Man United v Liverpool: Five key battles that could determine outcome at Old Trafford

Liverpool v Manchester United - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - January 17, 2021 Manchester United's Anthony Martial in action with Liverpool's Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum [Reuters, Paul Ellis]

Manchester United welcome top-four chasing Liverpool this evening in the Premier League.

The rearranged 8:15pm clash was postponed last weekend due to anti-Glazer protests outside the Theatre of Dreams, but the two red sides are again ready to play out their third meeting of the season tonight.

The Red Devils have had the better of the men from Merseyside over the course of this campaign, and sit 13 points and four places ahead in the top-flight table.

A 0-0 draw at Anfield in January preceded a thrilling 3-2 FA Cup tie at Old Trafford seven days later, in which Bruno Fernandes netted a late free-kick to decide the contest.

Jurgen Klopp and co are now out for revenge, and will surely know winning the bulk of the game’s most important battles could turn the tide and in-turn, boost their hopes of achieving Champions League football.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 10 midweek changes should mean his stars are relatively fresh to try and strike a blow to the Redmen’s aspirations, as they languish seven points below fourth-placed Chelsea with two games in hand.

Here, we take a look at five key battles that could determine the match.

Luke Shaw vs Mohamed Salah

Kicking off our picks are each teams’ potential player of the year.

Salah sits second behind Harry Kane in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot with 20 goals, while Shaw has had a resurgent term under Solskjaer.

The England left-back kept the Egyptian quiet at Anfield, a week before the mercurial winger scored his first two goals at the Theatre of Dreams in the Fourth Round clash, drifting inside of the 25-year-old for his first.

It’s not just in a defence vs attack sense that this battle is mouthwatering, as Salah will have to work hard to deny Shaw increasing his 69 key passes up the pitch, which is more than any other defender has racked up this PL campaign.

Whoever gets the better of their man may well go a long way in deciding the outcome tonight.

Marcus Rashford vs Trent Alexander-Arnold

They might be international teammates come EURO 2020 this summer, but these two English stars of the present and future will rekindle their rivalry on the flank this evening.

With Paul Pogba set to face Andrew Robertson on the other side, Rashford and Alexander-Arnold will face off like in March 2018 at Old Trafford, when the now national treasure gave TAA a baptism of fire in this fixture with two well-taken goals.

The 22-year-old Liverpudlian has won a top-flight title and Champions League since, although Alexander-Arnold was unable to handle United’s no. 10 in the cup meeting, meaning the Anfield favourite will be keen to make amends.

Similar to Salah’s responsibility on Shaw, Rashford will have his work cut out to scupper the right-back’s forward prowess, as only one player (Robertson) has whipped in more crosses throughout the 2020/21 Premier League than him.

Both flanks should get fiery this evening.

Liverpool v Manchester United - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - January 17, 2021 Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara and Manchester United's Paul Pogba after the match [Reuters, Phil Noble]

Bruno Fernandes vs Fabinho

With Klopp expected to employ young pair Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams in the heart of defence, his Brazilian general’s role further forward will be fairly simple to define: stop Fernandes.

The Red Devils’ Portuguese magnifico has been back to his usual self lately, scoring or setting up six goals in his last three games.

Fabinho was imperious at centre-back in the goalless draw on Merseyside alongside fellow makeshift defender Jordan Henderson four months ago, but might be tasked with doing what Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips did so well at Elland Road last month, by sticking to Fernandes like glue.

The 27-year-old’s size will give him the physical advantage over his marker, and Fabinho will be out to make up for giving away the pivotal free-kick in January, allowing the Premier League’s biggest chance creator to whip in the winner.

This is certainly up there with the biggest deciding battles.

Fred vs Thiago

Having scored his first goal for the club last weekend, Thiago Alcantara appears to now be settling into life as a Premier League player.

The Spaniard orchestrated that match against Southampton as well as the reverse fixture between these sides, with Fred only getting a grasp on the deep-lying playmaker late on.

Although the tenacious Brazilian didn’t start the aforementioned FA Cup match, his introduction from the bench soon saw Klopp hook Thiago in the second half, with the ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich man failing to get a grip on the game.

Fred’s job, shared with partner Scott McTominay, is set to stop Thiago’s average of 1.2 key passes per-90 minutes and decrease his eye-watering 89.7% passing accuracy.

The United midfielder is well-equipped for the job, however, averaging 2.7 tackles each match, level-best in the Red Devils’ squad with Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Keep your eye on the middle of the park as these pair of often-criticised players each look to silence their doubters.

Edinson Cavani vs Nat Phillips

We end with two players at the opposite ends of their careers but both hungry for success.

Monday’s announcement that Cavani would be staying at United for another year was met with fan ecstasy, while Phillips has become an unlikely star of a disappointing season for Reds supporters.

Phillips wins an incredible 5.6 aerial duels per-90, crushing next-best Rhys Williams’ average of 3.2, so the Uruguayan’s heading may well be hindered by the ‘Bolton Baresi,’ who’s a late bloomer at 24.

Cavani also crushes his teammates in the Premier League minutes per-goal rankings (132), and has bagged five strikes in his last four appearances.

Only Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale beats the no. 7’s 29% shot conversion from top flight forwards to have scored at least six goals, and it’ll be Phillips primarily attempting to prevent Cavani from bagging his 10th league strike and 16th in all competitions.

Neither started the two earlier encounters this season, so they’ll also be out to prove their worth on the big occasion.

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