United need Zlatan to be on his best, but Mane can steal the show for Liverpool

by Kevin Coleman

Get your appetites whet ahead of tonight’s Monday Night Football feast between Liverpool and Manchester United. A win for Liverpool may take them top of the league, while United need a victory to keep tabs with the chasing pack after a lackluster few weeks.

Jose Mourinho Manchester United 2016

Can Zlatan dominate Liverpool’s leaky defence?

Manchester Utd need a big-game Zlatan Ibrahimovic to show up to have any chance of winning tonight. Liverpool’s defence, as well documented over the past months and years, can be extremely watery and having to deal with Zlatan – albeit a 35-year-old one – will cause serious issues. His threat from set pieces and ability to create something out of nothing will trouble Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. The latter can officially stamp his arrival with a good performance tonight.

Sadio Mane could steal the show

Manchester United will be most worried about the speed and directness of Sadio Mane. He has gotten off to a blistering start for Liverpool since joining in the summer. He may well be given freedom of the attacking third and asked to shuffle with Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. Both United full backs will have their hands full, but United may prefer to see Mane occupy Antonio Valencia’s side.

If he plays from the right he will have Luke Shaw, who has just come back from injury and may struggle with Mane’s pace, and potentially Daley Blind next to welcome Mane. There’s a lot of serious talent on the field tonight, but Mane may stand out on top come full time.

Who will win the midfield battle?

United fans were pleased with the combination of Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba recently, which seemed to finally trigger the arrival of the Frenchman. Up until then the world’s most expensive footballer was being leashed by Marouane Fellaini in midfield. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Jose go with Fellaini, a player well acquainted to a hostile away environment at Anfield. This is Pogba’s biggest game for United yet, if he can justify his price tag with a dominating midfield performance, United will fancy their chances.

Jordan Henderson has attracted a lot of attention over the past few weeks. He has his doubters but has been a big game player over the years – most recently stepping up against Chelsea with a goal of the season contender. He’ll have a new partner in midfield as it looks like Gini Wijnaldum will miss out with injury. Emre Can will work tirelessly but may be missing a step due to his lack of game time. A more likely replacement is James Milner, who has been successfully converted to left back this season, with Alberto Moreno returning to action.

The Sidelines

Sky cameras will be focused on the sideline battle between Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho. As big as characters they are, both will be content if their team’s doing the talking on their pitch. Mourinho will be aware of the danger Liverpool pose with their high pressing, intense style of football that may overwhelm what has been a lacklustre United in recent weeks. Klopp would prefer to avoid any sideline circuses with his counterpart, and let his team do the talking. It may well be an uneventful spectacle on the sideline if both bosses could have their way.

Impact from the bench

Both teams have excellent options from the bench. Depending on who starts, United could potentially turn to Wayne Rooney, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford late on. Liverpool will have Daniel Sturridge to select – if Firmino continues up front – along with Divock Origi. There are players here with a point to prove. Rooney would love to stuff recent criticisms down people’s throats with a late winning drive at Anfield, while Daniel Sturridge will want to show he’s over his troubles and is still a deadly striker. This came could go down to the wire, if United quell Liverpool’s overwhelming pressing game.

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