Manchester United vs. Liverpool: 6 Key Battles to Watch at Old Trafford
A fixture that Paul Scholes recently said was still the Red Devils’ biggest fixture of the Premier League season (ESPNSoccernet).
Back in September, Liverpool hosted United, who controversially went away with all three points after a contentious penalty decision against Glen Johnson.
Brendan Rodgers’ side will be keen to make amends in Manchester, but United will be eager to extend their lead at the top of the table.
And here are six key battles to look forward to at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Robin van Persie vs. Daniel Agger
Let’s start with Old Trafford’s star attraction: Robin van Persie.
His contributions to the Manchester United cause since his big-money summer move from Arsenal need no elaborating. His record of 16 goals (from 74 shots) and six assists in just 21 league games says it all.
As he showed against West Ham in the FA Cup last week, he is capable of delivering all-important goals, and his movement and flair will cause the Liverpool back line plenty of problems.
Up against him will be Daniel Agger, who has finally seemed to buck his injury troubles and put together an impressive run of first-team games.
His brand of intelligent defending while relying more on awareness, positioning and reading of the game will be tested by van Persie, who equally prefers playing on the ground.
Javier Hernandez vs. Martin Skrtel
Whether he starts alongside van Persie or comes off the bench to augment the United strikeforce, Javier Hernandez will more than likely play a pivotal part in Sunday’s game, as he does so often for his team.
Hernandez offers a pure predatory finish and a striker’s instinct that not many other forwards in the Premier League—let alone in the United squad—possess, and his pace and movement will require utmost attention from the Liverpool back line.
Especially from Martin Skrtel, who has been a solid performer for Liverpool in recent seasons but is prone to the odd lapse in concentration and thus fatal mistake.
Up against the more physically imposing and aerially dominant Skrtel, Hernandez, who has scored eight goals in just 13 league games this season, will look to trouble him on the floor.
Shinji Kagawa vs. Lucas
Having worked his way back from a knee injury, Shinji Kagawa will be looking to continue his resurgence in the United setup with an impressive performance at Old Trafford.
With Wayne Rooney’s confirmed absence on Sunday due to a knee injury, Kagawa might just get the nod from Sir Alex Ferguson to play behind Robin van Persie as an attacking playmaker, where his short, crisp passing and movement will be key in United’s final third.
The man charged with shackling Kagawa’s contributions will be Lucas, who himself had faced injury hell for much of 2012 and is still trying to regain his pre-injury form for Liverpool.
Michael Carrick vs. Steven Gerrard
Deeper in their respective midfield areas will be Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard, who feature not in a direct positional confrontation here but a battle between like-for-like midfield playmakers.
Carrick has been one of the unsung stars of the Red Devils’ season, channeling and dictating play from his deep-lying position at the base of the United midfield. He has also provided four assists thus far.
Opposite him will be Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who has recently stormed back to form with three goals and six assists in his last six Premier League games and currently leads the league in assists (with eight so far).
Having starred in an attacking role in previous seasons, Gerrard has been moved back to sit alongside Lucas as a central playmaker retaining his impeccable timing arriving into attacking areas.
While the goals might be scored elsewhere, Carrick and Gerrard could well have a huge say in where the points go after the 90 minutes.
Patrice Evra vs. Daniel Sturridge
In left-back, it seems that Patrice Evra is enjoying somewhat of an Indian summer, having scored four goals in 20 games for Manchester United this season, one more than attacking full-back (and rumored replacement) Leighton Baines for Everton.
This has by and large reduced fair criticisms of Evra’s less-than-impressive defensive positioning and awareness to the background, but they could once again come to the fore against Daniel Sturridge.
Liverpool’s new signing from Chelsea put in an encouraging debut performance in Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Mansfield Town, scoring seven minutes into the match and generally providing a much-needed spark up front.
While Brendan Rodgers has stated that Sturridge might feature in the center of his strikeforce, his right-leaning tendencies and experience playing as a right winger will pit him directly against Evra.
Against Sturridge’s pace and dribbling, Evra will have to be wary about his habitual forays forward.
Nemanja Vidic vs. Luis Suarez
United captain Nemanja Vidic is finally back from a double bout of knee injury and will likely continue to start on his return to first-team action.
And he will need his peerless form back quickly as he comes head-to-head against one of the Premier League’s in-form forwards in Luis Suarez, who, with 15 goals scored, is second to Robin van Persie in the league scorers' chart.
Fernando Torres may have left Liverpool, consigning Vidic’s hellish memories of facing off the erstwhile Liverpool striker to the past, but Suarez’s acceleration, unpredictability and creativity will be an equally stern test for the Serbian defender, if not more so.
Just as van Persie might be the difference for United up front on Sunday, so too Suarez for Liverpool in a mouthwatering clash at Old Trafford.
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