Premier League Tactical Preview: Manchester United vs Liverpool


Liverpool have pulled themselves right back into Premier League title contention having won four games on the spin, taking them into second, above Arsenal on goal difference.

Manchester United are now a long shot to finish fourth but they won't want to hand their bitter rivals an easy chance to steal their Premier League crown. United have won two on the spin but with pressure still mounting on David Moyes he has to get a big result in this tie.

 

Possible line-ups

Moyes saw a good performance from his side last week and will probably opt for the same side that won 3-0 against West Brom. Rafael picked up a knock and is a doubt but he should be fit for this tie. This was one of the better results of the season for United, even if Robin van Persie failed to get on the scoresheet.

Liverpool opted for an interesting diamond formation last time out at Southampton, but against a United side who play with wingers Brendan Rodgers will go back to more of a 4-3-3 formation that has brought them a lot of joy this season and provides some width.

 

Can the real Robin van Persie emerge?

Manchester United have had concerns at both ends this season.

One issue has been in their attacking approach which thus far has been heavily criticized. An emphasis on crossing the ball has won Moyes few friends at Old Trafford and has also failed to get the best out of Van Persie, arguably Manchester United's most important player last season.

Eleven goals in 17 games is not a bad return on paper but the fact remains that Van Persie's overall performances have not been good enough and he does not look happy at the moment. His partnership with Wayne Rooney has been problematic with the two getting in each other’s way at times. Against West Brom he didn't manage a single shot on target, which is a concern, whilst Moyes' attacking approach hasn't been best suited to either of his forwards.

The emphasis on width has been a key factor. Only 24% of Manchester United's play comes through the centre of the pitch, which is the lowest percentage for any Premier League side. As we can see below, the United tend to focus their play down the right flank:

 

This willingness to get the ball out wide is compounded by the fact that United's 28 crosses per game make them the top crossers in the Premier League this season. Neither Rooney nor van Persie are amazing in the air, so crossing to them is not the best strategy. Both are very technical and clever players who rely on movement to get in behind and are better fed from a no.10 playmaker, not a winger.

If Moyes wants to get joy against Liverpool he may be better off playing down the middle more, looking to release van Persie and or Rooney in behind Liverpool’s at times weak back line.

 

Will United be able to weather the Liverpool storm?

Liverpool's attack has been rampant this season as they've hit 73 goals so far, making them the Premier League’s top scorers.

The goals have been free flowing and no team looks capable of shutting them out right now. United have conceded 31 goals, which isn't that bad in theory, but have had their shaky moments at the back this season.

An unsettled back four has been a contributory factor and whilst Moyes will go with the same back four that kept a clean sheet versus West Brom, they will be unlikely to shut out Liverpool’s attack.

Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez combined have contributed 42 goals this season. Manchester United's front pair of Van Persie and Rooney have contributed 22, just over half the amount of Liverpool's deadly SAS duo.

 

Conclusion

Liverpool will go into this game full of confidence knowing that they can get a big result at the expense of their rivals.

If United have ambitions to sneak back into the top four they simply cannot afford anything but a win from this game. Finishing fourth looks like a pipedream but nonetheless Moyes cannot afford to lose against such a bitter rival, especially with his managerial reign under scrutiny already.

The attacking approach of both sides will be intriguing and we can expect a fascinating and thrilling match between two great British rivals, with goals looking guaranteed.


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