The outcome of Manchester United’s clash with Liverpool on Saturday could ultimately decide who takes second place in the Premier League table come the end of the season.
Back in 2015, just a couple of points separated the two sides in the table with nine games remaining when they met at Anfield in March, and Man United’s 2-1 win – decided by that Juan Mata overhead kick – gave them impetus to stroll to fourth spot as Liverpool only managed two further wins that season.
The exact same circumstances present themselves again in 2018, only with United second and Liverpool third; you can’t help but wonder if this game could engender the same trajectory of results for both teams.
Here are three players who Jose Mourinho must start at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Chris Smalling‘s lack of sound defensive judgement cost Man United two goals against Crystal Palace on Monday, and the prospect of similar errors happening against Liverpool – who have more goals away from home than any Premier League side this season – is nothing short of nauseating.
And after Mourinho made note of Bailly’s fitness and United’s defensive mistakes at Selhurst Park at his press conference, you suspect he will elect to restore the Ivorian to the starting XI for the first time since November.
Mourinho recently hailed Lukaku as his “sergeant” on the pitch, speaking effusively about the Belgian’s unswerving commitment to putting the team before himself.
He has, bit by bit, started to take the shape of a pure Mourinho striker: indefatigable, commanding, passionate, rapid across the turf, devastatingly physical. And the 23 goals in all competitions amassed by Lukaku this term – including crucial equalisers in recent wins over Chelsea and Palace – place him in brilliant stead to take on a far from watertight Liverpool defence.
With Anthony Martial set to miss the clash with Liverpool through injury, Mourinho could call on the Spaniard to feature on the right hand side whilst Alexis Sanchez occupies the other flank.
The Spaniard tends to enjoy games against Liverpool and his delightfully polished cameo against Palace served as a reminder of the deftness and execution he can bring to the final third.
And in a game where tensions will run high and actual quality may be scarce, perhaps Mata’s calm influence on the ball could give United a vital edge.