It’s one of English football’s fiercest rivalries and a battle for fourth too. With Liverpool able to leapfrog Manchester United with a victory, this could be a tremendous match. Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle, while Alan Thompson provides the betting expertise…
Liverpool v Manchester United
Sunday 13:30, Sky Sports 1.
Match Odds: Liverpool 2.26/5, Man Utd 3.814/5, The Draw 3.55/2.
Manchester United defeated Liverpool 3-0 in the reverse fixture, but it was much closer than the scoreline suggests – and this is likely to be a very tight contest at Anfield.
Besides, while the past two matches between these sides have been ludicrously open, these two teams have calmed down and got their defences sorted. Liverpool have improved massively since the switch to a three-man defence – they’ve kept seven clean sheets in their last nine league games – while Manchester United look more settled having made the opposite move, to a traditional four-man defence. This might not be end-to-end stuff.
Brendan Rodgers should continue with the 3-4-2-1 formation which has proved so effective over the past couple of months. Although he moved away from that shape in the narrow win over Swansea on Monday night, there’s no reason to abandon the formation entirely.
His main decision is about where to start Raheem Sterling, who has played in three different roles – at wing-back, as an attacking midfielder, or upfront – in this shape. In that final role he looked extremely dangerous at Old Trafford earlier in the season, although he was repeatedly thwarted by David De Gea. Still, there’s a chance Brendan Rodgers will field him in that role again, with Daniel Sturridge missing out. It would be a brave call, but perhaps the right one.
Manchester United, meanwhile, turned in their best performance of the season in last weekend’s comfortable 3-0 victory over Tottenham, and Louis van Gaal will be reluctant to make too many changes.
Luke Shaw might be considered as a speedier alternative to Daley Blind at left-back – though that would be harsh on the Dutchman who helped United dominate down that side – and Angel Di Maria will hope for a recall in place of Juan Mata.
In truth, on current form the Argentine doesn’t deserve to regain his place, but there’s a feeling that Van Gaal sees him as a long-term part of his plans, which might not apply to Mata, and there is a need for an injection of pace.
The most interesting individual battle could be Marouane Fellaini, who has played a weird, left-of-centre attacking midfield role in recent weeks, and Liverpool’s right-sided centre-back Emre Can. He’s settled in nicely in defence, but doesn’t have anything like the aerial abilities needed to contain Fellaini, who loves receiving long balls from defence before controlling with his chest. This could allow United to bypass the midfield zone, where Liverpool are likely to press intensely.
Indeed, that midfield zone will be comprised of two similar duos. Joe Allen will sit in front of the defence and allow Jordan Henderson to scamper forward, closing down United in midfield and driving into attack. Meanwhile, Michael Carrick is likely to play the reserved role for the away side, meaning Ander Herrera can push up the pitch and into the final third.
Liverpool could have the advantage, however, if Coutinho and Adam Lallana drift inside to overload United in the centre of the pitch. The movement of these two players gives opponents a real problem about how to track them – no-one has really figured it out yet, with Swansea coping best by playing a diamond midfield and effectively dominating the centre ground.
Meanwhile, it’s also worth remembering how United won the reverse fixture – they were simply more clinical in the final third. Wayne Rooney has a fine record against Liverpool, and has been thriving in his favoured centre-forward role.
I think this will be quite a tight game, especially with Liverpool’s impressive record of clean sheets. Unders is available at around evens, but I’m going to be brave and back Liverpool to win to nil, at around 4.47/2.
Liverpool to win ‘to nil’ at 4.47/2
The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson
Manchester United travel to Anfield on Sunday with just two points separating the sides after 29 games and both are in good form as we enter the business end of the season. United have suffered just one away defeat in their last nine away days (Swansea 1-2) but Liverpool are also in excellent form, unbeaten in the league since their opponents today beat them at Old Trafford 3-0 back in December.
Liverpool have kept a clean sheet in seven of their last nine premier league starts and have only lost twice at Anfield this season, victory here will see them leapfrog United into that precious fourth spot before a difficult trip to the Emirates next week.
The last two seasons Brendan Rodgers’ side have finished strongly winning 12 of their last 14 games last season and the season before they only lost two of their last 14 games. With nine games of this season remaining they have won their last five – it’s a time of the season that the Reds seem to perform very well.
While United have been picking up points they have never looked that convincing until last week where they made it three wins in a row after their comprehensive 3-0 victory over Tottenham. That said I am still not sure that they can see this through and I still don’t see Louis van Gaal‘s men making the top four this season.
I can’t see Liverpool losing this on home soil and as draws are a rare event in this fixture – there has only been one drawn league match between these two in their last 18 meetings – that leaves me with a Liverpool win.
I am going to split my stake, using half to back Liverpool in the Match Odds market at 2.16 and the other half in the Half Time/Full Time market. Man Utd have been drawing at the break in their last six away games and Liverpool in three of their last four at home, so I will back Draw/Liverpool at anything around 6.0.