Manchester United vs Liverpool key battles: Wayne Rooney, Martin Skrtel and more


Manchester United against Liverpool is one of the highlights of the Premier League calendar, and Saturday's showdown at Old Trafford is a mouth-watering prospect.

LThe old rivals are level on seven points after the first four games of the Premier League campaign, but who will claim bragging rights when they go head to head, live on Sky Sports?

From Wayne Rooney's duel with Martin Skrtel to Memphis Depay's battle with Nathaniel Clyne, we look at where the match could be won and lost.

Rooney v Skrtel

United will be hoping Wayne Rooney's record-breaking goals for England can bring him out of his Premier League malaise. The 29-year-old has gone 10 Premier League games without a goal for only the second time in his entire career. How he would love to end that run against United's bitter rivals.

Wayne Rooney  celebrates with Ander Herrera
Image: Rooney scored a hat-trick against Club Brugge last month but has not scored in 10 Premier League games

He will have enjoyed Liverpool's shambolic defending in their 3-0 defeat to West Ham. Brendan Rodgers could be tempted to swap Dejan Lovren for Mamadou Sakho after the Croat's calamitous performance against the Hammers, but Martin Skrtel is a certain starter.

The Slovak is Liverpool's most experienced defender and it will be his responsibility to lead their backline at Old Trafford. Rooney's international scoring feats should have restored some of his confidence, and his constant running and clever movement could make life difficult for Skrtel.

Martin Skrtel
Image: Skrtel will lead Liverpool's defence at Old Trafford

The Liverpool man has made more clearances and more interceptions than any of his team-mates this season, and he will need to stay close to Rooney and limit his influence in dangerous areas. Forcing the England captain further away from goal would be the best way to blunt his threat.

Rooney has only scored five goals in 22 appearances against Liverpool. His average of 0.23 goals per game against the Reds is his lowest against any Premier League side, although he did find the net in United's 3-0 win in the same fixture last season.

Blind v Benteke

Daley Blind recently insisted he is "clever enough and smart enough" to play at centre-back despite his diminutive stature. He impressed as United kept four clean sheets in their first five games of the season, but the Dutchman's shortcomings were exposed against the physicality of Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew in their 2-1 defeat at Swansea.

Liverpool's Christian Benteke celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool
Image: Christian Benteke will be hoping to make like difficult for Daley Blind

The hulking figure of Christian Benteke presents an even tougher test. The Belgian has won more aerial duels than any other player in the Premier League this season (41) and will do his utmost to target Blind, who has only won eight in the same number of appearances.

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Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville has described Blind as "more of a stop-gap than a long-term solution" at centre-back, but with Phil Jones injured and Marcos Rojo out of favour, he is likely to keep his place on Saturday. He will need plenty of help from centre-back partner Chris Smalling.

Daley Blind of Manchester United in action with Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur
Image: Blind in action against Nacer Chadli of Tottenham

Benteke, for his part, will be looking to add to his tally of one goal in four appearances for Liverpool since his £32.5m switch from Aston Villa. He failed to impress Belgium coach Marc Wilmots as he was substituted at half-time against Cyprus on Sunday, but he scored twice against United for Villa last season. His muscular presence could unsettle them again on Saturday.

Memphis v Clyne

On United's left flank, two new signings will collide. Memphis is yet to fire in the Premier League following his arrival from PSV Eindhoven, but there have been glimpses of his ability and a stunning brace against Club Brugge in the Champions League showed what he is capable of.

Memphis Depay of Manchester United
Image: Memphis Depay is up against Nathaniel Clyne

The Dutch international loves to attack his marker with the ball at his feet. Clyne will be more than a match for his pace, but the former Southampton defender will need to be wary of him cutting inside to use his favoured right foot. Memphis' threat could be significantly reduced if Clyne succeeds in forcing him down the line.

Clyne will also look to get forward whenever possible. The England defender is the more attacking of Liverpool's full-backs, with Joe Gomez playing a more conservative role on the left, so Memphis will need to provide protection for Luke Shaw to ensure the Englishman is not overloaded when Liverpool have possession.

Schweinsteiger v Firmino

Liverpool have issues in midfield, with Philippe Coutinho suspended and Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana doubtful. United, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of Michael Carrick after he withdrew from the England squad with a calf problem.

Roberto Firmino of Liverpool
Image: Roberto Firmino could get his chance at No 10 in the absence of Philippe Coutinho

For Liverpool, Coutinho's absence could give Roberto Firmino the opportunity to play in his favoured central role, where he shone in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim. The Brazilian has only started two of Liverpool's first four Premier League games, but has the quality and creativity to cause United problems at the back.

Firmino does not shoot from range with the same frequency or accuracy as Coutinho, but he has created more chances than his countryman (five v two) despite playing fewer minutes this season.

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The home side will need Bastian Schweinsteiger to patrol the area in front of their back four and keep Firmino quiet. Schweinsteiger has looked a little off the pace at times since his arrival from Bayern Munich, but United need him to be alert to Firmino's darting runs between the lines. If the German plays well, Liverpool's hopes of getting at United's defence will be significantly reduced.

Watch Manchester United v Liverpool live on Sky Sports 1 HD this Saturday from 5pm

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