Yet again the biggest game of English football has come upon us, and this time the fierce rivalry will have an extra edge to it as both teams seek a place in the top four. With United winning the reverse fixture 3-0 earlier in the season, Liverpool will undoubtedly be seeking revenge.
Manchester United head into the match following an impressive 3-0 win over Tottenham, and Van Gaal will be hoping that this win will allow his team to grow in confidence. United have won ten times at Anfield throughout the history of the Premier League, more than any other Premier League team, and fans will feel that another win will further cement their place in the top four.
Liverpool’s last defeat in the league was a 3-0 loss to Manchester United, and since then they have gone thirteen games unbeaten. Prior to that defeat Liverpool were placed 10th in the table, ten points off Manchester United in 3rd. However ‘The Reds’ currently sit just two points behind United, and Van Gaal will be wary of the threat this Liverpool team holds.
For the home side, Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva will under-go a late fitness test and could make the match day squad. Mario Balotelli has recovered from an illness and could make an appearance, whilst Jon Flanagan (Knee) and Jordan Ibe (Knee) are still recovering from injuries.
For Manchester United, summer signings Luke Shaw and Marcus Rojo will not make start, Manchester Uniteds twitter stated,
“Louis van Gaal tells MUTV that Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw are not fit enough to start for Manchester United at Anfield but may be on the bench.”
In addition, James Wilson and Robin van Persie are also both expected to be out of the fixture. Di Maria could make a return to the line-up as he returns from suspension.
Following a convincing win against Tottenham, there were clear improvements in Manchester United’s play. One of the most notable improvements to their play was the speed of their passing. In previous matches Van Gaal’s team showed comfort in possession, however the passing was far too slow. With players taking too many touches on the ball and passes mostly going sideways, the oppositions defence were able to reconstruct their backline. However, against Spurs fast passing allowed for defenders to be dragged around and spaces in behind the defence to be opened up. A prime example of this was Fellaini’s goal, where Michael Carrick was able to play a first time through ball into Fellaini. With direct and quick passes Manchester United will be able to exploit the Liverpool defence, who at times have been unconvincing this season.
For the line-up I would start with a 4-3-3 formation, similar to that which was played against Tottenham. In nets (you probably guessed it) David De Gea will make an appearance. At right-back I expect Valencia to continue in this role as Rafael hasn’t seemed to be in favour of van Gaal. At Centre-back Smalling and Jones should continue their partnership. The duo who have long be touted to be the future of the English defence, however due to injuries and inconsistent performances they have not been able to do so; with both Rojo and Shaw out now is the perfect time for that partnership to be solidified. At left-back Daley Blind will look to continue on from his fine performance last weekend.
The battle of the midfield will be extremely important for both teams and whoever gains control must be expected to win. To combat Liverpool’s midfield I would start Michael Carrick as the Anchor-man. Carrick offers both experience in defence and midfield, as he often intercepts passes and acts as the engineer in the midfield. Alongside Carrick I would start Herrera; the Spaniard has shown his abilities both in attack and defence, and despite his slight figure he is not afraid of a tackle, something which is key for such a big game. At the pivot of Midfield I expect van Gaal to pick Fellaini. The Belgian international physical presence is a worry for any team, and with a midfield of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson I expect that United may exploit his physical abilities.
For my front three I would start Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata. Ashley Young has been key for Manchester United since returning from injury. The winger offers directness when he has the ball, as he is willing to run at defenders and he can often deliver a deadly cross. On the right wing I would play Juan Mata. Against Spurs I felt he was key in our performance, and his partnership with Herrera was impressive as they seemingly always knew where each other was. The Spaniard has similar characteristics to that of Christian Eriksen and David Silva, two players who play a key role in linking both the midfield and attack, and his eye for a pass can break down any team. Is it any wonder he has been linked to Barcelona? In the centre of the attack, Rooney should continue his role. The striker’s willingness to run behind defences and his ability to hold up the ball and bring other players into the game is what separates him from Falcao (at the moment).
To summarise, I expect the game to be extremely tight, with both teams having plenty of chances. With this said, and as an optimistic supporter, I can see David De Gea saving Manchester United countless times, allowing the Red Devils to come away with a 2-1 win.