Manchester United head into a fixture against Liverpool with mostly pride at stake. Whilst all talk of fourth place has not been abandoned, it is a long shot both in terms of how many points are needed to make up the gap and how little consistency United have managed this season.
Following United's comfortable and occasionally excellent performance against West Bromwich Albion last week, David Moyes will hope for a result that continues to ease the pressure on him.
In order to achieve this, he will have to contend with Liverpool's most impressive side in years. Brendan Rodgers' free-scoring unit lie second in the league. They have managed 27 more goals than United, although they have conceded four more.
United face the key threats of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. They also go into this game ahead of a midweek encounter with Olympiakos, upon which United's last chance of silverware hangs by a thread.
How will Moyes balance his tendency for caution and his need for solidity with his side's ability to take advantage of Liverpool's less-than-stellar defence in this game, all the while keeping half an eye on the upcoming Champions League tie?
At the back, in front of David de Gea, Moyes' only real selection dilemma should be at centre-half. According to Manchester United's official Twitter account, Rafael is in contention for Sunday:
The manager confirms Nani is back in training and hopes Rafael, Javier Hernandez and Jonny Evans all have a chance of playing on Sunday.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 14, 2014Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Should he be fit, any other choice at right-back would be an error, given the excellent game Rafael had against Albion.
In the centre of defence, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling formed a formidable partnership in that game, and it will be fascinating to see whether they get the nod ahead of the more experienced Nemanja Vidic.
Given Vidic's impending departure to Inter Milan, the chance to try out the younger pairing in a big game seems invaluable, but Moyes may be tempted by the more conservative choice, playing the established, experienced Serb. The game has also probably come too soon for Jonny Evans.
In midfield, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick will probably take their partnership into both the Liverpool game and the Olympiakos fixture. With Fellaini making a significant contribution against Albion, he may be starting to find his feet in a red shirt.
There is a wild-card option—the selection of Phil Jones in midfield to act as a defensive midfielder and limit Liverpool's midfielders' chances to break. Given this would require a significant tactical shift from Moyes' typical options, it seems unlikely, but it could be an effective strategy to play Jones, Carrick and Fellaini behind Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney, who would support Robin van Persie. However, abandoning width altogether does not seem to be a particularly Moyes-esque move.
United's last two league fixtures have been against lower ranked sides, away from home. They have seen the Red Devils rack up a 5-0 aggregate scoreline playing a narrower formation, starting with Van Persie, Rooney, Mata and Adnan Januzaj.
Januzaj's performance against West Bromwich Albion was somewhat underwhelming, and he seems an unlikely starter in this one. More likely is the inclusion of Antonio Valencia. It is very unlikely both Valencia and Ashley Young will start, as they did against Olympiakos, given that would probably necessitate dropping one of Mata, Rooney or Van Persie.
Shinji Kagawa was impressive during his cameo against West Bromwich, but, sadly, it will be a shock to see his name in the starting XI.
After the Albion game, there were serious discussions among United fans about whether Van Persie should be dropped for this game, given his poor performance and the plentiful rumours about his unhappiness, per The Independent's Jack De Menezes.
However, given this week's assurances that he is, in fact, perfectly content at the club, per ManUtd.com, Van Persie's place in the starting line-up seems reasonably assured. Danny Welbeck's excellent goal against Albion will probably not earn him a starting berth. United fans will be hoping he can repeat the trick of coming off the bench and scoring against their arch-rivals.
Here is my predicted line up. Feel free to share your own in the comments below!