Man Utd vs Liverpool: Dilemmas and decisions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jurgen Klopp
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Last Updated: 20/10/19 1:40pm
Manchester United host Premier League leaders Liverpool at Old Trafford on Super Sunday in a game that could go a long way to defining both clubs' seasons.
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United, the chance to kick-start their campaign after their worst start to a season in 30 years. For Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, a record-equalling 18th straight Premier League win would further strengthen their claim for the title.
The contrasting fortunes of these age-old rivals may be stark but the significance of this fixture remains, and if each manager could have their best players fit and firing for just one game, it would be this one.
With an injury list as long as his arm, the international break offered Solskjaer valuable time to patch up his squad off the pitch and search for solutions after United's defeat at Newcastle confirmed their worst start to a season in 30 years.
But just as it seemed players were returning to fitness and there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, the injury curse that has contributed, in part, to United's slump has struck again, and at the worst possible time ahead of Premier League leaders Liverpool's visit to Old Trafford.
David de Gea, the latest inpatient to the United treatment room, pulled up in innocuous circumstances with a groin injury while on international duty with Spain, casting huge doubt over his availability on Sunday, despite Solskjaer revealing the injury is not as bad as first feared.
"I don't expect him to play, but it was not as bad as feared," the United boss said. "When I first saw the injury I thought, 'That's him out until the next international break' because we've had some long-term muscle injuries."
And news of De Gea's injury was compounded by confirmation that Paul Pogba will play no part against Liverpool, the talismanic Frenchman yet to shake off an ankle injury that has limited him to just six appearances for United this season.
Romero to the rescue
It would be disingenuous to call the decision Solskjaer has to make on who deputises for De Gea a selection dilemma given the pedigree of what United have in reserve.
As far as back-up goalkeepers go, they don't come much better or much more experienced than Sergio Romero.
The Argentine World Cup finalist has never put a foot wrong in his role as De Gea's understudy and is a shoo-in ahead of Lee Grant to start against Liverpool in the absence of United's No. 1.
Shaw up the defence?
Luke Shaw has featured just three times for United this season, with the last of those appearances coming in August's defeat to Crystal Palace.
Encouragingly, the left-back has returned to training after a lengthy hamstring injury and, if he passes a late fitness test, he could be brought back into the fold, though Ashley Young and Axel Tuanzebe may be preferred.
There is a chance Sunday's game may come too soon for Shaw, but there's no doubt that Aaron Wan-Bissaka will regain his position after sitting out the last three games with tonsillitis.
Victor Lindelof got a valuable 90 minutes under his belt for Sweden during the international break but his inclusion alongside Harry Maguire at centre-back is not a given, with Tuanzebe's form one of few positives in United's recent slump.
Make way for Martial
It's been eight long weeks since Manchester United had the luxury of turning to Anthony Martial. The Frenchman's thigh strain couldn't have come at a worse time, with United's attacking options threadbare following the summer departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
But after two months on the treatment table, Martial is in contention to return, serving up another question over the team Solskjaer will field.
Daniel James has excelled out on the left wing in Martial's absence and there's a strong case to continue with the Wales international - United's greatest attacking threat - in that position.
Fortunately for Solskjaer, James' versatility in the attacking positions behind the lead striker make him the ideal candidate to switch flanks to accommodate the returning Martial.
James could quite easily start on the right, Martial in his preferred position on the left and potentially Juan Mata in the No. 10 role behind Marcus Rashford.
After two months of inconsistent results and performances, plagued by abject attacking displays, United's attack could look a lot more in the mould of Solskjaer. Whether or not that is enough to cause Liverpool problems, though, is a different matter.
Pick your Man Utd XI vs Liverpool
Man Utd vs Liverpool: Outs or doubts
|Man Utd||Pogba (ankle)||Martial (thigh), De Gea (groin), Lingard (hamstring), Shaw (hamstring)|
|Liverpool||Shaqiri (calf), Clyne (knee)||Salah (ankle)|
Jurgen Klopp is hoping to have Alisson Becker, Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah back from injury for the trip to Old Trafford, although the Liverpool manager will give the key trio as long as possible to recover.
