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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

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Could we maybe extend the international break another week?

Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League
Mood.
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Manchester United return to action on Sunday staring down the barrel of another humiliating loss. Liverpool come to Old Trafford atop the Premier League, champions of Europe, and winners of seventeen straight league matches. This could get ugly. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the weekend.

(1) These are two rivals careening in wildly different directions. After finishing sixth last season, Manchester United now languish down in twelfth — just two points clear of the relegation zone. For Liverpool, on the other hand, it’s all roses. Jurgen Klopp’s side boasts a 100% record in the Premier League and sits eight points clear of Manchester City in second.

(2) United hit rock bottom — we hope, at least — in the 1-0 loss at Newcastle. The hosts, engulfed in their own misery and considered dead certs for the drop, bossed every aspect of the match and deservedly took all three points. That’s perhaps the most disheartening result (and performance) of the post-SAF era.

(3) On the bright side, United’s injury crisis seems near an end. Many of the crocked Reds — notably Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Victor Lindelöf — could return on Sunday. All four would likely walk straight back into the starting eleven.

(4) Paul Pogba, though, won’t be ready in time. He spent the break rehabbing his foot (in a protective boot) in Dubai, posting the occasional workout video on Instagram. That provided some brief hope of an imminent return, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ruled Pogba out in an interview with Sky Sports:

Paul had an injury, came back, and worked really hard. He came back and played a couple of games, maybe played through the pain barrier.

He had a scan after the Arsenal game and maybe needed a few weeks’ rest in a boot, so hopefully he won’t be too long, but he won’t make this game, no.

(5) And, as always, a few Reds picked up knocks with their national teams. Most importantly, David De Gea limped out of the Spain-Sweden match on Tuesday with an apparent abductor injury. Sergio Romero is on deck, but no DDG — even if not at his best in recent months — will be a huge blow to United’s chances this weekend.

(6) An odd one from Wales vs. Croatia: Daniel James may or may not have been knocked unconscious during the match. It certainly looked like he was out cold, but both the player and Wales boss Ryan Giggs insisted afterwards that he never lost consciousness. Of course, that could just be an excuse to deflect blame from the medical staff’s decision to allow James to play on with a head injury. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(7) Let’s be honest — there’s not much reason to even expect Sunday’s match to be close. Liverpool have won seventeen consecutive Premier League matches stretching back to last season. Mostly in blowout fashion, too, with Klopp’s side suffocating the opposition with a relentless press and cutting them apart with a prolific front three. Ready for more sad news? Since Liverpool’s streak started last March, Manchester United have only won four times in the league.

(8) In the past few weeks, though, Liverpool don’t exactly look like all-conquering juggernauts. Last time out, it took a debatable stoppage-time penalty to defeat Leicester City 2-1 at Anfield. And, before that, only a brutal mistake from United loanee Dean Henderson in goal allowed LFC to escape Sheffield United with the win. Make no mistake — Liverpool enter this match as overwhelming favorites, but there has been a wobble in their form of late.

(9) Unfortunately for United, Klopp’s side should be nearly full-strength on Sunday. Mo Salah injured his ankle against Leicester before the break, but should be available. Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also returned to training this week, with Matip likely to go straight back into central defense alongside Virgil Van Dijk. Alisson could also make his first appearance in goal since suffering a calf injury in the season opener.

(10) The only potential absentee is Xherdan Shaqiri, who missed training earlier this week, and could leave Klopp without one of his favorite impact subs. He’s been struggling with a calf injury all season, limiting the 28-year-old to just two Premier League appearances so far. Remember, it was two deflected goals by Shaqiri that proved the difference in last December’s 3-1 loss at Anfield.

(11) That match was José Mourinho’s last as Manchester United manager. Will history repeat itself this weekend? Probably not. But some reports claim that Ole fears the sack if his Reds suffer another lopsided defeat at the hands of their hated rivals. That seems highly unlikely, especially considering the ongoing absence of Paul Pogba and how much of Solskjaer’s tactical plan flows through the French midfielder. Now, if United drop Sunday’s derby and follow it up with another bad loss next weekend at Norwich, things could get dicey...