This feels like the most significant weekend of the season so far. On Sunday, while Manchester City and Chelsea are busy fighting it out in the League Cup Final, it’s Manchester United vs Liverpool back in the Premier League.
United may well be heading out of the Champions League, but they’re into the FA Cup quarter-finals and they’re soaring up the Premier League table. With 8 wins out of their last 9, they’ve now jumped ahead of Chelsea into fourth place. Back in December, José Mourinho said United would ‘almost need a miracle’ to make that happen, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær is making it look very simple indeed. The Norwegian has already masterminded victories over Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea. Can he do the same against Liverpool?
For all the media over-reaction, Jürgen Klopp’s side still don’t quite seem themselves at the moment. Liverpool have now drawn 3 out of their last 4 games. Is the busy schedule taking its toll, or is it the pressure of the title race? After Tuesday night’s struggles against Bayern Munich, this is the last game that they would have wanted – Manchester United vs Liverpool. They haven’t won at Old Trafford since 2014…
Solskjær will still be without Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard for Manchester United vs Liverpool. The attackers are both due back in early March. Other than that, United are pretty much at full-strength.
Klopp’s injury woes are easing week by week. Dejan Lovren may be fit if needed and Joe Gomez is well on the road to recovery. And to cap it all off, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in training.
With Martial and Lingard missing, who will partner Marcus Rashford in the United attack? Solskjær went for Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata against Chelsea, with Alexis Sánchez replacing Lukaku for the last 20 minutes. Neither forward looks entirely comfortable with United’s fluid, pressing style, but Lukaku’s power in wide areas is more likely to cause Liverpool problems.
Xherdan Shaqiri was an unused substitute against his old club Bayern in midweek. Was that because Klopp plans to start him in Manchester United vs Liverpool? We’ll have to wait and see, but right now, all 3 of their first-choice forwards – Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino - could use a rest. James Milner may step in to provide the midfield grit alongside Gini Wijnaldum and either Fabinho or the improving Naby Keïta.
Player to Watch: Paul Pogba
In last Monday’s FA Cup match against Chelsea, Pogba showed just how decisive he can be when he’s at his best. His cross to Ander Herrera was delightful and so was his header to make it 2-0. The French star outran, outplayed and outmuscled the Chelsea midfield. Pogba won’t find life so easy against Liverpool, but this is the kind of big game where United need him to perform.