Three Keys: Liverpool v Manchester United

Liverpool host Manchester United on Sunday with an in-form Sadio Mané and Alisson. Can United’s midfield step up to the task?

Sadio Mané v Marcus Rashford

Sadio Mané’s achievements over the last 12 months were rightly recognised last week as he was named the CAF African Footballer of the Year for 2019. Liverpool’s number 10 is the Reds’ leading scorer this season with 15 goals in all competitions, registering 11 further assists. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has his work cut out at Anfield, as Liverpool’s win at Tottenham last Saturday saw the Senegalese striker constantly drift in-field and rotate with his fellow forwards. United’s defence cannot afford to lose sight of him.

Despite aggravating a persisting back injury in Wednesday’s win over Wolves, Marcus Rashford is expected to line up on the left of United’ front line. Although this certainly represents a risk to his a long-term fitness, his form in front of goal means that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer considers it a chance worth taking. The 22-year-old is enjoying the most prolific season of his short career and has netted nine times in his last ten starts across all competitions. Given his enviable record against England’s top teams, everyone at the club will be hoping he can overcome the injury in time for kick off.

Alisson v David De Gea

For all the praise that is rightly heaped on Liverpool’s forwards and defenders, it should not be ignored that Jurgen Klopp’s team have kept six clean sheets in a row in the league since Alisson returned to the starting 11. In his 51 Premier League games to date opposition entirely in 28 of those games. Such statistics have made him the country’s most imposing goalkeeper.

In contrast, David De Gea’s stock has dropped significantly in the last 18 months. For every outstanding save there has been a glaring error, while question marks over his authority at set pieces have risen again following recent costly mistakes against Everton and Arsenal. In Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool boast one of the best crossers of the ball in the division. The pressure will be on De Gea to dominate his area, and performances of late suggest he cannot be trusted.

Midfield battle

With the inconsistent Paul Pogba missing through injury, United’s midfield lacks a true star. Nemanja Matic has received praise since his return to the starting line-up, while Juan Mata followed a standout display against Norwich with the winning goal over Wolves. Their legs have aged significantly in the last couple of seasons, though, and Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard have failed to impress. Similarly, Fred’s limited ability has been exposed in Scott McTominay’s absence.

Considering their success, it would be fair to state that Liverpool do not have a world star in their midfield roster. However, Klopp can call upon a large group of talented players to comprise the trio and Solskjaer could do worse than to study how his opponents use the ball. In their four Premier League games since the Club World Cup, Liverpool’s midfielders have averaged 270 touches and 209 accurate passes. United’s own stats are not dissimilar, their midfielders averaging 268 touches and 187 passes. The impact that Jordan Henderson and co have, however, is far more influential than their counterparts manage. With United’s tendency to play on the counter in big games, their midfield will be key to moving the ball quickly in the transition from defence to attack. Sadly for Solskjaer, it seems Liverpool are far better equipped for such a task.