Securing Champions League qualification would have been the priority for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when hired as Manchester United interim manager, and a key match to allow him to do this is the upcoming; a clash with a fierce rival at the summit of the Premier League to maintain the positive gap by which United lead Arsenal and Chelsea in the race for fourth place.
Given the historically fierce rivalry between the Red Devils and Liverpool, the match should hold great importance for United supporters and players alike, regardless of league position. Under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, United’s Merseyside rivals have become one of the better outfits in European football, particularly this season. They threaten to win the Premier League entirely and Solskjaer’s men will want to do everything to stop that.
All the above factors lead to expectations that United will field their strongest available line-up for the upcoming match, which could be the following.
David de Gea
Backup shot-stopper Sergio Romero received many deserved plaudits for extending his incredible clean sheet record with a commanding display against Chelsea, but he unfortunately understudies the best goalkeeper in the world, whom he will have no chance of displacing for a key Premier League match.
It remains true that Diogo Dalot has a lot to offer the side and should get his chance to replace Young, but the likelihood of Solskjaer tweaking upon arguably his best lineup is very low and the Norwegian manager has reason for that. Expect Young to man-mark Sadio Mane and attempt to deny him time and space around the box.
This position is somewhat difficult to predict given that there are now three options. Chris Smalling was commanding in his display against Chelsea and Gonzalo Higuain, while Phil Jones did not start against either Paris Saint-Germain or Chelsea and could return to the side. I believe Eric Bailly is the best-suited to starting against Liverpool in particular, though, as he is the best of the three at defending on the ground and Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are unlikely to be an aerial threats.
Almost undoubtedly will be Victor Lindelof, who, alongside Paul Pogba, could even be considered United’s best player this season. He was unprecedentedly comfortable against Chelsea despite coming up against all three members of their attack at different times, and Jurgen Klopp will instruct his side to avoid the Swede entirely.
A heroic defensive display against Chelsea went under the radar from Shaw due to his relative attacking mediocrity, which should not detract from the fact that he has been very good in recent matches. Whether he can cope with Salah’s darting runs off the right and perhaps even Xherdan Shaqiri and Trent Alexander-Arnold may be a different question entirely, but he’s the most prepared United fullback to attempt it.
Struggling in recent weeks in possession of the ball, whether due to his limitations as a footballer or simply fatigue, Matic is still a key player in United’s defensive phase and played a key role dominating territory and winning the ball back against Chelsea. Avoiding what looked like a forthcoming sending off at Stamford Bridge, he is a sure-fire starter for Sunday’s match.
Intelligence on and off the ball, excellent decision-making, understanding of the proceedings and a tendency to score important goals makes Herrera the ultimate big game player for United, and having produced countless world class performances against England’s Top 6 clubs during his time in the Premier League, his presence can help guarantee a win for the Red Devils.
Despite being marked out of the match, Paul Pogba was irresistible against Chelsea and produced both key winning contributions for his side. The World Cup winner now has double figures in both goals and assists this season, but has never added a commanding display against Liverpool to his time at United, and will be looking to do that this time around.
The absences of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial (written prior to Solskjaer’s press conference when he revealed both could return to face Liverpool) leave few candidates to start other than Mata, who has struggled on the right-wing for United but looked much better in a more strictly central role against Chelsea, causing Jorginho plenty of problems and disrupting the flow of Maurizio Sarri’s system. A similar role will be likely next match for the Spaniard, whether against Fabinho or Jordan Henderson.
Continuing to establish himself as a key player for United, Rashford is a different type of striker to the ones who have played for United over the years due to his all-round ability and incredibly threatening running. It makes him the perfect spearhead to Solskjaer’s diamond system, where he can stretch the opposition both out wide and in behind and cause havoc, which he will be hoping to do against a Liverpool defence that isn’t invincible by any stretch.
The 25-year-old striker is still yet to rediscover his form after losing it early this season, but his quality is undeniable and he would be the perfect player to occupy Virgil van Dijk, leaving Rashford to attack Liverpool’s potential weakness; the player who partners the Dutchman on the day.
Predicted XI (4-4-2 Diamond): de Gea; Young, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw; Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Mata; Rashford, Lukaku