Ahead of the big clash of the Premier League weekend, all the pre-match rumblings concern Manchester United’s lack of form and Liverpool’s excellent away record.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have not won in the Premier League since September 19 while Jurgen Klopp’s team have scored three or more goals in eight consecutive away games.
How, then, can United spring a surprise and catch Liverpool out at Old Trafford? Sportsmail takes a tactical look at what Solskjaer must get right on the night.
Manchester United host Liverpool on Sunday with all the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The Reds beat United at Old Trafford back in May but haven’t won there with fans since 2014
DE GEA MUST BE AT HIS BEST
The Spaniard will be a busy boy once again.
Manchester United have kept just one clean sheet in the last 20 games but that does not tell the story of David de Gea’s form, which has for the large part been superb.
A string of vital saves kept United in the game on Wednesday against Atalanta while their last Premier League win – against West Ham – was due to De Gea’s injury-time penalty save from Mark Noble.
After doubts last season about his position with Dean Henderson waiting in the wings, De Gea has kept a firm grip on the No 1 jersey this season as one of Solskjaer’s consistent standouts.
What would the United boss give for another top-rate performance from the 30-year-old, who was not in goal when Liverpool put four past United back in May.
David de Gea has been one of Solskjaer’s reliable performers and must have another good day
Cristiano Ronaldo was all too aware of De Gea’s importance after the win against Atalanta
DOUBLE UP ON MOHAMED SALAH
Even that might not be enough, quite frankly.
But it is the minimum United must do. Mohamed Salah is arguably the best player on the planet right now and has now scored in nine straight games – a club record.
On Sunday, it will be Luke Shaw’s predominant job to stop the Egyptian on United’s left-hand side. Yet he will need help, from all angles.
A central midfielder – likely to be Fred – needs to cover up that inside option Salah favours so much, while the player ahead of Shaw – set to be Marcus Rashford – must track back to cover the overlap from Trent Alexander-Arnold which so often acts a decoy for Salah to work his magic.
Preferably, United should crowd Salah out of the game – strength in numbers. But the least they must do is double up. If not, Liverpool’s main man might just have another field day.
Luke Shaw will be tasked with stopping Mohamed Salah but needs help from those around him
TAKE OWNERSHIP AT SET-PIECES
It’s a huge problem for United right now – Virgil van Dijk will be licking his lips.
They conceded twice from set-pieces against Leicester last Saturday and again on Wednesday versus Atalanta – and all three goals were very avoidable.
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof must take ownership here. As opposed to simply staying with their man, it should be their responsibility to deal with the incoming crosses.
De Gea can help too, when appropriate. And when the ball comes back in on a second phase of play, the whole team must be awake to the danger – too often too many players are ball-watching and unprepared for what is to come.
Liverpool haven’t been overly profitable from set-pieces this season – but they have threats. If not Van Dijk, it’s Joel Matip. If not Matip, Roberto Firmino. United must not give another cheap goal away.
United conceded cheaply from a set-piece against Atlanta after previous failings at Leicester
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof must take ownership on Sunday from dead-ball situations
START POGBA IN MIDFIELD
Heed the words of Arsene Wenger, Ole.
The ex-Arsenal boss said after Wednesday’s comeback win: ‘Pogba, I thought, did well. Pogba gave them more power out from deep in midfield by creating more dangerous balls.
‘And when Pogba came on Fernandes became better. Fernandes had a poor first half, but in the second half he came alive as well.’
And regarding Fred’s contribution, Wenger added: ‘I would personally highlight the second half for Fred.
‘Fred saved a few crosses in the box, defensively outstanding and he worked unbelievably hard in the second half.’
So, let’s listen to the Frenchman. Start all three in the centre of midfield, with Fred deepest.
They’ll have to work tirelessly (that includes you Paul!) to match Liverpool’s work-rate, but the quality and finesse of all three could work some key openings at Old Trafford.
Arsene Wenger was impressed by Paul Pogba’s role in United’s victory against Atalanta
The Frenchman should start alongside Fred (R) and Bruno Fernandes in the centre of midfield
ROTATE WINGERS AFTER 60 MINUTES
Blessed with options in this department, Solskjaer must use his wide-men cleverly.
Because they’ll be worked hard. One of Liverpool’s key attacking components is their use of Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to keep the width and provide crosses.
So, whoever Solskjaer starts – likely to be Rashford and Mason Greenwood – they must work themselves into the ground. Do the dirty work, track back.
Then, Solskjaer can mix it up. He can bring on £73m man Jadon Sancho, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard or even maybe Donny van de Beek – remember him?
Use the squad – and get as many yards out of his players as possible.
Marcus Rashford is likely to play from the left and must do the dirty work and track back
Mason Greenwood needs to work hard from the right, with star quality available to replace him
For all of Liverpool’s impressive feats in the past few years under Klopp, Old Trafford has tended not to be a happy hunting ground.
May’s victory was Klopp’s first at the Theatre of Dreams and first victory in nine matches there.
Usually, the Reds struggle to assert their usual patterns of play away at United. Games have petered out too. Solskjaer must use this psychological edge to his advantage.
On paper, the teams are very evenly matched. So for all the talk, United have a decent chance at Old Trafford.
They also have one of the greatest goalscorers in football history up front, assuming the Norwegian starts Ronaldo – the greatest asset of them all.
Solskjaer needs his side to stand up and be counted. Falling nine points behind Liverpool, at this early stage, would heap even more pressure on his shoulders.
United – and Rashford – have had previous success at Old Trafford against their fierce rivals