Liverpool and Man United do battle in a vital Premier League clash this weekend, with various match-ups set to be key to the final outcome.
We are edging closer to the next installment in one of the most famous rivalries in European football, as the Reds host their arch-enemy on Saturday lunchtime.
It is an explosive way to return to domestic football, following the international break, with Jurgen Klopp‘s side badly in need of a win after just one win in their last seven games between the last international breaks.
These matches are never straightforward to predict, but whoever wins certain key battles will take a big step towards victory at Anfield.
Here are three tussles that could prove pivotal.
Mohamed Salah vs. Ashley Young
News of Sadio Mane‘s hamstring injury was a crushing blow earlier this week, with arguably Liverpool’s best player set to miss six weeks of action.
With the Senegalese’s pace, movement and end product taken from the Reds’ starting lineup for the next six weeks, the performance of Mohamed Salah will be critical.
The 25-year-old is riding on the crest of a wave after his last-gasp penalty secured World Cup qualification for Egypt last weekend, and we need to see similar heroics from him at Anfield.
Salah is expected to be deployed from his favoured right-sided attacking role, and he is the man Klopp will rely on to get in behind United’s defence and cause problems.
The visitors’ biggest weakness is left-back, with Ashley Young the favourite to start there on Saturday. Daley Blind is also an option.
This has to be exploited by both Klopp and Salah, with Young far from an out-and-out defender and Blind lacking pace.
It will be interesting to see if Jose Mourinho doubles up on the Egyptian, sacrificing a flair player in the process, should he be concerned about the threat he poses.
Salah has the ability to give Young a torrid time, but we must see a more ruthless edge from him if a key chance falls his way.
The Reds’ No.11 has averaged 3.7 shots per goal so far this season, compared to Mane’s 2.4 – he needs to display the ruthlessness of his stricken teammate this weekend.
Joe Gomez vs. Rashford or Martial
Although Mourinho may be tempted to go ultra-defensive and use both Young and Blind down the left flank, it would be a surprise if he didn’t show faith in either Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial.
The talented young pair have both been impressive in the opening few weeks of the season, rotating in and out of the side with one another and scoring 10 goals between them.
Both are lightning fast and very direct, and whoever gets the nod on Saturday will give Joe Gomez a very tough afternoon.
The 20-year-old should be preferred to Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back, with his physicality and height more suited to facing United.
He hasn’t always shone in a relatively unfamiliar role, however, and there is a nagging worry that Mourinho will see him as an individual who can be targeted.
If Rashford gets the nod, his power and speed will be a match for Gomez every time they go up against each other, while Martial has enjoyed more goals and assists per minute than any Premier League player so far this season.
Gomez also needs to make whoever starts think about their defensive duties, and while going forward doesn’t come too naturally to him, dovetailing with Salah and making unselfish runs to create space will be very important.
This will be one of the former Charlton Athletic youngster’s sternest tests in a Liverpool shirt – it will be a major step in the right direction if he passes with flying colours.
Matip & Lovren vs. Romelu Lukaku
Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Newcastle in their last game was just the latest show of inept defending from Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren.
Joselu’s equaliser was a complete mess – Matip was more at fault this time – and it essentially cost the Reds two precious points.
The duo will once again start at centre-back this weekend, with Klopp left with almost no alternative, given Ragnar Klavan‘s limitations and Gomez’s lack of experience.
They will be tasked with stopping Romelu Lukaku – a striker in the form of his life, and someone desperate to prove he has a big-game mentality.
The big Belgian has made a flying start to life at United, scoring 11 times in 10 appearances, and only failing to find the net in one game to date. He will fancy his chances this weekend.
In fairness to Matip and Lovren, they often perform better in the big matches, with their concentration levels better than against lesser sides, but they cannot afford any slip-ups on Saturday.
Lukaku is one of Europe’s most lethal finishers currently, and with the likes of Rashford, Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan also waiting to pounce upon any error, immaculate performances are paramount from the pair.
Saturday’s clash provides a perfect opportunity for Liverpool’s centre-back duo to silence the doubters, but if they are bullied by United’s attack, specifically Lukaku, the vultures will continue to circle.