Manchester United go back to Premier League action on Sunday when they welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford. This will be the second time the reigning Premier League champions will have visited the Theatre of Dreams, losing 3-2 in the Emirates FA Cup a week after a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp’s side have seemingly fallen off their perch almost immediately after they climbed upon it, falling out of the running to retain their title, which is seemingly set to be claimed by Manchester City. United though will be seeking to confirm their second-placed finish in the league under the management of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United were in action on Thursday evening in the UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg, facing AS Roma at Old Trafford. United opened the scoring in the ninth minute through Bruno Fernandes but gave away a penalty five minutes later with Roma scoring another with 11 minutes of the first half left to play. United then scored five second half goals with Fernandes completing a brace, Edinson Cavani scoring a brace and Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood scoring the others. Liverpool were not in action since last weekend, so could be fresher for this match but as we saw against Leeds last weekend, there is no guarantee that it will help.
How United have faired against Liverpool in the Premier League.
United and Liverpool have played 58 times in the history of the Premier League and have a rivalled history. United have won 28 times, drawing 15 and losing 15. The Red Devils have scored a total of 77 goals with Liverpool scoring 63. United have been awarded five penalties, scoring three of them with Liverpool being awarded six and scoring five of them. United have kept 18 clean sheets with Liverpool keeping 15. In terms of discipline, United players have been shown 104 yellow cards with nine red cards whereas Liverpool have been shown 90 yellow cards and seven red cards. More fierce rivalry to be expected this weekend?
Earlier this season, United ground out a fraught 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League, knowing that they would face the club just a week later in the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford. In that match, United won 3-2 with Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes scoring the goals for United and Mohamed Salah scoring a brace for Liverpool. Last season at Anfield, United lost 2-0 but drew 0-0 at Old Trafford. This weekend, United will be seeking to defeat Liverpool, which might even dent their chances of a top four place this season, with them, at the time of writing, in sixth and four points adrift of Chelsea.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Liverpool in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon…
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Dean Henderson has had a good season at United. He has challenged David De Gea which has led to speculation suggesting that the Spaniard could leave the club this summer, which is partly because of the fact his partner gave birth to his daughter in the past few months. Henderson has a good future ahead of him but he is a different goalkeeper to De Gea – commands his area well but has a mistake in him, which is really the case for any goalkeeper out there today. Youth is on his side and his inexperience will soon turn into experience. For years United have been trying to create a goalkeeper from their academy.
That may well have happened after the likes of Ben Foster and Sam Johnstone came close to being the one, although for the latter, the goalkeepers already at the club created a block which led to him leaving the club instead of aiming to prove himself. Henderson could well be the goalkeeper at the club for a decade or more, which would be good for United and Solskjaer and create some stability in the squad with the manager rebuilding he club in the right direction to return the club to the success that they became accustomed to during Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at the helm of the club.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
United’s defence still have mistakes in them but it is a game of mistakes – that is literally one of the reasons that goals get scored – someone messes us. Still, I would like to see the defence a bit more on top in matches, like in the second half against Roma. If United played in a similar manner, they would be a lot stronger at the back. Against the threat of Liverpool, United will need to be strong at the back to overcome the threats that could be encountered. I would expect to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Alex Telles in the fullback positions for this match with Luke Shaw rested and only playing if needed. The break would do hims good for next week.
In the centre of defence, Eric Bailly could make his first start since the international break and his coronavirus encounter, which could give Victor Lindelof a rest ahead of next week’s clash with Roma, which will be a tough encounter, even if United are four goals better off than the Italian club at this time. Harry Maguire will continue to play though, not missing a single minute of Premier League action since signing for the club in the summer of 2019. Many seem to suggest that Maguire is not captain material but it is clear that he is, especially in the fact that his teammates seem to respect him. He’s United’s captain and he is doing a good job.
