It’s Manchester United vs Liverpool today and the Reds essentially have to win if they’re to finish top four. Here are three key battles that could make all the difference.
Sadio Mane vs Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Everyone knows Wan-Bissaka’s reputation for tackling and one-on-one defending. Everyone also knows Sadio Mane isn’t in great form.
But Liverpool need Mane to get the better of Wan-Bissaka and inject himself into this game. The Reds can’t have one of their best players struggling to make an impact.
For one, Liverpool almost certainly need to win this. They’ll have to take the game to United and that’s a lot more difficult if one flank is off limits.
Thus they’re dependent on Mane to get the better of Wan-Bissaka. If he can do that a few times, he’ll start dragging defenders over the help. That makes everything easier.
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We’re assuming it’ll be Mane on that left-flank, though. It could well be Diogo Jota.
Whoever it is, they must make sure Wan-Bissaka needs help.
The midfield vs Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes had a string of four games where he didn’t do all that much for United. Then he got two goals and two assists against AS Roma on Thursday.
It’s no secret – shut down Fernandes and you blunt United. It’ll be on Liverpool’s midfield to do that as a whole.
Perhaps that’s by shutting down his space. We could see Jurgen Klopp deploy a disciplined midfield that works and presses hard. That may be the best way to make life difficult for Fernandes and co.
But perhaps it’s by pushing him back towards his own box. Klopp might fancy a more progressive midfield that forces Fernandes into more defensive duties. Liverpool do need to go for the win, after all.
However Liverpool decide to do it, they’ve got to marginalise the Portuguese maestro.
Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Luke Shaw
Of all the key battles in Manchester United vs Liverpool today, this feels like the biggest.. Two full-backs who provide the majority of the wide-threat for their teams.
Both will want to push on high up the pitch. Neither will want to leave much space for the other.
This might come down to mentality above all – who can force the other to stop taking chances? Who has the confidence to come out on top without sacrificing their own threat?
Both teams suffer massively if they blink. United become very narrow if Shaq isn’t getting forward, while Liverpool depend significantly on Alexander-Arnold’s passing and crossing.
This one really might prove decisive today.