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Manchester United vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis

It is the biggest match of any Premier League season, and with both involved in the race for the Premier League top four, Manchester United vs Liverpool on Sunday has plenty riding on it.

Their meeting at Anfield earlier in the season was a dull drab goalless draw. And fans of both sides, as well as neutrals around the world will be hoping for a more exciting game this weekend.

Ahead of Sunday’s big match at Old Trafford, here are five areas where the game could be won or lost.


Liverpool still haven’t been able to shake off those nagging concerns about their back line and their defensive strength will be thoroughly tested this Sunday.

With United entering the game off the back of nine consecutive victories in all competitions, with the goals flowing, Liverpool are facing their old rivals at just the wrong time.

Contrast this situation with the United team they came up against at Anfield back in October – they were struggling to convert their chances, recording draws that should have been wins and Jose Mourinho had little idea as to his best team.

That has certainly all changed and United’s main renaissance man has been Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who took his season’s goal tally to 18 when he scored in the 2-0 win at West Ham on January 2.

Of late, he has been exceptional, scoring 12 times in his last 12 appearances. The 13 goals the Swede has scored in his first 19 Premier League games is an identical record to Dwight Yorke and Robin van Persie – but Zlatan is 35 years old.

Given Dejan Lovren’s susceptibility in the air and the possible effect his midweek blunder at Southampton has had on Ragnar Klavan, Ibrahimovic will fancy his chances.

Jurgen Klopp may opt for Joel Matip alongside Lovren at the back, with the Cameroon international back in training this week after injury.

But whoever starts there, United, with the in-form Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba supporting Zlatan, will exert maximum pressure


While their defence remains questionable, there’s no complaints about the effectiveness of Liverpool’s front line.

Their free-scoring attack is the reason why Liverpool have often looked the only side capable of hanging on to Chelsea’s coat-tails at the top of the table.

But with Sadio Mane on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Senegal for the next few weeks, Klopp will have to move things around up front.

Mane has been involved in 13 of their 48 league goals this season, scoring nine and four assists, so is undoubtedly a big loss.

In midweek in the EFL Cup defeat at Southampton, Liverpool were forced to start with Philippe Coutinho on the bench because of a lack of match fitness.

Coutinho should be back in the starting line-up for Sunday and with Roberto Firmino on the other side, it should be a straightforward case of playing Daniel Sturridge through the middle.

It’s been a frustrating campaign for Sturridge, though he has showed glimpses of his previous form in scoring against Stoke and Sunderland since returning from his calf injury.

As they have proven over and over again, Klopp’s Liverpool are among the league’s best in exploiting open space, and Firmino, Coutinho and Adam Lallana will seize upon any openings United leave when the game is stretched.

The Reds are devastating on the counter-attack and, even in the absence of Mane, United will need to be incredibly organised and disciplined, as they were at Anfield last time they met.


As with many matches, the central midfield battle will have an enormous bearing on the outcome. At Anfield, the two teams cancelled each other out, play became bogged down in the centre of the park and there were precious few chances.

Both sides boast in-form players in the midfield. United’s Ander Herrera is playing some of the best football of his time with the club and Michael Carrick continues to exert that quiet influence over games.

Carrick’s presence in front of the defence has taken a lot of the load off Pogba, who is liberated to push forward and attack, while Mkhitaryan, held back at the start by Mourinho, has developed into an outstanding creative force.

It is testament to United’s strength at present, too, that Juan Mata, who has played a role in five goals during his last two outings, may not even make the team. Wayne Rooney, also, is probably anticipating an afternoon on the bench.

Even Marouane Fellaini came off the bench against Hull City in midweek and scored, so you can well imagine Mourinho putting him on for an extra edge if United are leading and need to see the game out.

Liverpool have Henderson back and his influence on their midfield seems to grow week by week, the tireless work of Emre Can and the ever-growing confidence of Adam Lallana out wide.

Lallana has been involved in 14 of Liverpool’s Premier League goals this term, with seven goals and seven assists, and ranks as one of the best English performers in the top flight at the moment.

So on paper at least, both sides are packed with brilliant players and any one of them could tip the balance in their team’s favour. It promises to be fascinating, with fine margins making the difference.


Two of the most interesting managers in world football come face to face again and things have certainly changed since their last time in October.

Liverpool had won their five previous matches ahead of that game, had performed especially well against the teams near the top of the table and were scoring goals at a prodigious rate.

This time they face United off the back of a three-match winless run that has stalled the momentum that came from four straight league wins over the Christmas period, including victories over Everton and Manchester City.

United, by contrast, came into their last meeting after a turbulent start to the campaign which saw Mourinho struggle to identify his best team and his players fail to take their chances.

A point at Anfield was viewed as a positive result given their early-season form and worse would follow when they crashed 4-0 at Chelsea the following weekend.

But things are 100 times better now, with a nine-match winning run, progress in all their cup competitions and a vastly enhanced chance to break into the top four.

Mourinho’s mood has been lifted by the successes, he knows his strongest side, has rotated his players effectively and seems to be very content with his role, even hinting at signing a longer contract.

But he has only ever recorded one win over Klopp from six meetings, losing three. Not that old meetings between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund count for a great deal here.


It may come as a surprise to many that Liverpool have lost on 11 of their last 14 visits to Old Trafford in the Premier League.

They have won the other three, admittedly, including that 4-1 win there in 2009 and the 3-0 in 2014, but overall United have reliably got the better of their rivals in the recent past.

Louis van Gaal won all four of his Premier League meetings with Liverpool, including a 3-1 home win last season in which Martial announced himself.

So Liverpool must perform better on the ground of their adversaries – they have been beaten 27 times by United in the Premier League era, more than any other side.

As previously mentioned, keeping a calm head will be critical, too. There have been 16 red cards shown in this fixture since 1992, more than any other game except the Merseyside derby.