Manchester United are scheduled to challenge a top tier club for the first time this season. On Saturday lunchtime they as they the short trip to Anfield to test their power against strong rivals Liverpool. The game will undoubtedly be a challenging one for the Red Devils, as Liverpool have a good record on their turf and has been credited with having one of the most threatening attacks in the league. Adding to United’s headache is the absence of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini.
The injury to Pogba put a dent in the clubs title hope since he could be sidelined for a couple of months. In his absence, there were doubts among the fans and supporters as to whether Fellaini will be able to replicate the Frenchman’s performance. The Belgian midfielder has so far stepped up to the challenge and was slowly becoming erasing all doubts from the mind of the critics until he too fell into the hands of injury.
The international break will be a source of concern for Jose Mourinho as the manager will be uncertain how exerting the break was for those featured until the players commence training. Romelu Lukaku was resting during the international break and was unable to play for Belgium in the World Cup qualifier due to an ankle injury, so the Portuguese tactician will hope to have him back against Liverpool.
The face-off with Liverpool will be United’s toughest game of the season so far, and if the Red Devils are to maintain their run at Anfield, they have no choice but to make do with what they have.
Currently, Mourinho has just two recognised senior midfielders in Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera. Normally, this should be a settled case but as observed from past games, Mourinho prefers to counter Liverpool’s attack with three central midfielders. This was highlighted in the 0-0 draw at Anfield last season, where the manager played Pogba, Fellaini and Herrera.
If Mourinho is left with Matic and Herrera against the Reds, he could team the duo up with either Daley Blind, Victor Lindelof, Scott McTominay or Axel Tuanzebe in the central park. Of the four, McTominay is the only natural central midfielder but he is very young, having registered just three senior appearances so far.
Alternatively, Mourinho could just make do with just Matic and Herrera. It would be deemed a risk, but it could provide the opportunity to deploy four attacking players instead of three. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata could all start behind Lukaku – if he is available for selection.
Mourinho would also have the option to play three centre-backs and two on the flanks, since that setup would not require a third midfielder. In fact, Manchester United employed this formation against L.A. Galaxy in the pre-season game and it proved a success for the team.
Liverpool was not able to stand up to Spartak Moscow’s back five in the Champions League, making it the best available option for Mourinho. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – Jurgen Klopp’s major men, struggled to find space and were confined for most of the game.
It is still a mystery how Mourinho will choose to arrange his squad on the big day, but this match has the potential to change the direction of the two clubs’ title run.