Liverpool vs. Manchester United: Tactical Preview of North-West Derby

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 21, 2015

BOLTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool celebrates scoring their second goal with Alberto Moreno and Raheem Sterling (R) of Liverpool during the FA Cup Fourth round replay between Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool at Macron Stadium on February 4, 2015 in Bolton, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool and Manchester United square off in a north-west derby and a battle for a top-four spot in the Premier League on Sunday.

Brendan Rodgers will be hoping to exact revenge on Louis van Gaal for the 3-0 loss sustained at Old Trafford on December 14 but will also acknowledge that that game, albeit a defeat, signalled the turning point in the Reds' season.

Liverpool News

Steven Gerrard returned to fitness on Monday night, entering the fray against Swansea City from the substitutes' bench. It gives Brendan Rodgers a selection dilemma, as he stands the captain of the team, yet in his absence the side have won five straight.

@stighefootball

Gerrard should not be handed a starting role—the team is stronger without him—but in football, you never know.

The 3-4-2-1 will remain, as will the impervious back line, and Joe Allen will hope he's done enough to warrant another start alongside the unbeaten-as-vice-captain presence of Jordan Henderson. Per WhoScored.com, Jordon Ibe is still injured, so Lazar Markovic could come in on the right.

Manchester United News

United should see no reason to change the XI that beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 last week. It was, at last, a good performance to tie in with the result.

@stighefootball

Only Marcos Rojo, perhaps in place of Phil Jones, should be troubling the team. Ander Herrera and Juan Mata's connection should be used wisely, while Wayne Rooney must play up front once again as he offers so much variance in the play.

Ashley Young is in form and should be a handful for Markovic at right wing-back, while Michael Carrick will preside over midfield and will hope to celebrate his new one-year deal with a win at Anfield.

Key Point 1: Dealing with Fellaini

Tottenham Hotspur failed, drastically, to deal with Marouane Fellaini at Old Trafford last Sunday. The Belgian, playing central midfield but floating all over the pitch, won most aerial duels and provided an easy 50-yard pass for David De Gea to make.

Liverpool have to produce a plan to stop him; his use as an easy out-ball that skips 50-60 yards of the pitch makes pressing and high defensive lines completely irrelevant. It also gives Rooney, now playing up front, the chance to run off the shoulder and cause havoc.

Credit: beinsport

With the Reds using three central defenders—a clear two-man advantage over United's lone striker—it will be interesting to see if Rodgers is tempted to pin Martin Skrtel on Fellaini from goal-kicks. He can't venture all the way forward in open play, but from goal-kicks, he can push up and still have Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho covering behind—two vs. one against Rooney.

The alternative? Playing Can in midfield and asking him to combat Fellaini, but Skrtel is the true aerial monster here. He's really the only one capable of matching up to the Belgian.

Key Point 2: Testing Carrick & Co.

United controlled their clash with Spurs at a canter, with Carrick at the heart of all things good, providing more penetrative passing than perhaps Daley Blind has in the holding midfield role has to date.

But the hosts were barely tested defensively—Chris Smalling's notable involvements were all dribbles from the back, and Harry Kane managed his first chance on goal with five minutes to go—and that means the 4-3-3 in use, the formation that sparked so much joy on Sunday, is still pending examination.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Michael Carrick of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on November 29, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

There is no team in the Premier League more capable of giving a defensive midfielder a hellish 90 minutes than Liverpool; their dual No. 10s—a unique feature in England's top tier—rip apart zonal coverage and pull markers all over the place.

Herrera will be expected to get through plenty of work defensively to aid Carrick should he start, although Van Gaal may be temped to play Blind alongside Carrick and restore Luke Shaw to left-back. It'd be the cautious move, and United do only need a draw to hold their rivals in red at arm's length.

How bold will the Dutchman go? Will he trust Carrick, recently returned from injury, to stem the movement and pace of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho?

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