When Manchester United came out of the October international break to face Liverpool in 2016-17 they did so with a nervy disposition and the match which followed bore few of the hallmarks synonymous with the club. One year on they head for Anfield with a real spring in their step.
Compared to this time last year United have six more points, have scored eight more goals and conceded six fewer. Second-season specialist Jose Mourinho has begun to really stamp his mark on this side, and the form of the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial has helped the Portuguese to transform United into a potential title challenger once more.
United 13/8 to beat Liverpool
However, they have yet to be truly tested by one of the heavyweight clubs so far, so the visit to Liverpool on Saturday could be a real watershed moment for Mourinho’s spell at Old Trafford one way or the other. Victory would see their credentials strengthened, yet defeat would leave many once again questioning whether they have what it takes to stay the course.
MAN UTD INJURIES
Paul Pogba has seemingly stepped up his training regimen in recent days but remains a casualty for now as he continues his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury picked up against Basel in September. Marouane Fellaini joins him on the absentee list due to the knee injury he suffered playing for Belgium against Bosnia-Herzegovina this week, while Michael Carrick is also expected to miss out once more through calf trouble.
Phil Jones missed England’s World Cup qualifying wins over Slovenia and Lithuania due to a knee complaint but could be available to join the trip to Anfield, while Romelu Lukaku had no further issues during the international break with the ankle injury which had made him a doubt for the 4-0 win over Crystal Palace a fortnight ago.
Other than those, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain long-term absentees as they both recover from ACL injuries. Both could be back in action around the turn of the year.
MAN UTD SUSPENSIONS
Neither side have any absentees due to suspension for Saturday’s fixture, but while Sadio Mane is eligible once more having served his three-game ban for violent conduct against Manchester City the attacker is now injured so will miss the clash.
MAN UTD POTENTIAL STARTING LINE-UP
Whereas Jose Mourinho went for an ultra-restrained lineup against Liverpool at Anfield last year, the Portuguese is unlikely to go with a virtual six-man back-line again in 2017-18. This time around he will probably stick with a 4-2-3-1 having only previously switched to a back three against teams who set up similarly in defence.
That means that Eric Bailly and Phil Jones could resume their partnership at the heart of defence after the Ivorian was rested against Palace, with the England defender expected to be available once more following the injury which kept him out of England contention. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young should start as full-backs with both having impressed recently.
With a number of absences to negotiate in midfield, Mourinho’s hand might well be forced in that Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera are his only two natural defensive midfielders available, but further up the manager has plenty of options. So far this term he has tended to choose Marcus Rashford over Anthony Martial on the left, and the England man’s greater inclination to cover off the ball may win him the vote again. Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ought to start once more up against a suspect Liverpool defence.
LIVERPOOL TEAM NEWS
When Liverpool tore through Arsenal in August they had many a neutral purring but a return of just one win in seven since then has undermined their right to be considered among the front-runners as United come to town.
They continue to be one of the more thrilling propositions in attack under Jurgen Klopp thanks to a front six which asks all sorts of questions of opposing defenders, but at the back they look liable to concede at any moment. Since the 5-0 loss to Manchester City when reduced to 10 men before half-time, Liverpool have too often dominated fixtures without putting the game to bed and even in their sole victory at Leicester they needed Simon Mignolet to keep out a late Jamie Vardy before celebrating the three points.
With Sadio Mane now expected to miss a chunk of time due to an injury suffered on international duty with Senegal, Klopp finds himself not needing to squeeze four star attackers into three spaces for the near future at least. Philippe Coutinho has impressed since returning from a back injury amid interest from Barcelona, while Mo Salah has been a revelation alongside Roberto Firmino in the front line. Coutinho will continue in attack, leaving the manager free to select three natural midfielders in the engine room.
BEST OPTA MATCH FACTS
Liverpool are winless in six Premier League games against Manchester United (D2 L4), their worst run since an eight-match winless run against the Red Devils between 2004 and 2008.
Manchester United have won three of their last five Premier League visits to Anfield (W3 D1 L1) and have kept clean sheets in their last two games there.
Manchester United have kept 17 clean sheets in the Premier League in 2017, three more than any other side. Jose Mourinho’s side have recorded a shutout in eight of their last nine league games, shipping just two goals in the process (vs Stoke).
Jurgen Klopp has lost just one of his seven competitive meetings with Jose Mourinho as a manager (W3 D3 L1).
Since Jose Mourinho took charge of Manchester United ahead of 2016-17; these two clubs have won the exact same number of points in the Premier League (88). Liverpool have scored 16 more goals (91 v 75) but have conceded 23 more (54 v 31).
If Manchester United win this game, it’ll be their best ever points tally after eight games of a Premier League season (22), following 20-point hauls in both 2011-12 and 1999-00.
Marcus Rashford has been directly involved in nine goals in his last 10 competitive games for Man Utd (five goals, four assists) after having a hand in just two goals in his previous 10 apps (one goal, one assist).
TV COVERAGE & KICK-OFF TIME
The match is being televised live in the UK, with coverage of the 12:30 BST kick-off beginning at 11:30 on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event.