. We are in a very crucial stage and cannot lose.”
Rodgers revealed that Mario Balotelli and Lucas are back into the first team fold after their recovery and participation in full length training sessions. The Merseysiders’ only other injury concerns are full-back Jon Flanagan (knee) and midfield prodigy Jordon Ibe (knee).
Provisional squad Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Markovic, Henderson, Allen, Moreno, Sterling, Coutinho, Sturridge, Jones, Johnson, Manquillo, Toure, Gerrard, Lallana, Lambert, Borini, Balotelli.
Jonny Evans is serving the third game of his six-match ban so will be unavailable but Ángel Di María is back after a one-match suspension that ruled him out of the victory over Tottenham but understandably may have to settle for a place on the bench. Robin van Persie (ankle) is expected to be out for two more weeks while James Wilson (hamstring) has no fixed return date. Marcos Rojo and Shaw are not fit enough to start the game on Sunday meaning they could be coming off the bench if needed.
Provisional squad De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, Young, Valdés, Thorpe, Pereira, Blackett, Rojo, Rafael, Lingard, Di María, McNair, Falcao.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 14 matches in all competitions at Anfield (W7 D7).
- The Red Devils have lost just one of their last nine Premier League away matches (W4 D4 L1).
- Daniel Sturridge has scored in two of his three Premier League appearances for Liverpool against Man United.
- Man United have taken 2.2 points per game when Michael Carrick has featured this season (15 games) compared to 1.6 without him.
Raheem Sterling – Liverpool
Let’s face it, Sterling is one of the most vital players in that Liverpool squad that can bother any back four on his day despite all the delaying contract negotiations and in his case put to hold until summer. The attacking midfielder provides Liverpool a surge of pace and an injection of energy that ultimately is how Brendan Rodgers wants his side to play their football. Having also been asked to play up front all on his own, he allows his manager to use an extra midfielder and maybe release the likes of Henderson from the shackles of positional discipline. Sterling has scored 6 goals in the league in 27 appearances and has been a main source of chances with the 20-year old having created 62 chances at an average of close to 2.2 per game, which is an extremely respectable return. He can be a real threat to Man United’s central defensive pair with his explosive acceleration drawing others out of position in the process if he gets the nod up top , which he should on Sunday.
Wayne Rooney – Manchester United
Rooney capped off a fine performance as the lone marksman with a fine solo effort last week which again underlined the fact that he has still got it in his locker to punish teams with his predatory goal scoring instincts, one might have wondered if it was 2009/10 all again. He’s found his scoring boots ever since he was shifted back to his favored position after a long stint in various areas of midfield with the England and Manchester United captain having scored 3 goals in his 3 appearances and 11 overall in 25 games. Wayne Rooney has taken up the mantle in some ways after the prolonged absence of Van Persie and Falcao for various different reasons and has managed to hit a rich vein of form at the right time as he has also managed to chip in with 4 assists demonstrating his versatility. Though Wayne Rooney has not been able to score at will, by and large against Liverpool and especially at Anfield, he is Manchester United’s talisman who Louis Van Gaal would rely on to deliver the goods as he’s done for most part of the season.
Games like these are hard to call. Though I can see this game pan out very complicated and end up being more of a tactical affair as two very different styles of football come up against each other. These are ties where we could get to see as many goals as red cards but who knows what would happen, eh?
A narrow yet season-defining win for Liverpool, for me.
Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United
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