Liverpool vs. Manchester United: 6 Key Battles to Watch in EPL Grudge Match
Luis Suarez will shake hands with Patrice Evra at Anfield this Sunday, kicking off a ton of key battles when Liverpool host Manchester United in the Premier League's most exciting fixture so far this season.
The match will see both sets of fans unite over the Hillsborough tragedy, might see Suarez and Evra end their differences and will definitely see a ton of crunching tackles, flailing arms, handbags, heated arguments and quite possibly a few moments of magic.
It'll be an emotional, highly charged encounter, but it'll also be an unmissable spectacle, with some of the sport's most technically gifted players desperate to get one over on their opponents.
Here are six key player battles to watch in the EPL grudge match at Anfield.
Robin Van Persie vs. Pepe Reina
The biggest factor of all at Anfield this weekend could be Pepe Reina's ability to keep out Robin van Persie.
Van Persie vs. Reina will be one of the match's biggest battles. It will either see Reina raise his game and pull off world-class saves to deny the Dutchman, or potentially see him concede a hat-trick of goals from the former Arsenal striker.
The statistics don't make good reading for Reina in this one—the Spaniard hasn't kept a clean sheet this season and has made just seven saves in four games, one of the lowest saves to games ratios in the Premier League (h/t ESPN Soccernet).
And considering van Persie is hot on form with four goals in four games, Reina could be in for a rough ride against the Dutchman.
Van Persie's clever tactical movement will help him evade Liverpool's centre-backs and get a good number of chances to test Reina, but if there's one thing in the Spaniard's favour, it's that he's made more saves this season (7) than RvP has had shots on target (6).
Besides that, however, there's little else to say Reina will come out on top in this battle.
Expect van Persie to at least get a goal or two in this game, mainly from set-pieces but quite possibly also from a magical moment in open play.
Shinji Kagawa vs. Daniel Agger
Shinji Kagawa could be the key to victory for Manchester United in this match.
He's a problem for Liverpool that the centre-backs will end up having to try to solve.
The 23-year-old Japanese trequartista plays too advanced for either Joe Allen or Steven Gerrard to pick up, and regardless, Allen is too important for Brendan Rodgers' passing game to be held up man-marking, while Gerrard has never been the win-back-possession type.
And with Lucas Leiva out, that leaves the task of keeping Kagawa quiet down to Daniel Agger or Martin Skrtel.
Only trouble is, Kagawa plays too deep for either centre-back to man-mark, meaning the options around him will have to be closed down instead.
But one of the two will have to step out of the defensive line to block a shot or key pass from Kagawa, and their ability to block and intercept will be put to the test.
And it could be that Shinji Kagawa targets Daniel Agger's side of defence more often on orders from manager Sir Alex Ferguson, especially as the United player has had more shots on target and made more key passes than the Liverpool defender has blocked shots or made interceptions.
It'll be an interesting battle to see whether the Liverpool defence can prevent Kagawa from making a goal-scoring impact, but if the Japan star can tussle more with Agger than Skrtel, he could be in for either a goal or an assist.
Steven Gerrard vs. Michael Carrick
The experienced Premier League veterans will be key in the midfield battle.
For Liverpool, their main hope for goals could lie in Steven Gerrard's ability to bypass Manchester United's main defensive midfielder Michael Carrick.
Carrick will know Gerrard's game well from their time together playing and training with England, as well as their various Premier League skirmishes over the years, and vice versa as regards to Gerrard and Carrick's game.
Whoever wins this battle will be down to which player is in better form and physical fitness on the day, especially seen as statistically they appear to be equal, with Gerrard making the same number of successful dribbles as Carrick has tackles won.
Gerrard's passing could be what helps him bypass the intercepting style of Carrick, with the Liverpool veteran having improved the accuracy of his Hollywood passes.
But along the ground it'll be a tough battle to call, with Carrick's ability in his own half matching that of Gerrard in the opposition's half.
Carrick will have an important role himself to play in terms of passing, but it'll be his job to prevent Liverpool's talismanic captain from putting in a performance that could inspire his club's future campaign.
Whether he can do it or not, who knows?
Paul Scholes vs. Joe Allen
Liverpool vs. Manchester United at Anfield will see arguably world football's best pass-master come up against the man who wants to be him.
Despite his tendency for rash tackles, Paul Scholes could well start for United on Sunday, with his experience in such a highly charged clash very much pivotal for the Red Devils.
If he does start, it'll be up to Joe Allen—the man seen by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers as the Reds' version Scholes—to prevent his passes reaching Shinji Kagawa and setting up United attacks.
On paper Allen might be able to prevent Scholes from making a clinical impact with his passing as Allen has made more interceptions than most players in the Premier League this season. Either way, Allen's own ability to dictate play and create attacks for Liverpool will be dependent on how well he can limit Scholes' passing range.
If one thing's for certain in this duel, it's that Allen will certainly learn a great deal from being up against the player after whom he's trying to model his game.
Antonio Valencia vs. Jose Enrique
In defence and attack for both Liverpool and Manchester United, this battle on the wing will play a big part in determining the final result.
Two experienced heads Antonio Valencia and Jose Enrique both look set to start in this match.
For the most part, this duel will be about whether or not Enrique can prevent Valencia from putting in dangerous crosses and setting up the likes of Robin van Persie or Shinji Kagawa.
Statistically, it seems like Valencia could easily have Enrique's number, considering the United winger whacks in far more crosses than Enrique blocks, and Valencia also makes four times more key passes than the Spaniard does interceptions.
Valencia also has greater pace than Enrique, while the Liverpool left-back struggles in stopping technically gifted wingers.
So expect Valencia to quite possibly get an assist, especially if Robin van Persie keeps up his scoring form.
As for Enrique going forward, he hasn't put in any crosses this season or made a single direct attacking contribution, so Valencia shouldn't have his work cut out too much tracking back.
If Antonio Valencia is on form this weekend, this is a player battle which could prove very fruitful for Manchester United at Anfield.
Luis Suarez vs. Patrice Evra
They'll shake hands on Sunday, and then do battle for three points, and more importantly, the bragging rights.
Luis Suarez vs. Patrice Evra, for obvious reasons, will be the most interesting player battle of all at Anfield.
The two will no doubt be told by their managers to start on opposite sides of the pitch, but it's almost guaranteed that both will clash on the field of play just like they did at Old Trafford last season, with Evra certain to cut across to make a strong tackle on Suarez, and the Uruguayan certain to drift across and try to run rings around his French counterpart.
There's clearly a lot of bad blood between the duo, and both will be desperate to get one over on each other.
Forget tactics, form or technical ability, this is a highly charged battle between two enemies, and like various sub-plots throughout the match, will make for compulsive viewing.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com