Come Sunday afternoon, one of the fiercest rivalries in world football is renewed, one of the biggest games in the Premier League kicks off and for 90 minutes, all eyes will be fixated on Old Trafford. Manchester United vs. Liverpool is a game that has it all and with such a big game approaching I will look into some key battles that could possibly affect the outcome this Sunday.
Gerrard and Lucas vs. Carrick and Cleverley
With Gerrard finding his form and returning to the high standards he has set himself, the return of Lucas could not have come at a better time and is a welcome return. Though he may not have been at his absolute best for large parts of the season, he still has been a crucial part of Liverpool’s season, having assisted more goals than any other player.
Lucas’ return, sitting comfortably in front of the back 4, allows Gerrard more opportunities to venture forward and dominate games in the final third rather than from a more defensive area. Against United, Gerrard will have to find his very best form, which he has done in the past few weeks. Both sides love to play attacking football, and both usually dominate possession in games, so something will have to give this Sunday, so much will depend on the midfielders performances.
Carrick and Cleverely have looked fairly good this season, but there is no doubt Cleverley can be caught out at time to time, as he often goes into the final third of the pitch and leaves space for opponents to attack. If Gerrard is able to get at Carrick, he will most likely cause some damage and get the better of him.
Both sides will look to keep the ball and play, so the game could be decided on who has the better midfield on the day, if Lucas can control the amount of balls going through to Van Persie and protect the back 4 and allow Gerrard to bomb forward and support the strikers, Liverpool could come away from Old Trafford with a great result.
Suarez and/or Sturridge vs. Ferdinand and Evans
Will Suarez and Sturridge start together or will Sturridge start on the bench? Only Brendan Rodgers knows for certain, but whether they both start together or not, this will be a key battle in the game. Suarez has been in scintillating form this season, bagging 15 league goals already and is playing quite possibly the best football of his career.
With the signing of Sturridge, Suarez now has a strike partner to lift some of the burden currently on the Uruguayans shoulders, a burden that he has shouldered like a man possessed. We can only expect Suarez to continue in his rich vein of form throughout the season, whether he continues to bang in the goals, or contributes towards Sturridge scoring, one thing is for sure, Suarez will be a key figure and will be a key figure in the game on Sunday.
United’s defence this season has looked increasingly fragile and weak, leaking goals all over the place, and no longer play like a team who are solid and comfortable at the back. Their game now seems to be, let’s outscore the opponents. A risky strategy indeed and one which I am sure Sir Alex would rather not play, but with such frailties in his defence and Van Persie in such form, is a strategy that he knows he must play to win and to his credit, has been working.
But eventually he will come up against a team who score against United and do not concede more goals than they score. Could this team be Liverpool? With Suarez in such form and the possibility of unleashing Sturridge to partner Suarez, do not be surprised if Liverpool score more than one on Sunday.
Ferdinand has looked very average at times this season, and it is clear, he is missing Vidic partnering him. Against strikers who are quick and direct, he and Evans have looked uncomfortable and this is something that Liverpool can pounce on. With Suarez’s direct running, he will certainly cause Ferdinand a lot of problems, leaving space for Sturridge, if he plays, to attack Evans and vice versa. Expect Liverpool to score against United, but that is only half the battle…
Van Persie vs. Agger and Skrtel
The summer signing from Arsenal has been in fine form this season, having scored 16 league goals (only one more than Suarez) and looks to have become an even better player than he was at Arsenal.
Wherever he has gone this season he has scored, and having broken Liverpool hearts last season at Anfield with two sublime goals, he will no doubt be relishing the chance to play against the red men on Sunday.
But, for all his skill and class, Liverpool’s defence should not fear him. Boasting two clean sheets in their previous two league games, against Sunderland and QPR respectively, Liverpool will arrive at Old Trafford in fairly good form and be up to the challenge of stopping Van Persie and co.
Agger and Skrtel have had in-different seasons so far, at times they both have looked very solid, and in other games they have made sloppy mistakes and have looked second best in situations where normally you would expect them to come out on top. Yet it is obvious, on their day, the two are solid defenders and can thwart any attacker.
Agger has the pace to match Van Persie and Skrtel has the awareness and power to challenge the flying Dutchman. It will be an extremely interesting battle come Sunday, and will have a major outcome on the final result.