Manchester United face Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday – in a clash that will have a huge bearing on who takes the runners-up spot in the Premier League table, as well as influencing the race for the Champions League positions.
Victory over the Merseysiders would propel United five points clear of Jurgen Klopp’s side – but just how will the Reds approach this game?
Jose Mourinho has garnered a reputation to adopt quite a conservative approach when it comes to taking on the top sides in his time at United, and with this in mind – we’ve outlined three ways in which he could line-up his charges to try and overcome an in-form Liverpool side.
The Tried and Trusted – 4-2-3-1
A 4-2-3-1 set-up sees United with more attacking options, whilst also having enough bodies in midfield to stem the threat of the Liverpool attack. Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw come into defence in place of Victor Lindelöf and Ashley Young – who both performed poorly against Crystal Palace.
However, this system limits the ability of Paul Pogba to roam forward in his preferred position, and though he would be likely to get the nod ahead of Scott McTominay if this system were to be adopted – the Frenchman would not be able to flourish perhaps as much as he would like to.
The main source of threat from this formation comes with United’s front four, Jesse Lingard would likely occupy the central role as he has done excellently at times this campaign. Alexis Sanchez would attack down the left-hand side, while Marcus Rashford comes into the side having impressed in a cameo on Monday night.
This offers United pace going forward, and plenty of suppliers to Romelu Lukaku – who is in a rich vein of goalscoring form at present.
Letting Them Off The Leash – 4-3-3
If Mourinho is to abandon his typically conservative approach, then this is likely how United will line out.
The defence remains the same, while Nemanja Matic sits in front of the back-four, allowing Paul Pogba to license forward in his preferred role in the right-side of a midfield three. This allows him to link up more freely with the United attack and not worry as much about defensive responsibilities – as Scott McTominay is on hand to partner Matic when called upon.
Having Sanchez and Rashford wide gives Pogba options to switch the play out-wide, and they can in turn help feed Lukaku – and this system has proved to be getting the best out of the Belgian recently, given his 11 goals in 11 games.
Pogba is the fulcrum of this formation – and he could be the telling difference in the result if this system is trialled by his manager.
Two Up Top – 4-1-2-1-2
While it would be unusual to see United play two up top, especially in a game of such magnitude – it must be remembered that Mourinho provided a tactical masterclass when adopting the same system against Chelsea last season.
The Portuguese boss dropped talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović and deployed Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard in forward positions – the decision proving fruitful as his side dominated in a 2-0 victory over the then champions-elect.
Again, Matic screens in midfield while McTominay offers support and Pogba lies on the right – but the formation could also get the best out of Alexis Sanchez, with him being the playmaker in a central role that could afford him more space, to link up with both Pogba and the United forwards.
With Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford up front, United would be able to counter-attack with pace and power in abundance, and both strikers are well able to find the net called upon.
While this formation is unlikely to be called upon, it could be the one that threatens Liverpool the most and brings out the best in United’s attacking potential.
Whatever tactics Mourinho adopts, the consensus is quite simple – United simply must avoid defeat at all costs. This is a huge week in the context of the season, and the Reds will not want to start it off with a defeat to a near rival.
Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena