Liverpool vs Manchester United: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle lists three players who can have a positive impact when Liverpool and Manchester United lock horns on Sunday.

Gameweek 17 of the 2023/24 Premier League season will end on Sunday with a blockbuster clash. Liverpool and Manchester United will lock horns at Anfield, with the hosts looking to consolidate their place atop the table and the visitors looking to resurrect their stuttering campaign.

Liverpool came into 2023/24 after a disappointing campaign last term. But they have bounced back well in the first half of the season, climbing to the summit of the Premier League while topping their UEFA Europa League group. The Reds are also in the EFL Cup quarter-finals, where they will take on West Ham United next week.

On the other hand, Manchester United have endured a disastrous 2023/24 campaign thus far. The Red Devils have lost more games than they have won, putting Erik ten Hag under pressure. And they head into Sunday’s marquee fixture on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, which booted them out of Europe.

Form often goes out the window in matches between bitter rivals. So, Liverpool cannot take Manchester United lightly. But individual performances can tip the scales in their team’s favour. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three “key players” for Sunday’s bluechip fixture at Anfield.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Mohamed Salah will invariably come under the spotlight, considering his impeccable record against Manchester United. But while he will be a pivotal figure for Liverpool, we have picked the Reds’ second-most crucial player for the offensive phases. We are talking about Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The English international had an abysmal 2022/23 campaign, with teams regularly exposing his defensive deficiencies. In addition, he failed to make his mark in the final third as much as he had until last season. But he has bounced back well thus far this term, playing an instrumental role in Liverpool’s rise to the top of the table.

Alexander-Arnold’s top-class displays have also attracted many high-profile clubs, including Real Madrid. But the 25-year-old remains focused on the job at hand and is not thinking about leaving Liverpool anytime soon. As for Sunday’s game, his set-piece prowess will be crucial for Liverpool, considering how badly Manchester United defend them.

In addition, Alexander-Arnold’s pinpoint deliveries will bring the Liverpool attackers into the picture, especially Darwin Nunez. But the Real Madrid target can also be a “key player” for Manchester United, considering his defensive vulnerabilities. Either way, how Alexander-Arnold fares can go a long way in determining the game’s outcome.

Raphael Varane

As is usually the case in these fixtures, the underdog team gets two players on these lists. So, the next two candidates come from Manchester United. But with their attack faltering and the defence shipping goals aplenty, keeping a clean sheet will classify as a victory in itself. Our next pick, thus, is Raphael Varane.

The former French international has endured a disastrous campaign thus far, albeit not due to his performances on the pitch. The former Real Madrid defender has become a bit-part player for Manchester United, with reports suggesting he has had a bust-up with Erik ten Hag.

But the veteran defender will take the field for Manchester United against Liverpool due to the worsening injury crisis for the away side. So, Varane can show what the Red Devils have been sorely missing at the heart of their backline for much of the 2023/24 season.

No other Manchester United defender reads the game better than the 30-year-old. He bolstered the Red Devils’ defensive showing against Bayern Munich, even though it was not enough for his team to get the three points. Nonetheless, Varane’s inclusion can be a bane for the visitors in their quest to take something from the match.

Andre Onana

Staying with the defensive theme for Manchester United, we have picked Andre Onana. While Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho, and Rasmus Hojlund will be desperate to prove their credentials, Onana’s exploits at the back will make a bigger difference.

The Cameroonian international has been the butt of jokes since joining Manchester United from Inter Milan. Onana’s performances for the Nerazzurri were crucial in guiding the team to the UEFA Champions League final. But he has rarely showcased those displays thus far this term.

The 27-year-old has been susceptible to producing howlers between the sticks, and he was arguably the biggest reason for Manchester United’s shock early ouster from the UEFA Champions League. However, Onana has produced better performances in the Premier League.

Only two goalkeepers have kept more clean sheets in the Premier League than Onana thus far this season. If he can rediscover his best form, Manchester United might frustrate Liverpool for long periods and get something out of the game. If not, the hosts will run riot.

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