Who has the Edge Between Manchester United and Liverpool?

© AP Photo / Jon SuperLiverpool's Mohamed Salah, front left, celebrates with Liverpool's Sadio Mane after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Sheffield United at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, front left, celebrates with Liverpool's Sadio Mane after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Sheffield United at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.10.2021
Manchester United and Liverpool FC renew their rivalry this weekend in a marquee clash between England’s two most successful clubs.
Sunday’s matchup of Liverpool and Manchester United is the Premier League’s biggest match of the weekend. Liverpool enter the tie third in the league and a win would move them into second, and United sit in sixth with a chance to move into the top-four, if Tottenham drops points.
For two teams with their eyes on the Premier League trophy, this is a match that can make or break a campaign. Regardless of their league position, when United and Liverpool play it’s regarded as an event. As the two most successful clubs in English history, their rivalry runs deep. Even their managers can’t keep things civil between them.
The history and bad blood between the two sides almost always spills over to the pitch. Here’s who has the edge in defense, in the middle of the park, in attack, and on the sidelines.

Who has the defensive edge?

In recent weeks, neither Liverpool nor Manchester United’s defense have inspired much confidence. Liverpool were absolutely blitzed on the counter by Athletico Madrid in their mid-week champions league clash. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said of the 3-2 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano, “dirty points are often the most important, and they were dirty tonight.”
Manchester United’s defense has had similar struggles, conceding two goals at home to an undermanned Atalanta and giving up four to Leicester City last weekend. What makes these defensive woes so unusual is that neither side lacks talent.
Liverpool will likely run out a back four of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil Van Dijk, and Andrew Robertson. Alexander-Arnold has been lethal going forward but his lack of pace leaves Liverpool’s right side vulnerable on the break. Robertson has been more solid defensively this season, but his attacking influence comes and goes.
The biggest issue that faces Liverpool, however, is the inconsistent form of Virgil Van Dijk, as he comes back from a knee ligament injury. Van Dijk has looked a step slow at times this season and a return to form could catapult Liverpool’s defense back into the elites of Europe.
Manchester United will be without Rafael Varane, as he is still recovering from a groin injury suffered on international duty with France. Without Varane, Manchester United has used a back four of Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Maguire, who recently returned from a calf injury, has looked lost the past two games. Shaw is an important component for United, while Wan-Bissaka is as good at defending as he is poor going forward.
Between the sticks, Liverpool and United employ two of the world’s finest goalkeepers, although they get there in vastly different ways. David De Gea has been on a shot-stopping crusade this year and has earned United a few extra points for his heroics. De Gea is not a terribly proactive keeper, which puts pressure on his abilities to help United’s defense.
Alisson, while not a poor shot-stopper by any means, is one of the most proactive and technically gifted goalies in the world. He will act as a de-facto sweeper for Liverpool’s high-line, although his high-risk high-reward style can sometimes come back to haunt him.
Liverpool have the advantage in defense. Without Varane, United lack a centerback with the pace and power to snuff out balls in behind. Factor in that Liverpool’s outside backs give them more in attack and the edge up and down the pitch goes to the scousers.

Advantage: Liverpool

Manchester United's Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (L) shakes hands with Manchester United's Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo as he comes off the substitutes bench  during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on October 2, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.10.2021
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Who has the edge in midfield?

Trying to determine who has the better midfield between Liverpool and United is a difficult exercise. United has more talented attacking midfielders, while Liverpool have the better defensive unit.
Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are two of the most gifted attacking midfielders in the world. There is not a pass they cannot make, nor is there a defense that they fear. With Thiago Alcantara still out, Curtis Jones’ fitness levels a question, and Naby Keita oscillating between being a masterful attacker and a defensive liability, Liverpool’s midfield, in attack, lags behind United’s.
However, what United attempts to do with two defensive midfielders, Liverpool is capable of doing with one. United have favored a double-pivot but have yet to settle on a combination capable of protecting their back four. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has rotated Scott McTominay, Fred, Paul Pogba, and Nemanja Matic with little success.
Liverpool, on the other hand, know exactly who will be in charge of protecting their back four, and that will be Fabinho. His ability to win the ball, trigger Liverpool’s press, and spray the ball to attackers has him in the conversation for best defensive midfielder in the world.
The difference in talent between Liverpool and United’s midfields is too hard to confidently declare. However, how they are used is as important as their individual talent. Liverpool’s system consistently sees their midfielders playing to their strengths, while United have had a hard time figuring out who is the best defensive midfielder to play next to McTominay.

Advantage: Tie (United going forward, Liverpool defensive)

Who has the edge in attack?

Liverpool and Manchester United have two of the world’s best collections of attacking talent. United have the luxury of selecting between Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edison Cavani, Jadon Sancho, and Anthony Martial. Half of the teams in the Premier League would be happy to take United’s bench options as their starters.
While Liverpool don’t have the depth that United does, their quartet of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Diogo Jota are an incredibly talented and varied set of attackers. Mohamed Salah has been in such a rare run of form that he is forcing people to suggest that he is the best player in the world.
It will be interesting to see which trio each manager opts for. United will likely run out Ronaldo, Greenwood, and Rashford, as Jadon Sancho has been poor since relocating from the Bundesliga. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have the right and left wings locked down, but who Jurgen Klopp will start at center forward will be interesting.
Both Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino have been excellent this season, but offer Liverpool different skill sets. Firmino is a box-to-box midfielder that can play center forward, while Jota is a dangerous winger with an aerial ability far larger than his diminutive frame. Who Klopp decides to start the game will indicate how he wants to go after United.
Picking which side has a better attack is also difficult. United have depth and, of course, Ronaldo, while Liverpool have four attackers who are all deserving of a starting spot. The combination of Salah’s form and Mane, Jota, and Firmino’s excellence gives Liverpool the edge in attack.

Advantage: Liverpool

Who has the advantage on the sidelines?

There is no rational argument to be made that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a better manager than Jurgen Klopp. Klopp is one of the elite managers of his time, a tactical wizard with excellent management abilities. Solskjaer, on the other hand, has swung, like a pendulum, between being on the hot seat and saving his job.

Advantage: Liverpool

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp speaks during a press conference - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.10.2021
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Liverpool rightly should enter their match with Manchester United with the confidence that they can leave Old Trafford with three points. United’s crowd spirited them to a fantastic comeback win against Atalanta, but Liverpool are a far more dangerous side.
No rivalry game is easy. As much as Liverpool have the edge on the pitch, United are not so far behind that they cannot get something from the match. It will likely be a cagey affair and a tie is the most likely outcome. Although, both sides will believe they have what it takes to win.
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