Manchester United welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford on Sunday in the Premier League. United will be looking to cement their position in second over Leicester City, while Liverpool are desperate for points as they chase a Champions League place. Both teams are unbeaten in their last five league games.
Normally a calendar highlight off the pitch, a combination of no crowd, laboured teams after a heavy campaign, a focus for United now elsewhere with silverware, and the backdrop of fan protests and a common enemy between supporters will take the edge off this intense fixture. Nevertheless, United will be eager to damage Liverpool’s chances of finishing fourth this season. Liverpool, meanwhile, could make Manchester City champions this weekend, hitting themselves in the face in the process.
Liverpool haven’t played all week, while United put six past Roma at Old Trafford on Thursday in the Europa League semi-final first leg. United have no new injury concerns.
United’s defence will be pleased to see Dean Henderson return in nets for weekend duties. David de Gea showed once again on Thursday night, against a poor Roma side, that he does not command his area well enough and invites unnecessary pressure on the defence. De Gea’s kicking was poor at times, too.
Sunday’s match represents another milestone for Henderson starting for United over De Dea. Not Henderson’s first time this season facing Liverpool – he was selected for the FA Cup win in January – but of far more significance it being a league fixture. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has flipped responsibilities for the two goalkeepers and, barring any disasters, Henderson is firmly now United’s no. 1.
Oddly, midweek fixtures are now the biggest for United – even over Liverpool. Solskjær will surely start De Gea in Rome next week, but he may have second thoughts on the final should United get there.
Luke Shaw is up there with Bruno Fernandes on how vital he is to United’s fortunes. Especially if Paul Pogba is deployed on the left. What a season the stocky and surprisingly tall left-back is having.
Solskjær’s handling of Pogba since last season’s beef and Mino Raiola’s subsequent noise has been faultless. Pogba, back in the team and pulling the strings for United, will see the Liverpool game as a chance to showcase his talent and status, bookmarking a redemptive period for the player, the manager, and the club.
Pogba, in the reverse fixture in January, started wide on the right. Pogba had little impact on the oft-cagey 0-0. A week later, Pogba started in central midfield alongside Scott McTominay in the 3-2 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup.
Since then, Solskjær has settled on a double pivot of Fred and McTominay with Pogba further forward wide on the left. While Pogba can be less concerned with defensive duties – a point Solskjær was at pains to make recently – it creates several problems for the team. Even aside from the lack of creativity in midfield, Marcus Rashford is shunted from his best position on the left to the right where you might find Mason Greenwood.
Greenwood, who will surely own the central striker position in time, has had, and will have, plenty of opportunities to get comfortable up top without much jeopardy in remaining matches this season. However, United selecting Edinson Cavani’s experience instead, when he’s been available and needed, costs Greenwood – currently United’s in-form striker – a place in the side.
Against Roma this week, United did just that with Greenwood on the bench. Paul Scholes in the build-up on BT Sport talked about how much he loved a free role on the left for United – less so with England – which Pogba played again. Scholes said he was able to find space high up the pitch and link with others easily, while not having to worry about what’s behind him other than his left-back overlapping – in Scholes’ case, Mikaël Silvestre. Scholes made a good case for using Pogba in that role, but then United did have Roy Keane.
Anyway, by half-time on Thursday, Scholes was adamant that Solskjær had to change something – namely Pogba back in the middle for one of Fred or McTominay. Solskjær stuck to his guns and Roma obliged.
"It's easy up there thinking who should play and who should not play.— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 29, 2021
"Maybe those two should try to leave players out themselves and pick a team with balance."
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer certainly justified his decisions this evening
@ReshminTV #UEL pic.twitter.com/bIBibxMwgX
Post-match, Scholes’ observations irked Solskjær showing the United manager’s dilemma. If Solskjær persists with the double pivot of Fred and McTominay, he will want more from his holding midfielders.
Something, something cotton wool. After Liverpool.
Cavani justified his selection on Thursday with two goals, two assists, and a perfect 10 performance, albeit versus a limited Roma team in a disastrous run of form who folded at the first sign of pressure. Greenwood will be much fresher, hungrier – and a goal against Liverpool would propel his development further still. Here’s hoping for the 19-year-old.
Some sources are adamant Ed Woodward was genuinely against the concept of the European Super League and has 'taken a bullet for the Glazers' #mulive [men]— utdreport (@utdreport) April 30, 2021
So much spin it makes you queasy. Going to worm his way back into staying with the club if we’re not careful, Ed Woodward.
Do one, dickhead. And take the malignant owners with you.