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The Big Match Tactical View: Liverpool v Man Utd

Philippe Coutinho is likely to play in the front three
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The Premier League returns with a huge Saturday lunchtime match - Manchester United's trip to Liverpool. Michael Cox looks at the tactics and Alan Thompson finds some value...

"It’s worth considering set-pieces – this remains Liverpool’s major weakness, while United have the height of Lukaku, Rashford, Smalling, Bailly and Matic."

Liverpool v Manchester United
Saturday 12:30, Sky Sports Main Event.
Match Odds: Liverpool [2.8], Manchester United [2.8], The Draw [3.4].

Manchester United's last trip to Anfield produced one of the most boring Premier League matches of 2016/17, a staggeringly tedious goalless draw. This one can't possibly be quite so bad - although it might be another negative, cagey contest.

The game was so flat, in part, because Jose Mourinho ordered his side to play very direct, long-ball football designed to bypass Liverpool's press. The home side couldn't win possession close to the opposition goal in their usual manner, while United struggled to build play and enjoy decent spells of pressure inside the opposition half. There were very few clear-cut goalscoring chances. A similar thing, albeit to a lesser extent, may happen here.

Jurgen Klopp's major problem here is the absence of Sadio Mane, who has been suspended in domestic competition recently anyway, but now finds himself out for around six weeks with a hamstring injury. Often Liverpool's most dangerous attacker in big games, his absence is a huge blow.

Coutinho to play further forward

Klopp is therefore likely to use Philippe Coutinho in the front three alongside Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, although it's worth remembering that, at Old Trafford last year, he surprisingly used a diamond midfield to pressure United in central midfield, and used two wide forwards to attack their full-backs. A similar approach is unlikely, but not out of the question, here.

Liverpool's midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum will be instructed to push up the pitch and get physical against United's midfield, although Henderson - often poor this season - must also watch Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Juan Mata's drifts inside from the flank.

Liverpool still seem unconvincing at full-back, with Alberto Moreno in line to start on the left, and Joe Gomez on the right. They tend to push forward in big games, but must be wary of Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku's counter-attacking threat.

United likely to go direct

Mourinho's selection is also hampered by injuries. Paul Pogba remains a long-term absence, while Marouane Fellaini would almost certainly have started this game in central midfield, partly because of his height. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones are also considered doubtful, although Carrick struggled against Liverpool's press last season anyway.

These restrictions mean that Mourinho is likely to stick to the system we've seen in recent weeks, rather than playing a defensive-minded 'big game' formation. Ashley Young, often used as a defensive winger in these type of games last season, will probably remain at left-back considering neither of Liverpool's full-backs are particularly threatening.

Mata and Mkhitaryan will be tasked with slipping through-balls into the channels for Lukaku and Rashford, although don't bet against much longer balls into attack too.

In midfield, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera are likely to play physical roles, and will avoid spending too long in possession for fear of inviting Liverpool's press. Right-back Antonio Valencia may have opportunities to overlap at turnovers when Coutinho drifts narrow, and he will probably be United's regular out-ball. Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling will try to avoid being tempted out of position by Firmino's darts towards play, passing them onto United's midfielders.

Set-pieces may be crucial

It's also worth considering set-pieces - this remains Liverpool's major weakness, while United have the height of Lukaku, Rashford, Smalling, Bailly and Matic.

Liverpool have a fine record against the top clubs - but they failed to beat United last season, and I think they might struggle again here, particularly without Mane. United have been strong at the back and ruthless going forward. I'm going to back a 1-0 away win at [11.0].

The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson

It’s been a frustrating few weeks for Liverpool, who despite only losing once have managed to drop points through some careless performances at both ends of the pitch. While Jurgen Klopp is under a bit of pressure that will be relieved if they can beat their rivals Manchester United. There will be no lack of motivation on and off the pitch for the Reds in this huge fixture.

The Red Devils' superb start to the season continued before the international break with another convincing 4-0 demolition of a poor Crystal Palace side. They have won three of their last eight visits to Anfield and while a draw there wouldn’t be a bad result given their current form they will believe another win is on the cards.

The market can’t split them at approximately [2.8] and I think that is a little short for United. If, I were playing in the match odds market the [2.8] for Liverpool would be the play for me. However, I don’t think a draw is a bad result for either team here and I want that to at least be a scratch bet.

This fixture finished 0-0 last season and in the last six meetings here, the margin of victory has only been by a single goal, these are often tight encounters and I don’t want to lose if it’s a draw. I'm against Michael in this one, I will be backing Liverpool to inflict United’s first defeat of the season by backing them in the Draw No Bet market at anything above evens [2.0].

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