Liverpool host Manchester United on Saturday lunchtime as England’s two most decorated clubs go head to head at Anfield.
Here, Press Association Sport look at some of the key issues.
Defence in the red
Liverpool’s defence is the stick with which Jurgen Klopp gets beaten. His side conceded 42 league goals last season, second-worst in the top seven, and have already shipped 12 this campaign. Only rock-bottom Crystal Palace and West Ham have conceded more – although in mitigation four of the goals against Liverpool came when they were down to 10 men at Manchester City. Individual and collective errors have cost them dearly, and too often teams have scored with their first shots on target. Klopp insists they have worked on defending but there is little continuity as he has not named the same goalkeeper and back four in successive matches since the second game of the season. Joel Matip is the one constant – rested only for the Carabao Cup defeat at Leicester – and Dejan Lovren’s injury problems have not helped.
Twelve months ago Liverpool were brilliant up front and posed so much of a threat that Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was content to ‘park the bus’ at Anfield and leave with a goalless draw. After seven games last season Liverpool had scored 18 but that has dropped to 13 from seven this time around, although the number of chances they are creating has not fallen. Not being able to convert has, arguably, cost them as much as not keeping a clean sheet. Klopp remains confident they will get through their current drought, although they will have to do so without the injured Sadio Mane. Despite looking as fit as he has ever been, Daniel Sturridge is lacking match sharpness, starting just three games, while preferred central forward Roberto Firmino has scored once in his last six outings. Philippe Coutinho has scored in three matches running to suggest he is back to form and may be pushed further forward to compensate for Mane’s absence.
This fixture is being played almost a year to the day since Mourinho’s game plan frustrated a free-scoring Liverpool side, and the goalless draw was the only game Klopp’s side did not win in a two-month, 10-match stretch between September and November. This time around it is United who are the ones flying, having scored 21 goals in the league and netted four times on six occasions in all competitions. Liverpool’s leaky defence will be targeted, but as this is United’s first big test this season expect Mourinho to have a slightly more conservative approach – despite joking he would start with “one defender and nine strikers”. However, there is little chance Klopp will adopt the kind of spoiling tactics his opposite number did last year. The German knows only one way of playing and he will still try to enforce his high-tempo, high-pressing style on the visitors in an attempt to not only contain but overwhelm.
Last season’s United leading man Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasted a glorious chance to snatch victory at Anfield. This time it will be Romelu Lukaku leading the line, with the 24-year-old looking to become the first player to score eight goals in his first eight Premier League games for United. To do that, he will need to up his game against Liverpool. The former Everton striker has scored just once in his last seven matches against the Reds, failing to muster a shot on target in five of those games. Ending that run on Saturday lunchtime also offers the chance to hush those questioning his ability to shine against the biggest clubs.
United’s midfield options
Paul Pogba has been Stateside undergoing rehab on the hamstring injury he suffered against Basel a month ago. United captain Michael Carrick is another midfield absentee for the trip to Anfield, while Marouane Fellaini is almost certainly ruled out with the knee complaint sustained on Belgium duty. Such injuries all but confirm Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera will start in midfield at Anfield. Inexperienced Axel Tuanzebe and Scott McTominay along with Daley Blind offer other options for a stretched-looking midfield.
Source: By PA Sport Staff