Manchester United go head to head with Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. It will be the second match of March and another that United will be seeking to win. It has been a positive few weeks for United; knocking Barcelona out of the UEFA Europa League, beating Newcastle United to win the Carabao Cup and also knocking West Ham United out of the Emirates FA Cup earning a quarter final place against Fulham later in March.
Erik ten Hag has transformed this United team with the signings that he has made, which has also seen the return of the ABUs who are, once again, finding things to moan about related to United and their matches but when similar events occur – silence. It is good to see that return as that was something that I have missed over the last six years since United last lifted a trophy. It has been a good start for the Dutchman, but there is lots of work left to do.
Liverpool have had a poor season which saw them knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Manchester City in the fourth round of the competition, knocked out of the Emirates FA Cup as the holders by Brighton and Hove Albion and their participation in the UEFA Champions League seems unlikely to last longer after a 5-2 defeat to Real Madrid in the round of 16 first leg. They are also sixth in the Premier League – ten points adrift of United. There is always next year.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has had a busy few weeks for United and will be ready to get United moving again in the Premier League after victories over Barcelona (UEFA Europa League), Newcastle United (Carabao Cup) and West Ham United (Emirates FA Cup) which saw United win one of the four competitions they were participating in this season and continuing in the other three. United will be quite busy this month – especially with the international break at the end of the month.
The Spanish goalkeeper has achieved a record of 181 clean sheets at the club, breaking Peter Schmeichel’s 180 clean sheet record and he will want to extend that record before the end of the season. His contract is over this summer, although there is a one-year extension attached to it but it is expected that he will sign a new contract at the club, on new terms which will bring his wages back down. United’s new era has started very positively indeed.
Tom Heaton and Jack Butland will both be seeking to get some action for United during the remainder of the season but neither of them will be starting in goal against Liverpool. Perhaps against Real Betis in the Europa League with United facing them at Old Trafford on Thursday then at the Benito Villamarín Stadium a week later. There is a chance that De Gea could be rested in one of those matches, perhaps in the second leg if United get a good result?
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence is doing well this season. It is a work in progress and for much of the season, despite United conceding goals, they have scored more – which is a good thing. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will probably start in the right-back role against Liverpool as he’s been largely positive against players who will utilise the wings to get the ball into the box. He came on against Newcastle last weekend at the start of the second half and helped to nullify threats in the second half.
In the left-back role, Luke Shaw should be back in action after missing out against West Ham on Wednesday. It is suggested that the England left-back will be fit but there is a chance that he may not start, in which case Tyrell Malacia will step into the position once again. Shaw is the best left-back at the club but Malacia is the future and will be learning all he can from Shaw, the coaches and Erik ten Hag. Shaw’s form has been great recently and he will be up for this match.
In the centre of the defence, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez should be reunited after the Frenchman was on the bench against the Hammers, coming on late in the match to help keep United on top. This duo has been the best things for United since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were partnered in the centre of the defence until the best part of a decade ago. The work is in progress and United are building something that could be very special indeed.
Midfield: Casemiro, Fred
The midfield at United has some great characters about it this season but with both Donny van de Beek and Christian Eriksen injured, United will make do with Casemiro, Fred, Scott McTominay and January signing Marcel Sabitzer. There is, of course, Kobbie Mainoo and Zidane Iqbal who are up and coming talents, but I don’t think they will find regular minutes at the club right now, especially with the important matches coming this month in the Europa League and FA Cup.
Casemiro will start against Liverpool – he’s the one player in the team that has been guiding the club in the right direction. For United to sign him from Real Madrid in the summer was a great thing with Frenkie de Jong seemingly on the cards for the club. The six goals and five assists that he has to his name is brilliant but he does more than score and assist to help United to win matches. It was a slow start for him at United but look at him now.
I would expect Fred to start alongside his compatriot against Liverpool as he has become a big game player under Ten Hag. I fully expect Sabitzer to come on later in the match though to add something to the midfield to keep it ticking over. United have really started to find their feet this season and if that continues, next season could be even better. Sabitzer has done the job he’s been asked to do when playing for United and in six appearances, has not lost yet.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
United’s attacking players are the main area where the goals are coming from. I would expect Antony to start against Liverpool with Jadon Sancho on the bench, should he recover from his illness in time. Antony has six goal this season and recently won United’s Goal of the Month award for February for his strike against Barcelona in the UEFA Europa League. The Brazilian is a capable player and his trickery on the ball could help United prosper against Liverpool.
Bruno Fernandes should keep his place in the number ten position against Liverpool. His game was not all that great against West Ham but he did play a part in two goals, although one of them was ruled out for offside. The Portuguese midfielder is the on-pitch captain for United and does a good job doing that – perhaps it should be a permanent thing? He will be inspired to perform against Liverpool keeping United’s run this season a positive one – a double over Liverpool – yes please!
Marcus Rashford is the player in form this season. 25 goals scored, seven assists. Added to Fernandes’ seven goals and nine assists and Antony’s six goals and one assist, this attacking trio has been involved in 55 goal contributions (38 goals and 17 assists). Rashford was not able to score against West Ham earlier in the week but would be seeking to score his 26th goal against Liverpool. He scored United’s second goal when the two side met at Old Trafford in August.
The Dutchman has one goal and three assists for United so far and he will be wanting to get so many more goals for the club. That said, he has received a lot of criticism for his lack of goal scoring but he does a lot more on the pitch for United, which I can see – so can others but it does not get much praise. Wout Weghorst is an experienced player and loves playing for United – in fact, he bust a gut to get the move done, leaving Besiktas in Turkey. What a guy.
United should only be seeking players who want to play for United, not the players that come for a pay check every week. There is almost a decade of that type of playing coming to the club. Weghorst opens up the defence making space for other players to break through and score, as has been the case the majority of the time he has been on the pitch fro United. He has been available for every match since he signed for the club with Anthony Martial out injured again.
Obviously with Martial out injured, United do not have many options in a strike role. They could play Rashford out of his favoured left-wing role but he’s not a striker – but he has scored goals in that position. Weghorst may not be the star of the show for United, his work rate propels him to the top though as he has never given up and that kind of energy and mentality is what is needed at United and Ten Hag has started to bring around the changes that were needed.
Substitutes: Heaton; Lindelof, Maguire, Dalot; Sabitzer, Pellistri, McTominay; Sancho, Garnacho
Ten Hag will have nine players on the bench against Liverpool with the ability to make five changes during the match, in three different stages plus the half time break. I would expect to see Tom Heaton on the bench as the goalkeeper ads there is no way David De Gea is not going to start this match. United will be wanting this victory at Anfield to get the double over Liverpool. They have raised their game but they are still terrible at this time. Keep that at sixth or lower in the league.
In the defence, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Diogo Dalot could all play a part against Liverpool, should they be needed. I am sire at least one of them will get on the pitch at some stage. Dalot could replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka at a point to add an attacking line on the right flank. Lindelof or Maguire could add fresh legs to the defence late in the match. I am sure United will need to make changes as the atmosphere at Anfield will is not going to be in United’s favour.
In the midfield, Marcel Sabitzer, who has done well whilst playing for the club, Facundo Pellistri and Scott McTominay could be required to come on. Sabitzer is playing a new role at United which will take time to adapt too but already he’s getting the plaudits to become a permanent United player in the summer. In attack, Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho will be big options, especially with the Argentinian international scoring his fourth goal of the season against West Ham.
Written by John Walker