Liverpool V ManUtd: 6 On-Field Matchups and Potential Deciders
Given the historic rivalry between the two teams and the two sets of supporters, it's widely considered to be the biggest game in the Premier League season. And this Saturday, it's United who will be visiting Anfield for this season's first clash between the two most successful clubs in English football.
In March, a resurgent Liverpool beat United at Anfield by three goals to one, with Luis Suarez the catalyst and Dirk Kuyt the decider of that scintillating victory.
After a summer's transfer activity and subsequent squad overhaul, both teams go into this game with much-changed lineups, and this Saturday's game will throw up some thrilling new on-field matchups.
Let's take a look at where the points this weekend might be won, shared or lost.
Jamie Carragher and Javier Hernandez
Liverpool fans, myself included, are increasingly divided over their opinions on Jamie Carragher.
Do they keep him in the side for his on-field vocal leadership and for his game-saving tackles? Or is he becoming an increasing liability in the center of the Liverpool defence?
But this is more of a long-term debate because this weekend, Jamie Carragher will start against United. And he will be up against a striker on the other end of the age and pace spectrum: Javier Hernandez.
Carragher will have been warned; Hernandez scored in March in the very same fixture. Liverpool's lack of positional awareness at the back left Hernandez unmarked to score a header to end the game on a less excitable note.
Javier Hernandez will pose a significant threat to Liverpool's central defenders. He has quickly established himself as United's first-choice partner for Wayne Rooney, and with good reason. With exceptional positioning and a phenomenal goals conversion ratio, he has been compared to Michael Owen at his best. And Michael Owen at his best was a striker capable of popping up to score the crucial deciding goal at the most opportune moments.
Anfield will hope that Carragher's experience in dealing with strikers of Owen's ilk will help him in his battle with Hernandez.
Martin Kelly and Ashley Young
A matchup between England's in-form winger and one of its most talented young full-backs: Fabio Capello will be watching this with much interest.
Ashley Young has been a star performer for both Manchester United and England since his switch to Old Trafford in the summer. With three goals and six assists so far in a United shirt, Kelly will have his work cut out to stop his direct opponent.
Much like his counterpart on the opposite flank (more on him later), Young cuts in from the wings on his stronger foot and is capable of unleashing powerful strikes on goal. His creativity, pace and general attacking prowess will command lots of attention from the Liverpool backline, and we should expect to see less of Kelly's impressive forays forward from right-back, as he will have his attention very much occupied.
But Kelly is deceptively quick, good in the air, composed and anticipates well. If he should win this battle on Saturday, he'll undoubtedly be rewarded with a call up to the England senior squad.
Jose Enrique and Nani
The name Nani used to conjure up unpleasant associations with simulation, selfishness and showboating. It now commands immediate connections with pace, trickery and a serious goal threat.
Make no mistake: Nani has improved by leaps and bounds for United. Now an indisputable key player for the Red Devils, he has the ability to unlock a defence with moments of pure brilliance, whether it be in a dribble or in a fearsome long-range shot. He has added a ruthless finishing streak to his game, which makes him currently one of the most dangerous wingers in the English Premier League.
But against Liverpool's new left-back, Nani may just have found his match.
Jose Enrique has enjoyed an impressive and impervious start to his Liverpool career, putting in fine defensive performances and exhibiting an effective combination of pace, physicality and attacking prowess. Against one of the league's fastest wingers, Theo Walcott, Enrique managed to completely snuffle the Arsenal man out of the game in August.
And if he continues the fine form he has shown since arriving at Anfield, this will be a cracking matchup between two of the Premier League's finest.
Steven Gerrard and David De Gea
The talk of the town is that Steven Gerrard will be restored to the Liverpool starting lineup on Saturday.
For Manchester United fans and players, there is considerable cause for concern. Gerrard has looked very sharp since his return from injury, and he will be pumped for the game. No doubt about it.
But for Liverpool fans and players, there couldn't be better news. Gerrard provides leadership, inspiration, pace, energy, passing range and a cannon of a right-foot.
Kenny Dalglish and his coaching team know what Gerrard will bring to the table. And given the baptism of fire that David de Gea, United's new goalkeeper, has endured since his arrival in the Premier League, Gerrard might just have the weapons in his arsenal that hold the key to defeating the Red Devils.
After a shaky start to life in a United shirt, de Gea has admittedly steadily improved. His shot-stopping ability is second to none, but there are still concerns over his dominance in the box and his confidence with crosses and long shots.
This is where Steven Gerrard comes in.
Andy Carroll and Nemanja Vidic
While we're on the topic of talismanic captains returning to the starting lineup, Nemanja Vidic has also worked his way back from his calf injury and is tipped to start for Manchester United on Saturday.
Famed for his aerial ability and uncompromising in the tackle, Vidic's return will add some much-needed steel to a United defence that's been uncharacteristically shaky of late. And in a young defensive lineup alongside Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Vidic will also bring leadership and experience from the back.
If Dalglish continues his recent preference for pairing Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll up front, Vidic will find himself up against Carroll, a striker also known for his aerial ability and physicality.
After an unsteady start to the season, Carroll has looked increasingly sharp and able to blend into Liverpool's pass-and-move football. His well-taken goal against Everton will have done him wonders, but Vidic will prove to be a huge step up.
Liverpool fans will hope that Carroll will bring his best against one of the Premier League's best.
Luis Suarez and Phil Jones
The most intriguing on-field matchup will be between the in-form stars of their respective teams: Luis Suarez and Phil Jones.
Continuing his brilliant form towards the end of last season, Suarez has started this term in stellar fashion. His unrelenting energy and pace, coupled with his unpredictability and ability to pull the rabbit out of the hat, have troubled many a Premier League defence so far, and it's a testament to his consistently excellent performances that they are already expected to be the norm.
His opposite number, Phil Jones, has made an equally strong impression on Premier League spectators.
Since making his move from Blackburn, Jones has thrust himself into the limelight and into Manchester United's starting lineup, with performance after performance of maturity and composure belying his tender years. His strong forays from the back add an exciting dimension to the United attack, and his assurance in the tackle and ball-playing skills have led many observers—fans, coaches and players alike—to proclaim him as the next England captain.
Given the ease with which Suarez ran rings around the United defence in March, United's defenders will be wary of affording him the same space again. But Suarez always manages to find it, somehow...