It doesn’t get bigger than this, especially with the way the stage is setup. Manchester United will welcome Liverpool to the theater of dreams on Sunday in the hope of diminishing their lead to just two points. United V Liverpool has always been the number one game in the fixture list but this time the importance of it to both the teams has almost doubled considering the circumstances. United are in cruise mode right now and if they can put Liverpool aside on this weekend, United fans will be jubilant, not only because they beat Liverpool, but also because, suddenly, out of nowhere, United will be part of the group who are expected to challenge for the title. Obviously, Chelsea still has a firm grip on it, but if Liverpool can be considered as a challenger, certainly United, who might be just two points behind them, should be considered as well.
United had the luxury of playing their last few games with shuffled squad resting the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, and Michael Carrick. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was rested against Reading, got an unexpected rest against Hull City when he got ill. To sum it up, Mourinho will have some fresh legs for the crucial fixture and that should make his life a little easy. United went to Anfield with a clear idea of soaking up the pressure and focussing on counter attacks. They almost succeeded at it and if not for failed chances, United could have walked out of there with three points. Things this time are far different than then. The team is in a different mode with a much more healthy and positive attitude. They have started to click together and now know what to expect of each other. In such circumstances, one would not expect Mourinho to line up like he did at Anfield, especially since they are playing at home. Let’s have a look at what might be the starting XI for the coming fixture.
Starting XI Prediction (4-3-3):
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
De Gea has been a spectator in most of his recent games but has time and agains pulled off a crucial black or save which some times has even been game changing. The save against Michail Antonio at one end lead to an attack and goal at the other. Small things like this consolidate together at the end of the season to make a big difference. De Gea will surely have lot more to do this time around and will like to keep things the same way as always, tight.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind
Valencia has been United’s rock at right back. He has been excellent going forward but equally good while defending. His performances have given the United attack a new dimension, which was lacking for most of the past seasons. His confidence in taking on players has grown as the season has gone along and that has helped the team immensely. Daley Blind on the other side is not having as brilliant a season as the last time around. He has been used by Mourinho frequently but has not put in a rock solid performance as the fans have seen him doing all year round last time. Obviously the playing style is different with Mourinho so things change accordingly but Blind would like to prove that he is still as good at his positioning and reading of the game as last season. Mourinho might want to stick with his center back partnership of Smalling and Jones. Rojo, who might just make it to the squad in time, has not played in the last week or so. Coming back in to a game of such magnitude without any sort of rhythm might backfire.
Central Midfielders – Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
There cannot be any doubt as to what is UNited’s best midfield partnership. These three have been exquisite for United in the last few games and the balance is almost perfect with them. In Carrick, you have a stable defensive midfielder who will on one side cushion the defense and put off the fires before they start and on the other hand create excellent chances using his brilliant reading of the game. Herrera is almost an opposite to Carrick with respect to the energy and exuberance but is equally impressive in intercepting the passes and winning back the possession. With Herrera alongside to do all the chasing, Carrick can focus on the creative and safety tasks at hand. With these two covering all these bases, Pogba is basically left to do whatever he finds best going forward. With Carrick and Herrera making sure that the gaps are sealed behind, Pogba gets his freedom to go on aggressive and ambitious runs. It all is coming together pretty well and Mourinho is trying his level best to have them together as many times as possible.
Front Three – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial
This is where all the damage might happen. Mkhitaryan and Martial have shown some exciting form off late and if they can keep the levels in the liverpool game, the likes of James Milner are going to have a hard time handling them. To make things worse, United has a personality like Ibrahimovic up front, a battering ram who has strength to hold the ball for his team mates or on occasions to create something using his quick intelligent passes. These three have been immense for United in the past few games and United supporters would be hoping they do the same on the coming Sunday.
A win will take United within touching distance of Liverpool and possibly over Arsenal or Manchester City. A victory in a game like this not only puts United back in the fight but also improves the morale of the side by ten folds. Football is at the end of the day, a game of confidence and if they could put this game to bed, they could start peaking at the very right moment of the season. Sunday will be a huge test, a test that United cannot afford to lose. Come on United!!!