The biggest match of the season by far is here, and it is obvious- the form of the top six teams has prevented Manchester United from breaching the top four, from six points behind the rest of the pack to a mere two points behind Arsenal. A loss against Liverpool would take United eight points behind their biggest rivals, but a win would bring United within two points of Jurgen Klopp’s men, sitting in second. United needs a win to make their run through November and December relevant, and being the form team in the league, it is time to show everyone what this Manchester United side is about, and a massive portion of that will be based on key players.
Adam Lallana, Midfielder, Liverpool
Lallana rose to fame as the key attacking player in Southampton’s first effective Premier League midfield of Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin and himself. Wanyama moved onto Tottenham Hotspur, whereas Schneiderlin ended up at United and now Everton, but Lallana opted to move to Liverpool, and became an isolated figure in Brendan Rodgers’ setup. Some believe he’s the most overrated Englishman there is, and some people believe he’s the future of the nation. While I never understood considering a 28-year-old the future of a footballing nation, I did always believe Lallana had a special talent.
On the ball, the Southampton product produces moments that encompass the best youth systems from the best countries in the world, as if he’s played with them all. A hard worker, he plays in central midfield for Liverpool, but his greatest strength is attacking, with which he has earned seven goals and seven assists in 16 Premier League appearances. With Sadio Mane at the African Cup of Nations and Philippe Coutinho not fully fit, all the eyes are on Lallana to produce the magic from Liverpool’s midfield. I think he’s capable of the task, the best midfielder at Anfield, and definitely a player for spectators to watch.
James Milner, Left-Back, Liverpool
With Manchester United set to visit Liverpool at Anfield, much was made of the potential player United could use to run at stop-gap left-back, James Milner. Fitness problems forced Jose Mourinho to move Marcus Rashford onto the right-wing, and on the right, the teenaged sensation isn’t necessarily the best player to turn a fullback inside-out. However, this time, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is likely to take the pitch, and he is probably the most difficult individual player to defend in the Premier League because of his wide variety of skill sets.
However, credit must be due to James Milner, who has adjusted superbly to playing left-back. United’s once stop-gap right-back Antonio Valencia may look slightly more convincing, but the English utility man is very important to Liverpool’s attack because his overlapping runs allow Philippe Coutinho to cut in from the left side and be creative in central areas. Completing 4.2 long balls per game, he will be looking to put Liverpool’s pacey players in behind, and he is also slated to be Liverpool’s penalty taker, though we can only hope that won’t be important.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Right-Wing, Manchester United
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who spoke openly about dreaming of playing for Manchester United, has finally blossomed, and this weekend, playing against Liverpool, he has the chance to cement his place as a key player in the side. Coming up against James Milner, Liverpool’s right-back, Mkhitaryan needs to create space for United and provide the key creative spark, especially if Jose Mourinho opts to play a more defensive option on the other wing instead of Anthony Martial.
Mkhitaryan has a wide variety of creative threats at his disposal, with his tricky feet, blistering pace and incredible ability to pass the ball. Also, adept defensively, Mkhitaryan could impose himself on the match with intelligent interceptions. The stage is set for the Armenian to make a massive impact on United’s season.
Michael Carrick, Defensive Midfielder, Manchester United
Carrick is Manchester United’s most important player, statistically, with the fact being that United wins many more matches with the Englishman in the side. That being said, aging and physically diminishing frame means that he isn’t exactly suited to playing in a match against a high-octane attacking side in Liverpool’s nature. As a result, the Scouse outfit may try and isolate Carrick and attack him individually with the hope of creating space.
United’s likely captain on Sunday is quite the intelligent presence, though, and it will be interesting to see if he can still produce the fixture-proof performances against high-calibre sides at the age of 35. If not, his date of replacement will likely be much sooner, as United needs to keep making the right changes to reach the highest level. Pitted against the high-energy, passing nature of Jordan Henderson, Carrick has the chance to show he still has more fuel in him than the players who have a decade against him.