Manchester United return to Premier League action as they welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. Last season, Liverpool ran riot at the Theatre of Dreams and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be tasked with trying to change that this season. United came from behind against Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday evening, scoring three second half goals to take all three points in the group stage match, which puts them at the top of their group with six points in three matches. Two more wins and avoiding a defeat in the last group stage match should be enough to put United through this season.
Liverpool sit in second place in the Premier League ahead of this match with 18 points, four more than United who sit in sixth place with 14 points. That will change before the two sides kick off at the Theatre of Dreams on Sunday afternoon. United need to find three points in the league after no winning for the past month, beating West Ham United at the London Stadium back in September. Defeats to Aston Villa and Leicester City plus a draw with Everton have seen Solskjaer’s side struggling at home and away this season, despite their bright start to the campaign. This match would be a big one to win for United and Solskjaer.
Previous meetings with Liverpool and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Liverpool have met a total of 58 times in the history of the Premier League with both teams playing in the league since it started. United have won a total of 28 times, drawing 14 times with Liverpool winning the remaining 16 matches. United have scored 79 goals, winning five penalties and scoring three of them. Liverpool have scored 67 goals, winning seven penalties and scoring five of them. United have kept 18 clean sheets with Liverpool keeping 15. United players have been shown a total of 107 yellow cards and nine red cards with Liverpool players being shown 90 yellow cards and seven red cards.
Tom Chorlton, Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Fred Hopkin, Tommy Reid, Ted Savage, Allenby Chilton, Thomas McNulty, Phil Chisnal and Peter Beardsley all played for Liverpool and United before the Premier League was formed. Only Michael Owen and Paul Ince have played for United and Liverpool since the Premier League was formed. Owen won his only Premier League title playing for United, making 52 appearances, scoring 17 goals and three assists for the club. Ince made a total of 207 appearances for United, scoring 22 goals and 16 assists. Neither of the pair are considered legends for United, and rightly so.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Liverpool in the Premier League at the Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has inspired his team this season. He is finding his best form in a game by game basis and seems to be gaining some ground. He had a poor season last season and that seems to have helped him find the best of his abilities once more. Against Atalanta, he performed well and the two goals seemed to be because his defence let him down again, which has been said a lot in the past month or so. De Gea has made some great saves to keep United in that game, helping them keep their heads and go on to find the win, which they eventually did. De Gea has gained the plaudits this season because of his form.
Against Liverpool, it will be important for the Spanish goalkeeper to keep his head, as I don’t think the defence will keep theirs. United have spent a lot of money on the defence; £30 million on Eric Bailly, £30 million on Victor Lindelof and £80 million on Maguire, but that money has not created a solid defence. £50 million was spent on Aaron Wan-Bissaka too, which has done something defensively, based on what the right-back position was like at the time, but in terms of attacking, there is not much pressure there. De Gea could be the player to be the difference between United winning and losing on Sunday.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence is much weaker without Raphael Varane but they will have to get through this without him. He could be back in a week’s time and I suppose there is always a chance that he could be back sooner, but he will need to be fully fit. United don’t need another showing of an unfit player rushed back into action. Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should keep their places in the fullback positions, which is where the strength lies going forward, especially on the left with Shaw an attacking presence much of the time. Wan-Bissaka needs to get forward more and add some attacking ability to his game.
In the centre of the defence, Lindelof and Maguire should keep their places from midweek but they will need to up their game to keep check on this rampant Liverpool side. United ave kept one clean sheet this season and really need to get on top of that. If United are able to outscore their opposition, which is something the attacking ranks in the team should be able to do, conceding goals is not so bad. But right now, United don’t seem to inspire many going forward. Against Atalanta, a resilient United emerged in the second half, attacking time and time again until then eventually levelled the score then found the winner.
Defensive Midfield: Nemanja Matic
Nemanja Matic is the best defensive midfielder at the club this season based on his experience and his performances. Scott McTominay and Fred are closely followed, with them being Solskjaer’s choice to play in a two-man midfield. However, the formation is the main problem for United as the midfield tends to be exposed based on the lack of experience and brilliant defensive-minded midfielders. Against Liverpool, despite the fact he could get overrun, Matic will be the best player to sit in front of the defence. He will need to be helped with the job with both the defenders and the advanced midfielders dropping back to avert the pressure.
Matic still has a part to play at United but when a new enforcer type midfielder arrives, he will be relied upon much less, which will keep him fresh for the occasion, if he still wants to remain at the club. He can be the difference between winning and losing despite him losing his legs, which means the ground he covers will mean he needs to be significantly supported in the right areas for United to prosper. This 4-1-4-1 formation will be good when United attacks Liverpool, but would result in a midfield three when Liverpool were attacking with even the wide players dropping back to assist their teammates to avert any damage.
Attacking Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford
Having four players behind the main striker will make United top heavy and more prone to attacking, rather than defending. Liverpool will aim to control the game and press their way to a victory, which is where United will need to fight back. Every team can be beaten in this league, the manager, coaches and players just need to ensure that happens. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford should start on the right-wing and left-wing (respectively) – providing Rashford is fit to start following his thigh injury sustained on Wednesday. This will provide pace, attacking pressure and ability on the flanks to press Liverpool.
In the two central positions, Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba should start, on the proviso that Bruno Fernandes will be missing, which could be the case for United. This should keep the team attacking and hopefully the Dutchman will be up for the challenge of Liverpool and not showing his frustration at being on the bench more often than not. To play for United, you need to offer something and when he has played, it has not been the best for him. If he wants to leave in January, I doubt he will be kept against his wishes, but he will be known as yet another player who failed at the club. To work hard means you get recognition.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese forward scored a brilliant goal to win the match for United against Atalanta on Wednesday and he will be well up for the challenge of facing Liverpool for the first time since March 2009 when United lost 4-1, in which he opened the scoring in the match before Liverpool ran riot. Ronaldo is a player who has been criticised since he returned to Old Trafford, seemingly being the lowest pressing player, which seems to have changes in the last few matches. Ronaldo might be a poacher now, but his individual brilliance is still there to create something special for his club, which is all he wants to do.
Ronaldo is a winner and will continue to be one. He has not seemed happy in the last few Premier League matches, which is understandable as they lost 1-0 to Aston Villa, drew 1-1 to Everton and lost 4-2 to Leicester City. That is not something to be happy about. United have fallen into sixth place in the league but a victory over Liverpool will keep the Red Devils in with a chance of getting back into the top spots in order to challenge, but that will need to continue to happen in each match to challenge. A loss could see United out of the pack that will challenge for the title this season, which is too early for that to happen at this time.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Eric Bailly, Alex Telles; Jesse Lingard, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay; Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani
With nine substitutes able to be named, using just three of them, Solskjaer will need to get the balance on the bench right against Liverpool. I expect Dean Henderson to be on the bench in this match, unless there is something up with De Gea. In defence, Eric Bailly, and Alex Telles should be available. I think it will be too soon for Varane to be back in action, keeping him fresher for the matches against Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester City seems more likely. The balance here seems to be fewer defensive minded players, more attacking players, as that seems to be United’s best chance of getting a good result.
In midfield, Jesse Lingard, Fred (if he is fit enough to take a place on the bench), Bruno Fernandes (if his knock received against Atalanta is not too troubling for him) and Scott McTominay should be available, which can add some attacking brilliance and some energy onto the pitch, if it is needed – which perhaps will be the case. In attack, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani should be available. Anthony Martial has been back in training this week, but he might not have the fitness level to feature in this match as United will need to have every available player ready or perform if and when they are needed. Come on United!
Written by John Walker