Liverpool vs. Man Utd: Predicting the Starting XIs

Dan Fitch@@DJFitchFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2013

Liverpool vs. Man Utd: Predicting the Starting XIs

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    The fact that Manchester United are top of the Premier League and Liverpool are languishing in eighth position doesn't stop this game being one of the most hotly-anticipated fixtures of the season.

    When these clubs meet, there tend to be fireworks. United have been a stronger team than Liverpool for many years now, but that hasn't stopped the form-book from being ripped up on a number of occasions. 

    This is no ordinary home game for Alex Ferguson against mid-table opposition, and he will pick the best team he can, while the trip to Old Trafford presents Brendan Rodgers with one of his toughest tests since he took over at Liverpool. We look at the likely starting XIs for both sides

The Manchester United Defence

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    Goalkeeper: David de Gea

    The Spaniard now started as goalkeeper in the last eight games for United, and seems to have established himself as first-choice ahead of Anders Lindergaard. There is no reason to expect that De Gea won't play against Liverpool.

    Right-Back: Rafael da Silva

    Ferguson has been known to play the likes of Chris Smalling at right-back against more defensively taxing opposition, but increasingly he is showing faith in Rafael da Silva, who has showed more maturity this season.

    Having the hard-working Antonio Valencia in front of him, makes it easier for Da Silva to get forward, without worrying about getting caught out, and the Brazilian should be an important offensive outlet against Liverpool.

    Left-Back: Patrick Evra

    Evra may be well past him best, but United's new left-back Alexander Buttner looks nowhere near ready to replace him. All eyes will be on Evra's tussles with Luis Suarez, following their issues last season.

    Centre-Back: Nemanja Vidic

    Vidic has been nursed back to fitness over the Christmas period, being regularly rested to avoid a re-occurrence of his knee injury. With a full week of rest between the 2-2 draw with West Ham and Sunday's game with Liverpool, Vidic should be ready and able to play again.

    Centre-Back: Rio Ferdinand

    Since Vidic's return to action he hasn't yet been paired with Ferdinand. Both Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling have had plenty of starts of late, but now is the time for the return to one of United's best ever central defensive partnerships.

The Manchester United Midfield

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    Central Midfield: Michael Carrick

    With Darren Fletcher still not considered fully-fit, Carrick is the closest that Ferguson has to a defensively-minded midfielder at his disposal. With Steven Gerrard's recent form improving, Carrick's positioning will be key to combating his runs.

    Central Midfield: Tom Cleverley 

    We all know that Ferguson likes to rotate his team, yet Cleverely has managed to start seven of United's last eight games, despite the fixture pile-up of the festive season. I expect Cleverley to start again, with Paul Scholes being brought on late if possession needs to be controlled.

    Right Midfield: Antonio Valencia

    Valencia is the closest United have to a first-choice midfielder, and is a sure starter against a Liverpool team that have injury problems at left-back.

    Left Midfield: Ashley Young

    When United have faced the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea this season, they have gone for a midfield of Carrick, Cleverley, Valencia, and Ashley Young. I expect for the same quartet to start again.

The Manchester United Attack

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    Striker: Robin van Persie

    Having brought Van Persie off the bench to save United's FA Cup hopes, there is no bigger certainty in football than the fact that Alex Ferguson will start the most in-form striker in the country.

    Striker: Danny Welbeck

    Who starts alongside, or behind Van Persie, is the biggest question for Sunday. With Wayne Rooney injured (and we all 100% trust that Fergie is telling the truth on that one, right kids?), there are three distinctly different options.

    Shinji Kagawa has only just returned to fitness, and this just seems like too big a match to take a chance on him, even though he would be a pretty direct replacement for Rooney, playing just behind Van Persie.

    So that means United will go for a very traditional 4-4-2, with a straight choice between Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. Welbeck is a better option for retaining possession, but Hernandez is the man in goalscoring form, and I think he'll get the nod.

The Liverpool Defence

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    Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina

    After a shaky start to the season, Pepe Reina’s season is now on more stable footing, and he remains one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League.

    Right-Back: Andre Wisdom

    With Jose Enrique out for several weeks, Liverpool are unable to name their first choice defence, and Andre Wisdom could be the beneficiary. The 19-year-old may be inexperienced, but Rodgers will have to take a chance on him and the defence that kept a clean sheet at home to Sunderland.

    Left-Back: Glen Johnson

    That means that Glen Johnson will have to play at left-back. This decision robs Liverpool of much of Johnson's attacking thrust, but it's the best decision from a defensive viewpoint, considering the players Liverpool have at their disposal.

    Centre-Back: Daniel Agger

    Agger has only missed one Premier League game this season, and Brendan Rodgers will be thankful that he has some stability in the centre of defence, if not at full-back.

    Centre-Back: Martin Skrtel

    Skrtel completes the back four, and along with Agger, will have the daunting responsibility of trying to shackle Robin van Persie.

The Liverpool Midfield

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    Defensive Midfield: Lucas Leiva

    Both, Kenny Dalglish, and Brendan Rodgers in his early days in charge at Liverpool, suffered greatly for the absence of Lucas. With him back in the side, Liverpool’s midfield is on a much more stable footing.

    Central Midfield: Joe Allen

    Rodgers’ on-field lieutenant is looking more settled now that he is pushed a little further forward, following the return of the aforementioned Lucas.

    Attacking Midfield: Steven Gerrard

    Over the weeks this season, Gerrard has slowly won back his match sharpness, and is starting to really influence games again. This is exactly the sort of big occasion that he relishes. 

The Liverpool Attack

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    Striker: Luis Suarez 

    The big question in Liverpool’s attack is whether their new signing, Daniel Sturridge, will start. Having only played just over half of the game against Mansfield, I think he will start from the bench.

    With Liverpool playing away from home against such dangerous opposition, the more cautious and sensible option for Rodgers would be to play Suarez centrally, with two more natural wide players either side of him. Now is not the time to experiment, especially with Suarez in such dangerous goalscoring form when playing in a central position.

    Right Wing: Raheem Sterling 

    Despite being only 17 years old, Sterling has shown no signs of stage fright this season, and I expect Rodgers to trust him enough to take the stage at Old Trafford.

    Left Wing: Stewart Downing

    With Luis Enrique out, there was also the option of playing Downing at left-back, but you sense that might not end well against the talents of Antonio Valencia. Downing has in no way justified his transfer fee with his displays for Liverpool this season, yet he has undeniably played better, and should get the nod over Suso.