Red Devils have all to play for

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba

With the battles for the Premier League title and the Champions League qualifying places hotting up, Manchester United host Liverpool and Southampton travel to Arsenal in two key clashes today.

The Red Devils’ recent resurgence has been a remarkable one to date. Prior to today’s clash against Liverpool, they are in fourth position on the log, one point above Arsenal.

Liverpool can return to the top of the log – ahead of Manchester City – should they avoid defeat today. So, this clash between England’s two most successful sides promises to be a thrilling one.

Jürgen Klopp’s side have sometimes struggled to counter José Mourinho’s stifling tactics, but the latter’s successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, has returned Manchester United’s focus to attacking play. And the results have followed – United are unbeaten in the Premier League under the interim boss, having amassed 25 points in nine games.

Under Klopp’s tutelage, the Reds have become a fantastic counter-attacking team and have enjoyed success against teams that offer them space in the midfield areas from which they can launch their swift attacks.

Will Solskjær set his team up to try to counteract some of Liverpool’s strength, or simply aim to outscore them in front of their home fans?

Irrespective of the Norwegian’s tactics on the day, the midfield is likely to be where this match will be won. If Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic are able to shield the backline from being isolated against Liverpool’s front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, Paul Pogba should be able to pull the strings for United further up the field.

Virgil van Dijk will return to Liverpool’s starting line-up after missing out against Bayern Munich because of suspension, meaning Fabinho – who deputised for the Dutchman midweek – will return to his favoured holding midfield position.

The Brazilian has found his feet at the heart of the Liverpool midfield after arriving from Monaco in the off season, and will be tasked with keeping Marcus Rashford quiet.

Reds captain Jordan Henderson is a shoo-in to start, with the other midfielder likely to be James Milner, although Naby Keïta is another option after having arguably had his best game for the club midweek.

This match should be a cracker.

Meanwhile, Arsenal will be buoyed going into their match after beating BATE Borisov 3-1 on aggregate in the Europa League last 32 on Thursday.

The big question for the Gunners is the form of Mesut Özil, who impressed against their Belarusian rivals, but has failed to nail down a starting spot under Unai Emery this season. Should he miss out again, Aaron Ramsey is the one most likely to play in the advanced midfield position, with the pair of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette leading the line.

Alex Iwobi is another consideration, either as a withdrawn forward or a wide player. But only a win against the 18th-placed Southampton will do for Emery, and the Aubameyang-Lacazette axis is his most potent threat.

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola and his counterpart Maurizio Sarri will be on opposite ends of the spectrum when their clubs meet in the League Cup at Wembley this evening.

A Manchester City victory will see the Spaniard lay claim to one of four titles that his club is still in line for, while a defeat could mean curtains for the Italian at Chelsea.

Guardiola’s Citizens are still in with a shout in today’s cup, the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Uefa Champions League.

Sarri’s Chelsea suffered a 6-0 loss to City in a league match, followed by a 2-0 defeat by Manchester in the FA Cup last weekend.

The coach admitted after this loss that some of his players still did not understand his “Sarri ball” tactics.

A defeat today will also cancel the atonement from Thursday night’s 3-0 home win against Malmo in the Europa League. – TEAMtalk Media

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