Paul Pogba and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take centre stage as Man United host Liverpool

Alex Rea 9/03/2018
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Paul Pogba and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in action for their national teams

Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday to renew hostilities between the fiercest of rivals.

The two are separated by just two points, sit second and third in the Premier League but are both some way off runaway leaders Manchester City.

Yet the narrative is one of a United side fragmented by its individual qualities with Jose Mourinho struggling to bind his talented stars into a cohesive unit.

The Reds by contrast have connected the dots, their fluid attack now matched by a hardened backline and behind the usual regional context, there is an added layer of intrigue to the clash.

Much of that is down the players and so we compare the key assets for both teams.

ALEXIS SANCHEZ V MOHAMED SALAH

1002 sanchez v salah

Mourinho was justifiably vilified for United’s suffocating approach to the reverse fixture back in October but his side are unlikely to swing too far the other way given what happened against Tottenham in January.

The Portuguese boss fielded Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard in the starting XI but it left his midfield painfully exposed.

He will likely curb that unusual enthusiasm, meaning the presence of Sanchez on United’s left takes on even greater gravitas.

The Chilean lost possession an incredulous 34 times against Crystal Palace and congested United’s deeper midfield space to crowd out Paul Pogba.

Ultimately, Mourinho bought him to make runs inside and then get into finishing positions but he’s looking to make key passes rather than complete attacking phases.

A wideman with a frightening ability to convert is what Liverpool have in Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian has the most goals (24), assists (eight) and shots (113) for the Reds this season and forms the fulcrum of a truly fearsome front three.

Salah is on fire right now and if you need an indication of the confident mood he’s in, check out his first touch after being introduced for the final 20 minutes of the draw with Porto.

Incidentally, the 25-year-old will be rejuvenated by that break in midweek and having scored once against Manchester City and Chelsea added to three against Spurs this season, he’ll fancy another on Saturday.

DAVID DE GEA V LORIS KARIUS

1002 de gea v karius

There is an art to a pragmatic philosophy when the backline is a bolted one. But United owe their defensive solidity almost entirely to De Gea.

The Spaniard is not just the Premier League’s most outstanding goalkeeper but there’s an argument to be made that in the absence of an injured Manuel Neuer he shares the best-in-the-world tag with Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The 27-year-old is the reverse of what Salah is to Liverpool – a game saver. He has the most clean sheets in the league so far this season (15), has made the second-highest amount of saves (85) and has conceded only 22 goals in 29 games.

His save percentage in the league stands at an immense 81 per cent and in reality, when you talk about United’s defence, you’re talking about De Gea.

Of course, the goalkeeper topic has also been a central narrative for Liverpool this season, only for negative rather than positive reasons.

Indeed, Jurgen Klopp has rotated his No1 but has settled on Karius since the turn of the year. The German possesses the same raw athleticism De Gea brought to the Premier League in 2011 and, like the Spaniard was then, he’s looked undersized for the physicality of English football.

However, the calming influence of Virgil van Dijk has breathed confidence into the 24-year-old and he has made a string of outstanding stops in recent weeks.

His propensity to get Liverpool on the front foot has married perfectly with Klopp’s style but a true test of his mental fortitude awaits on Saturday.

PAUL POGBA V ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN

1002 pogba v chamberlain

Ah the Pogba Pogba puzzle. Quite how Mourinho solves the enigma that is Pogba is anyone’s best guess but with each passing game, the pieces to the jigsaw become ever more distant.

Pogba is United’s yin and yang – his arrogance both his finest quality and his biggest vice. In one sense, his audacious mind is the avenue to some truly genius pieces of creative play.

In the other, he almost sees himself above the graft and determination to be a driving force from midfield.

Pogba is a bit like a lavish yacht. He’s expensive, coasts across the surface with elegant poise but is ultimately a luxury.

In reality, Mourinho wants a battleship capable of torpedoing the opposition and Pogba’s straying displays have been indulged for too long.

The recent switch tactically to 4-3-3 should allow him more freedom but then Sanchez drifting into his midfield has been blamed for negating his impact.

The excuses are fast drying up and starting in his favoured formation should surely bring the best out of him soon enough.

Switching to a preferred position is what is benefitting Oxlade-Chamberlain. Operating as the No8 in Klopp’s three-man midfield, the 24-year-old is finally starting to show exactly what he can do.

Breaking the lines with his direct running, the England international has struck up a deadly partnership with Salah which has yielded goals for the former in the last two league games.

He’s the right player in the right system, a position Pogba will hope to find himself in soon enough.

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Man United v Liverpool: Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah both aiming for personal records

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Liverpool star Mohamed Salah

Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday to renew hostilities between the fiercest of rivals.

The two are separated by just two points, sit second and third in the Premier League but are both some way off runaway leaders Manchester City.