Midfield: Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba
Solskjaer will probably utilise Scott McTominay and Fred in these positions again but I think Donny van de Beek should be given a match from the very start. Granted, there is a plan in place to ease him into the Premier League but he will need to be starting sooner rather than later. Against Liverpool, a pivot of Van de Beek and Paul Pogba might work but the defenders will need to do their job well. This is just a suggestion, not how it will probably play out but United need to start with their best players which could do the job needed in midfield. Pogba was immense against Roma on Thursday and has had a few good performances lately.
United have too many decent midfielders at the club at this time, both in the first team and coming through the academy. Solskjaer will need to get them implemented into things sooner rather than later. Many would like to see Pogba and Bruno Fernandes rested but against Liverpool, the best players at the club will need to start. This is a match that means so much more than keeping all players fit for Thursday, it is Liverpool and a win is expected, otherwise Jonny will be spitting at his phone in an empty room again. As Leicester City dropped points on Friday evening, United have the chance of going seven points clear after 34 matches played.
Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Daniel James
United will probably continue in the 4-2-3-1 formation which means three attacking midfield players. Bruno Fernandes scored his 26th goal and 16th assist against Roma, which puts him in the starting XI by itself. 42 goal contributions so far this season in all competitions is admirable. He was back to his best against the Italian side, which is good news ahead of the Liverpool clash. Some may suggest that Marcus Rashford will start against Liverpool but I think he should be kept on the bench for later in the match as he was largely ineffective against Roma on Thursday. He still needs a bit more time to rest after that injury.
In his place, Daniel James should start on the left as he is a player that can do somme magic, despite the criticism he faces week in and week out for not have the talent to succeed. I mean, it seems to come from FIFA players, so the reality is not really there, is it? Mason Greenwood should start on the right. He was impressive against Roma on Thursday and bagged his 10th goal of the season for his club. Last season he got 17 goals and four assists – this season he has 10 goals and six assists, so he is getting there. James has five goals and one assist to his name this season, so in the next seven or eight matches he will be seeking more.
Forwards: Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani got himself two goals and two assists against Roma, taking his goal tally to 12 so far this season, also doubling his assists to four. The rumours suggest that he will spend a second season at the Old Trafford club next season, which if true is great news and will put a bit less pressure on the club to bring in a new striker. Cavani is everything that United needs at this time and I believe that he can teach Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford more in a further year at the club. Cavani will be in his element right now, especially after bagging goals against Granada, Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley too.
I feel that the Uruguayan leading the line against Liverpool will put some pressure on their defence and could result in more goals for him, or create the space for Fernandes, James, Greenwood or any other player to get in there and score goals. United have a great player on their hands and yet again those supporters who know it all wrote him off before he even got to the club because age clearly means more than anything. Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved them wrong and is still doing that today. Cristiano Ronaldo is older and still doing his thing, but they seem to rate him. It is strange judging a player by their age but stupid is as stupid does.
Substitutes: David De Gea; Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Juan Mata, Amad Diallo, Scott McTomminay; Marcus Rashford
Solskjaer will be back to naming just nine players on the bench in the Premier League, using just three of them – which was all he used on Thursday evening. It worked though and it may not work as well ons Sunday afternoon. The substitutes could well be called upon to change the game or even support what United had already done, keeping a lead or whatever. I fully expect David De Gea to be back on the bench after the Roma match and I think he will start in the second leg too. In defence, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe could all be available.
In the midfield, Juan Mata, who made a cameo on Thursday, Amad Diallo and Scott McTominay could be available with both Fred and Nemanja Matic being rested ahead of Thursday’s match in Rome. United may end up picking these players for this match with Matic’s experience and ability to defend and Fred’s ever presence in the midfield despite his performances. In attack, Marcus Rashford could be on the bench as he is not fully fit and did not get much against Roma, despite United player a better brand of football in the second half. It is possible that Solskjaer picks a different team with Donny van de Beek on the bench again instead of starting.
Written by John Walker