Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Dejan Lovren: The key battle in Manchester United v Liverpool
By Karl Sturgeon
Last Updated: 15/01/17 11:12am
Ahead of Manchester United's eagerly-anticipated clash with Liverpool on Merseyside v Manchester on Nissan Super Sunday, we examine the key battle between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dejan Lovren...
Champions of England 38 times and Europe eight times between them; over 75,000 watching at Old Trafford, and millions watching around the world. It doesn't get much bigger than Manchester United against Liverpool.
Jose Mourinho's side are eyeing a 10th consecutive win which would put them within two points of Liverpool, and their chances of success could rest on the battle between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dejan Lovren.
Ibrahimovic is a big-game performer. He scored 11 goals in 10 games for Paris Saint-Germain against their great rivals Marseille, he scored the winner for Barcelona in his only El Clasico appearance, and he scored six goals in the Milan derby.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's big-game record
|AC Milan||Inter Milan||4||4|
|Inter Milan||AC Milan||5||2|
The Swede was out of sorts when United held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw in October, but with 12 goals in his last 12 games in all competitions he is in form.
United's problem under Mourinho has been taking their chances. Despite their upturn in form they still have one of the lowest shot conversion rates in the Premier League, scoring from just 12 per cent of their shots.
Lowest shot conversion rates - Premier League 2016/17
|Team||Shot conversion rate||League position|
That figure is due in part to Ibrahimovic's early struggles. In the first three months of the season, the striker had the worst shot conversion rate of any forward to have scored three or more goals.
Since November, though, Ibrahimovic has scored nine Premier League goals - more than anyone else in that period - and enjoyed one of the league's best conversion rates.
Best shot conversion rates by forwards since November (min. 3 goals)
|Player||Shot conversion rate||Goals|
Lovren will be the man charged with stopping Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford. The pair have collided before - quite literally in 2012, when Ibrahimovic was accused of stamping on Lovren's head in a match between PSG and Lyon.
The Croatian has been Liverpool's mainstay at centre-back this season, making the most headed clearances (62) and interceptions (29) of all the club's defenders.
Jurgen Klopp has transformed Liverpool into big-game performers themselves. During Klopp's reign Liverpool have won at Chelsea twice, beaten Manchester City in all three of their league games, and beaten Arsenal 4-3 at the Emirates.
If they win on Sunday they'll be the first team in the Premier League era to win at United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the same season.
If United's problem is putting chances away, Liverpool's is keeping them out. Despite facing the fewest shots of any Premier League team, Liverpool have conceded 23 goals - the most of any top-six side. Only Swansea concede a higher proportion of shots faced.
Highest proportion of shots faced - Premier League 2016/17
|Team||Shots faced||Goals conceded||% conceded|
Ibrahimovic has taken 63 shots in the Premier League this season - eight more than any other player. The Swede doesn't exactly lack confidence even when he's not in form, so he'll back himself on Sunday if a chance does come his way. It's crucial Lovren stops that from happening.
In 2008/09, Lovren was sent off when playing for Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia's biggest game - the Eternal Derby against Hajduk Split - and the following season he scored an own-goal in the same fixture. When two of England's greatest clubs meet on Sunday, he'll need better luck.