Here, we take a look at some of the key facts and statistics ahead of the mouthwatering clash:

– This will be the 170th meeting in league competition between these sides – Manchester United have won 67 to Liverpool’s 55 (47 draws).

– Liverpool have lost more league matches against Manchester United than they have vs any other side in their history (67).

– Two of the last three league meetings between these sides have ended goalless – just one of the previous 49 between them in the top-flight had failed to produce a goal.

– The last three league meetings between the sides have ended level; they’ve never drawn four consecutively against each other in league competition, last drawing three in a row in February 1921.

– Mohamed Salah has scored in each of his last five Premier League games; only Daniel Sturridge (eight in February 2014) and Michael Owen (six in April 2003) have scored in more consecutive matches for Liverpool in the competition.

– Romelu Lukaku has scored 99 Premier League goals; if he scores in this game he’ll be the fifth youngest player to reach 100 in the competition, and the second player to score his milestone goal against Liverpool (after Harry Kane earlier this season).

Man United frontman Romelu Lukaku

Manchester United frontman Romelu Lukaku.

– However, Lukaku has scored just 16 goals in 64 Premier League games against ‘big six’ sides (0.3 per game), compared to 83 in 150 against the rest (0.6 per game).

– Manchester United have won 10 of their last 13 Premier League home games against Liverpool, losing in 2008/09 and 2013/14, and drawing last season.

– However, only Man City and Chelsea (six each) have won more Premier League games away at Old Trafford than Liverpool (five).

– This fixture has seen 16 red cards in the Premier League – only the Merseyside derby has produced more in the competition (21).

– No side has scored more away league goals in the big five European leagues this season than Liverpool (34, level with Lyon).

– Manchester United have won three of their seven games against fellow ‘big six’ sides in the Premier League this season (W3 D1 L3), one more than they managed in the whole of last season (W2 D4 L4).

– Meanwhile, Liverpool have won just one point from nine available on the road in these games this season (W0 D1 L2), conceding 12 goals. Previously under Jurgen Klopp, they’d been unbeaten in away ‘big six’ matches (W4 D4 L0), conceding just nine goals.

– Jose Mourinho has won only one of his eight meetings in all competitions with Jurgen Klopp (D4 L3), with his Real Madrid side beating Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in a Champions League semi-final second leg match (still lost 3-4 on aggregate).

– Indeed, against Klopp, Mourinho has his lowest win rate against a manager of those he’s faced at least five times (12.5 percent).

Statistics provided by Opta 

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Man United boss Jose Mourinho must stop Mohamed Salah to keep Liverpool at bay

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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has the tough task of keeping Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah quiet as Jurgen Klopp’s entertainers roll into town at the weekend — with second place in the Premier League the prize on offer.

With Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City virtually assured of the title, northwest rivals United and Liverpool — the two most successful clubs in the English game — are left fighting for the scraps.

United’s impressive fightback from 2-0 down on Monday to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 maintained their slender two-point lead over Liverpool in the battle for the runners-up spot behind runaway leaders City.

Nemanja Matic bailed out Mourinho’s men with a stunning stoppage-time strike in London but another three points papered over the cracks in the latest in a series of unconvincing performances from United.

“We have to be honest, we have to play better,” Matic admitted once the euphoria of his first United goal died down.

“We have to do more if we want to win as Liverpool is a team with great quality.”

The onus will be on Mourinho to take the game to the visitors at Old Trafford on Saturday but the Portuguese manager, criticised for keeping his array of attackers firmly on the leash, is unlikely to risk throwing caution to the wind.

Liverpool had scored 20 goals in their previous seven games before a much-changed side drew 0-0 with Porto in midweek, a result that sealed a place in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in nine years.

With January signing Virgil van Dijk settling in well at the back and Loris Karius impressing in goal, the pieces are falling into place for Klopp’s team, who have lost just once in 20 Premier League games.

But it is their forwards, led by the irrepressible Salah alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who have scored a combined 68 goals this season, that will give Mourinho sleepless nights.

There was a palpable sensation around Anfield on Tuesday that Liverpool minds were already focused on United, with the free-scoring front three all rested at different spells of the game.

The match against Liverpool is the first of three games in eight days for United at Old Trafford that will define their season.

Sevilla visit in the last-16 of the Champions League on Tuesday with the tie delicately balanced at 0-0 after the first leg, before in-form Brighton head north for an FA Cup quarter-final.

Mourinho conceded recently “to play Liverpool has a special meaning” for United, so reserving his stars’ energies for midweek is out of the question.

However, he does have a big decision to make over whether to persist with Alexis Sanchez on the left side of United’s attack, with the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in his armoury.

The Chilean has scored just once since moving from Arsenal in January.

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