Manchester United will kick off what could be a season-defining week with a mouth-watering clash at home to arch-rivals Liverpool on Saturday, with both sides jostling for second place in the Premier League table. It is the first of three consecutive crunch fixtures at Old Trafford for Jose Mourinho’s men, who entertain Spanish outfit Sevilla in Tuesday night’s Champions League last-16 second leg, before welcoming Brighton & Hove Albion for the FA Cup quarter-final at the weekend.
United go into Saturday’s clash in somewhat inconsistent form, losing two of their last five league fixtures but remain in second place, two points ahead of Liverpool, in third. On Monday, United seemed to be on the verge of suffering a damaging defeat away to relegation candidates Crystal Palace, only for the Reds to stage an incredible comeback, battling from two goals down to win 3-2, with midfielder Nemanja Matic grabbing a stunning stoppage-time winner. Whilst overturning that deficit will undoubtedly fill United with confidence, manager Jose Mourinho will be well aware that his players must put in a much-improved performance if they are to overcome an in-form Liverpool side unbeaten in their last seven fixtures.
It will be interesting to see which starting XI Mourinho opts to field, having witnessed such a disappointing performance, particularly in the opening 45 minutes at Selhurst Park. At the back, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof looked unconvincing dealing with the Palace forward line and that partnership could be broken up in order to accommodate the returning Eric Bailly. Meanwhile, Luke Shaw came off the bench during the second half and added some much-needed energy down the left flank, as did Marcus Rashford, who replaced Scott McTominay in halftime and changed the complexion of the game, with his pace and direct approach troubling the Eagles.
Should Mourinho opt for a three-pronged attack, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez will all be battling out for a starting berth, with Romelu Lukaku a near certainty to lead the line for the home side. The Belgium international has been in fine goalscoring form since the turn of the year, with his equalising goal at Palace making it eight strikes from his 11 appearances in 2018.
On the injury front, Ander Herrera, and Marouane Fellaini are the two definite absentees, whilst veteran forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and centre-back Phil Jones are also expected to miss out. There can be little doubt the importance of Saturday’s meeting and the impact that it could have on the remainder of United’s campaign. Should the Reds pick up three consecutive wins between this and next weekend, it will surely give Mourinho’s men the momentum and necessary belief to end the season on a high and hopefully, with some silverware.
Back in October, these two sides played out a drab goalless draw at Anfield but that is unlikely to be repeated at Old Trafford on Saturday. Both sides have plenty to play for, besides pride and will also be looking to lay down a marker for next season.