Manchester United: 5 Key Players for Red Devils vs. Liverpool
Having already trumped the Merseyside club under controversial circumstances earlier in the year, the Red Devils will be looking to sweep their fiercest rivals when they take on Brendan Rodgers' side this weekend—extending their lead in the title race in the process.
For United to win, certain players will really need to step up and show that they can be the world-class players Sir Alex Ferguson wants them to be.
Here's five key players for United against Liverpool this week.
Robin van Persie
David Rogers/Getty Images
Might as well start with the big one—Manchester United striker Robin van Persie.
Having moved from Arsenal over the summer transfer window, van Persie has been instrumental in the Red Devils attack this season and will no doubt continue to be instrumental this weekend.
The 29-year-old's ability to find the back of the net and create goals seemingly out of nothing has pulled United out of jail time and time again this season. He is always in the right place at the right time and is truly deadly in front of goal, capitalizing on even the slightest mistake ruthlessly.
Liverpool have been strong defensively of late, and van Persie will no doubt have a tough time leading the Red Devils attack in this one. However, having watched him find a way to succeed time and time again this year, there's no doubt that he is definitely up for the challenge here.
Clive Mason/Getty Images
With Sir Alex Ferguson lauding the praises of him during the week, defender Jonny Evans has a very important match ahead of him here against the Reds.
Evans has been superb covering for Nemanja Vidic this weekend, but with Ferguson alluding to the fact that he will alter Rio Ferdinand and Vidic for the remainder of the year—leaving Evans as the main defender—he now has to prove he deserves that place this weekend.
Strong on the ground and not prone to silly errors, Evans will be tasked with the assignment of stopping Luis Suarez run riot through the Red Devils defense.
Suarez has been excellent for Liverpool this year and with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge now around him, he has plenty of options to feed off and grow from—meaning that Evans will need to be on top of his game here to keep out the Uruguayan.
He is more than capable of fulfilling the task; the question just becomes whether he can get it done in what will be one of the biggest matches he's played this year.
David Rogers/Getty Images
With Wayne Rooney out due to injury, Shinji Kagawa has a very important role to play this weekend for the Red Devils—both in attack and defense.
What the England international brings to United simply cannot be replaced; his creativity and work rate is phenomenal and doesn't receive enough credit.
However, United must find a way to win without Rooney working his midfield magic, and Kagawa will be the man tasked with keeping this side flowing in attack.
The Japanese international must find a way to get the ball to van Persie at the top of the attack and out wide to United's wingers—doing more than simply passing and moving, but getting in there and making the attack happen like Rooney does.
His defensive work will also be key, as Liverpool's central midfield is very strong. If Kagawa can restrict the movement of the Reds coming from their defense and into the likes of Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen, then that will go a long way in United winning this football game.
David De Gea
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Whilst the transfer rumors about a potential move away from United continue, goalkeeper David De Gea knows that he is a wanted man at Old Trafford and a much-needed man this weekend.
The Spanish international has seemingly won back his starting spot from Anders Lindegaard and is expected to take his place this weekend at the back, a spot that he truly does deserve this year.
Prone to weaknesses in the air, De Gea's ability to snuff out crosses and not allow the likes of Luis Suarez to have easy chances in the middle will be key against the Reds here.
He has excellent reflexes and is a great athlete, but he cannot afford simple opportunities to Liverpool, for they will make Manchester United pay in return.
This game might very well come down to one goalkeeping moment of brilliance or one error at the back, and for United, De Gea cannot be responsible for the latter of those two categories. Ferguson needs a huge game from the shot-stopper; can he deliver on what is required?
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
The final player for me that needs to step up this weekend is Tom Cleverley.
The England international has made central midfield his own at the Red Devils this year and has combined well with Michael Carrick, but he will face a huge test against Liverpool's midfield in this one.
Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva—that is the trio that Cleverley will have to operate against and succeed in both attack and defense if United are going to win this football game.
Rooney's absence means a lot of the responsibility in winning the ball back will fall further down the pitch to the likes of Carrick and Cleverley, and they must rise to the occasion. If they allow Gerrard and Allen room to operate, Liverpool do have the proven talent to find the back of the net against their rivals, and United will struggle to win this football game if that happens.
However, it isn't just defense for Cleverley, who can contribute greatly to the Red Devils attack by chipping in to give that extra man advantage here.
He is excellent from long range and good at moving the ball across the top of the box, which could well create the opportunity that the likes of van Persie, Hernandez or Kagawa need to find the back of the net and win this game for the Red Devils.
If Cleverley can keep his head and succeed here, you'd have to think that the Red Devils will be very tough to beat at home this weekend.
Who do you think are the key players for Manchester United vs. Liverpool?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre