Manchester United vs Liverpool: Tactical Preview

Icon versus icon. Northwest versus Northwest. Red against Red. The English Derby contested by two of the most recognizable clubs in the world will take place on a tight pitch in L4. Liverpool and Manchester United will kick off on Sunday, December 17th. The home team is top of the table after 16 games, unbeaten in the last nine in the league. The visitors sit in sixth with their European campaign already over. This fixture is winless for United since 2016, and last time around, Liverpool ran out 7-0 victors.

Basically, all signs point to a freak upset win for Manchester United. But, putting Murphy’s Law aside for a moment, how might this one play out?

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TEAM SHEETS

LIVERPOOL

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Virgil van Dijk, Kostas Tsimikas, Wataru Endo, Dominik Szoboszlai, Ryan Gravenberch, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz

Liverpool has several long-term injury absentees. Andrew Robertson, Thiago Alcantara, Diogo Jota, and Alexis Mac Allister will all miss out. The midweek dead rubber versus Union Saint-Gilloise also gave clues to the lineup. Wataru Endo and Ibrahima Konate were both brought off early in the Europa League group stage finale.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Andre Onana, Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Jonny Evans, Sergio Reguilon, Sofyan Amrabat, Kobbie Mainoo, Scott McTominay, Antony, Alejandro Garnacho, Rasmus Hojlund

United has a raft of injuries to contend with. Lisandro Martinez, Harry Maguire, Casemiro, and Christian Eriksen are all ruled out. Bruno Fernandes will serve his suspension for yellow card accumulation. Jadon Sancho continues to eat lunch with the reserves. Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford are doubts but are racing to return for kickoff.

HOW WILL LIVERPOOL TRY TO WIN?

After coming in as a renowned possession-based coach, Erik Ten Hag promised this season to make Manchester United “the best transitional team in the world.”

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While his side did start the season as the best team in the league for high regains, they struggled to convert these turnovers into shots on goal. They’ve also struggled with teams dribbling through the center of the pitch. This was evident in their controversial, narrow victory over Wolves in Gameweek 1. It has persisted all campaign.

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Liverpool knows all about having a soft center. They struggled big time last season in midfield. Their less-defensive number six (Mac Allister) has occasionally been easily bypassed by dribblers. Defending in transition will be important for the hosts.

Given that the Argentinian is out for this one, it is likely that Wataru Endo will get another opportunity at the base of the midfield. Typically, Liverpool has him drop in between the centerbacks in the build-up, keeping the fullbacks wide. The other midfielders drop in as pivot players between the lines.

Having so many players join in the buildup helps Liverpool beat the high press. That overflow also coaxes the opponent’s defensive line forward. This allows Liverpool to escape around the sides of the press and then use the midfielders to carry the ball through space and supply the frontline.

The decision to use Curtis Jones for 90 minutes against USG suggests that Ryan Gravenberch will start this one. This gives the Reds two excellent ball carriers who thrive in bigger spaces playing in midfield.

Allowing Trent Alexander-Arnold to take up more wide positions should help him find space to deliver killer balls over the top if needed. Darwin Nunez’s Europa League cameo suggests he’ll be threatening in behind the United backline.

HOW WILL MANCHESTER UNITED TRY TO WIN?

United has dropped off their press a little in recent weeks. By engaging a little deeper, they can stifle the opponent’s attempts to carve open chances through possession. When they win the ball, United then go direct to Rasmus Hojlund. The forward is adept at holding the ball up until the likes of Scott McTominay can attack the box.

When Liverpool is in their settled possession phase, their 3-BOX-3 shape can make them vulnerable to direct counterattacks. We saw this in the goal conceded versus Luton Town. If, for example, Liverpool camp around United’s box and then lose the ball, the visitors can threaten with a direct attacking transition. The pace of Marcus Rashford could pose problems if he is fit to play.

WHO IS GOING TO WIN?

Manchester United deservedly defeated Liverpool at Old Trafford last season. Early in Ten Hag’s tenure, he got his players to outwork and outrun the Reds who overstretched their declining midfield. However, this time around, it’s the Red Devils with a threadbare squad. Liverpool now possesses a fresh, hungry engine room. Carrying out the game plan to the best of their ability should reward Liverpool’s players with three points.

My Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United.

Make sure to tune into American Scouser’s live pre- and post-match coverage streaming on YouTube, X (formerly Twitter), and Facebook.

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