"Ali, Joel and Mo are looking better. How good, we will have to see. Two more sessions to come, then we have to make decisions. Nothing fixed yet," he said in Friday's press conference.
Who will be the Reds' No 1?
The first big call Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp must make for Sunday's showdown at Old Trafford is who will start in goal for the Premier League leaders - Adrian or Allison?
The latter has not featured since tearing a calf muscle in the early stages of Liverpool's opening game of the season against Norwich on August 9, with Adrian ably deputising for the Brazil international in the intervening period.
The Spaniard only moved to Anfield on a free transfer in August - replacing Simon Mignolet as Liverpool's back-up goalkeeper - but apart from one horrible error against Southampton, the 32-year-old has mainly impressed observers with his calm authority.
In fact, Adrian has averaged 114 minutes of play for every goal conceded, the best figure for any 'keeper in the top-flight this season.
With Alisson having returned to first-team training earlier this week, though, Klopp now has a huge decision to make - remain loyal to the former West Ham shot-stopper, who has not let his manager down since being elevated to the Liverpool starting line-up.
Or bring his £67m Brazil international, who was voted the best goalkeeper in the world in 2019 by FIFA, back into the fold for a match of huge significance for the Premier League leaders.
Klopp also has a tricky selection dilemma when it comes to picking a centre-back partner for Virgil van Dijk at Old Trafford. The Netherlands international had lined up alongside Joel Matip throughout 2019, with the duo forming a formidable partnership at the back for the club.
That was until the Cameroonian picked up a knee problem in Liverpool's 1-0 win at Sheffield United in September. However, Klopp received another injury boost when Matip returned to training at Melwood on Tuesday, with the player declaring himself back to full fitness and available for selection.
"I'm back in training and hopefully I will stay fit," Matip told the club's website. "I'm back in training and I feel good. Of course, if I'm needed, I will be there."
In Matip's absence, Klopp went with Joe Gomez against Red Bull Salzburg, but after the Champions League holders surprisingly let in three goals against the Austrians at Anfield, the Liverpool boss opted to bring in Dejan Lovren for his first start of the season against Leicester last time out.
And what is more, the experienced Croatian produced an excellent display as the club extended their run of consecutive league victories to 17 after a last-gasp 2-1 win.
In particular, the way Lovren and Van Dijk dovetailed to snuff out the threat of Leicester's pacy striker Jamie Vardy, who had arrived at Anfield in red-hot form, impressed Klopp.
"Some people asked me (after the game) about our defending and said it was not that good, but I have never seen a team defend Vardy better than today," he said.
"Apart from the situation in the second half when it was a long ball (for Vardy) and Dejan couldn't quite get there quick enough, I didn't see that. Dejan [Lovren] and Virgil did well."
So there is no guarantee Matip will walk straight back into the team this Sunday, with there every chance Klopp will actually stick with the same back four who overcame the Foxes before the international break.
Fabinho plus two…
While we know that Klopp will not change his favoured 4-3-3 formation for the trip to the Theatre of Dreams this weekend, as always with Liverpool, it's the identity of the midfielder trio that is unknown.
Fabinho - despite travelling all the way to Singapore with Brazil in the recent international break - is now one of the first names down on the Liverpool team sheet, especially given the holding midfielder has still to lose a Premier League match he has started for the club.
But who Klopp chooses alongside Fabinho in midfield is open to debate, with the German having to pick two from captain Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner.
The Liverpool boss often bases these decisions on just how many minutes his players have recently racked up, which may mean a start for the evergreen Milner who, after starring against the Foxes, was free to remain at Melwood during the international since he has now retired from England.
In comparison, Henderson and Wijnaldum both played every minute of England's and the Netherlands' respective Euro 2020 qualifiers, meaning it may come down to a simple call between the duo for that final midfield berth at Old Trafford.
Pick your Liverpool XI vs Man Utd
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