Manchester City are running away with the title but should the home team emerge victorious from the latest edition of the north west rivalry, they will move five points clear of the third-place visitors.
The encounter may even serve as a prelude to how the two teams intend on approaching their title charges next season and therefore should make for an intriguing tactical battle.
Here are a few points that could indicate where that will be won and lost.
MOURINHO MUST FIND RIGHT BALANCE
Jose Mourinho will feel the pressure to pose an attacking threat at home but he’s nothing if not pragmatic. Allow Liverpool to exercise their expertise on the counter-attack and they’ll pick you off with ease as they did against City and Arsenal recently.
In fact, they’ve scored more goals (8) from fast breakaways this season than any other team in the league. Keeping that in mind, Mourinho will ensure United remain compact in defence, perhaps asking Ashley Young to tuck in and help track Salah’s runs on the inside, while also using that solid foundation as a platform to launch a few direct assaults of their own.
LIVERPOOL NEED AN ANCHORMAN
Liverpool’s energetic, all-action style of play is typified by their front three but their midfield department is no slouch either, boasting plenty of mobility and drive of its own. They’re more than capable of overrunning United’s more sluggish core but the odds are the hosts won’t even attempt to compete in that area of the pitch, choosing to bypass it entirely.
With the monstrous Romelu Lukaku up front joined by the likes of Alexis Sanchez and perhaps Marcus Rashford should Anthony Martial be unavailable again, United may look to be a lot more direct, like Spurs were in their 4-1 win over the Reds earlier this season. As such, Jurgen Klopp should deploy a sitting midfielder so as to not leave their two centre-backs exposed on the break with either Jordan Henderson or Emre Can assigned the task.
SANCHEZ NEEDS STRUCTURE
Since Alexis Sanchez’s arrival at Old Trafford, neither him nor Paul Pogba have been able to produce their best form. Many have pointed out the duo’s fractured relationship on the pitch and the stats back it up with the Frenchman’s chances created per 90 minutes dropping drastically from 2.14 to 1.73 since the Chilean was signed.
Both are unpredictable, enjoy getting on the ball and attacking pockets of space in the final third. However, Sanchez has perhaps been afforded too much freedom to roam, which has seen him and Pogba get in each other’s way. Perhaps a more structured role for the former Arsenal man will not only aid Pogba’s output but ensure that United maintain their width and are able to stretch teams as well.
It was claimed earlier this week the City manager’s agent Josep Maria Orobitg was due to fly to Manchester to conclude fresh terms with the club on behalf of his client.
Guardiola, who has one more full season remaining on his present contract, insists that is not the case.
He said: “Sometimes a journalist receives bad information. My agent is not in town – was not, is not, will not be in town in the next weeks.”
City are keen to secure the services of Guardiola for the long term and talks had been planned for the summer. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, who took charge at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, has overseen an outstanding campaign.
City, who are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, are just four wins away from securing the title. They have already won the Carabao Cup and are also through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Guardiola acknowledges that they are closing in on glory but stresses the job is not completed yet.
He said: “The distance is not normal in the beginning of March. It’s like I said before, it’s almost done.
“But we are not the champions. The champions are still Chelsea. We have to get the points as soon as possible, knowing that we have the opportunity.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) March 8, 2018
“I know everyone wants to anticipate the situation and what will happen, everyone is thinking about when we will win the title.
“But the best example was two days ago. Nobody thought we could lose against Basel and we lost against Basel. We need to be relaxed, stay calm and think about Stoke City.”
City were beaten 2-1 by the Swiss champions, their first home loss for 18 months, but it did not prevent them going through to the Champions League last eight 5-2 on aggregate.
They now return to league action as they travel to Stoke on Monday. City thrashed the Potters 7-2 when they met earlier in the campaign but Guardiola is not thrilled about the prospect of a trip to the bet365 Stadium on a Monday night.
He said: “I don’t like to play on Monday because at the weekend everybody is involved and when the weekend is over, they are like ‘the weekend is over, there are no more games’, but we have to play.
“I don’t know if the players can be ready, but we are going to work on that these next few days.”
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Old Trafford hosts a mouthwatering encounter between second and third on Saturday lunchtime as Jurgen Klopp’s swashbuckling side look to usurp the Red Devils.
There has been much debate over how Mourinho will set up against Liverpool’s potent attack in a match that his side approach fresh from Monday’s remarkable 3-2 comeback win at Crystal Palace.
Former United defender Gary Neville was highly critical of aspects of his old team’s display. Ex-Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness has also been a regular critic of United this term, with Mourinho seemingly returning fire on the eve of the Saturday’s game.
“You know, some of the guys with an opinion they couldn’t resolve their own problems when they were managers,” Mourinho said.
“So, they are giving opinions like they have solutions for everything, but it is not like that. It is not like that.
“But they are in a position where they can give opinions about everything.
“Sometimes I read, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t.
“Honestly, this week I was more focused on enjoying Champions League and Europa League and preparing my match than being focused on opinions.”
Neville has not returned to management since his ill-fated reign at Valencia ended in 2016, while Souness’ last role came at Newcastle in 2006.
The boss provided a team news update in his press conference ahead of #MUFC v Liverpool…
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 9, 2018
Pundits were the subject of greater hostility than Liverpool in Mourinho’s pre-match press conference as he claimed to still not fully grasp the rivalry.
“I still don’t know (how much this match means) because in my mentality every match is the same and I’m not very good on that culture of ‘this rivalry is special’, ‘that match is special’ – I’ve never been very, very good at it,” the United boss said.
“I never looked to AC Milan as the biggest rival (when I was at Inter Milan), I never looked at Atletico Madrid as the enemy (when at Real Madrid), I never look to Spurs or to Arsenal as the big rival (when at Chelsea).
“I’ve never been very, very good on it. For me, it is just a big match: two historical clubs not just in England but in the world.
“In this moment, important points for top four, important points for second position that is better than third and fourth. But I still don’t look to some matches as special opponents. It is just a big match because we are speaking about two big clubs.”
Mourinho claims not to have felt any change around the club or the city ahead of Liverpool’s arrival, although he hopes United fans will have an edge on Saturday given his well-documented frustrations about the Old Trafford atmosphere.
“(The atmosphere) helps,” said the United boss, who can call upon Marouane Fellaini on Saturday after the midfielder’s recovery from knee surgery.
“Crystal Palace, I can imagine if we are losing 2-0 and our away fans, I don’t how many, 2,000 or something, we could feel disapproval and criticism or support.
“We were 2-0 down and we only felt support and with the 2-1 we kept feeling more belief and with 2-2 we were feeling that they wanted us to go for it.
“So, they can help and, of course, Old Trafford is a huge majority of Manchester United fans, so they can help.”
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