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Preview: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

Sports Mole previews Saturday evening's Premier League showdown between fierce rivals Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford.

The 193rd edition of English football's biggest fixture will take place this weekend as Manchester United host bitter rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Both sides saw their unbeaten starts to the new Premier League season come to an end before the international break, and Saturday evening's kickoff will give them a chance to bounce back in the best possible way.


Manchester United

Daley Blind (R) of Manchester United looks dejected with Wayne Rooney (L) and Memphis Depay after Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester United at Liberty Stadium on August 30, 2015 © Getty Images

If matters on the field have not been convincing so far this season for Manchester United, their dealings off it during the closing stages of the transfer window raised yet more questions.

Ed Woodward appeared to have heeded the criticism from years gone by with some early signings this summer, bringing in the likes of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian and Sergio Romero before August had even begun.

However, just two goals - one of which was an own goal and the other a deflected strike - in their opening three matches increased calls for a striker to be brought in to replace the departed duo of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao.

Those calls grew even louder when United were unable to overcome Swansea City before the international break, with Juan Mata's early second-half goal being cancelled out by strikes from Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis as Garry Monk's side recorded a third consecutive victory over the Red Devils.

All eyes were on United on the final two days of the transfer window as a result, and Louis van Gaal turned to 19-year-old Anthony Martial as the answer to his side's goalscoring troubles. The Frenchman's £36m move on deadline day made him the most expensive teenager in the history of football, and that fee could still significantly rise.

It is undoubtedly a risk for a player who has made just 52 senior league appearances in his career, while his modest tally of 11 goals in that time will suggest to some that he is not the man to fire United towards a title challenge. The depth issue in the final third was not really addressed either, with Van Gaal allowing Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj - two options in an already sparse attack - to leave the club.

One player who did remain at Old Trafford was David de Gea following the dramatic collapse of his move to Real Madrid due to the paperwork being filed late. The latest reports suggest that the Spanish goalkeeper could now be on the verge of signing a new contract with the club, performing a remarkable U-turn to end a bizarre and ungainly saga.

De Gea was outstanding in the corresponding fixture last season, however, and while the whole scenario did not paint United or Madrid in a particularly favourable light, ultimately the Red Devils have kept hold of one of the league's best goalkeepers and their player of the season for the past two years.

At the other end of the field, Wayne Rooney is the latest player to have dominated the back pages following his record-breaking 50th international goal for England on Tuesday, and the 29-year-old now has Sir Bobby Charlton's United record in his sights - he is currently just 16 short.

A boyhood Everton fan and United legend in the making, there is no team he would rather break his Premier League duck against than Liverpool. He has now gone 10 league matches without finding the back of the net, although a hat-trick in the Champions League makes him the club's top scorer in all competitions this season.

United have only managed one win from their last four league games at home, however, which is a record in desperate need of improvement if they are to bridge the five-point gap that already separates them from local rivals and league leaders Manchester City.

All does not seem to be well behind the scenes at the club, though, with reports emerging that senior players have confronted Van Gaal over his managerial style. The Dutchman's stark admission that his side are not in the title race this season - despite spending more than £250m since his arrival - will also raise a few eyebrows.

Victory over their fiercest rivals will make everything look a lot more positive, though, and with the club returning to action in the Champions League proper on Tuesday, it has the potential to be a memorable week for the Red Devils.

Recent form: WWDL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDWL


Liverpool

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers watches on as his side take on Arsenal on August 24, 2015© Getty Images

While United's actions off the field have taken much of the attention away from their loss to Swansea, Liverpool have been left to stew over a damaging defeat of their own during the international break.

Not since the days of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst had West Ham United beaten the Reds in a league match at Anfield, but goals from Manuel Lanzini, Mark Noble and Diafra Sakho saw the Hammers end a 52-year wait in memorable fashion.

It was a humbling, chastening and error-laden defeat for Brendan Rodgers's side following a steady, if unspectacular start to the new season. Narrow victories over Stoke City and Bournemouth got six early points on the board, while only a man-of-the-match display from Petr Cech - helped on a couple of occasions by the woodwork - prevented them from making it three wins from three against Arsenal at the Emirates.

Philippe Coutinho's sending-off compounded a miserable day against the Hammers as Liverpool drew a second blank in a row. No team has scored fewer than them in the opening four games of the campaign, despite the new attacking talent of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino adapting relatively quickly.

Indeed, Rodgers can be content with how the majority of his new additions have settled into the team, something which could not be said for last season. Even so, they need to start firing in the final third if they are to avoid a repeat of the previous campaign.

They too got the majority of their business done early in the transfer window, resulting in a quiet deadline day on Merseyside, although their attempts to get rid of the likes of Jose Enrique were unsuccessful.

Liverpool have won just one of their last seven Premier League away games, but are yet to concede on the road this season and have picked up four points from a possible six on tricky trips to the Britannia and the Emirates. With Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City to come in their next four away games after this weekend, they will be hoping to maintain that improved form.

European action will also return for the club in the coming week, with a trip to face Bordeaux first up in Europa League Group B - which they also share with Sion and Rubin Kazan.

Recent form: WWDL


Team News

Manchester United's Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea (centre right) sits in the stands ahead of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on August 22, 2015© Getty Images

The big question mark in terms of team news for this match surrounds De Gea. The keeper has not been included in the United matchday squad so far this season but, with the uncertainty over his future now put to bed, Van Gaal may decide to welcome him back into the fold.

His inclusion in the club's Champions League squad suggests that he is in the Dutchman's plans, which could spell trouble for incumbent number one Romero, who was criticised for his role in Swansea's winner last time out.

Elsewhere, Michael Carrick is a major doubt for the match having been forced to withdraw from international duty due to a calf injury this week, which means that Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin will continue in the middle of the park.

New boy Martial is expected to be involved, but may have to settle for a place on the bench as Van Gaal keeps faith with Rooney - who has five goals in 22 games against Liverpool - up front. Phil Jones could also return from the mild thrombosis which has kept him out so far this season, while Marcos Rojo is available again.

Liverpool have a number of notable absentees themselves, including the suspended Coutinho. Captain Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana will both undergo late fitness tests, although the chances of either starting are thought to be relatively slim.

Joe Allen is another pushing to be fit in time for the match, but Daniel Sturridge's comeback will have to wait for at least another week. Benteke, who has scored in his last two appearances against United, will lead the line despite an injury scare on international duty with Belgium.

Man Utd possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Herrera, Depay; Rooney

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Mignolet; Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez; Can, Lucas, Milner; Ibe, Benteke, Firmino


Head To Head

Manchester United came away with the bragging rights from this famous fixture last season, with the most recent meeting coming in March when a Mata brace saw the Red Devils run out 2-1 victors at Anfield - a match that saw Steven Gerrard memorably sent off within seconds of his half-time introduction.

Mata was on the scoresheet again in last season's corresponding fixture, with his goal sandwiched between strikes from Rooney and Van Persie as United ran out 3-0 victors - although the scoreline only tells half of the story, with De Gea keeping the visitors at bay on numerous occasions.

This is the 193rd meeting between the two sides overall and the 47th in the Premier League, making it the most-played fixture since the division was introduced in 1992. United have won five of the last seven, but Liverpool did emerge 3-0 victors at Old Trafford as recently as last year.


Video Preview

Hit play below to see what the Sports Mole Sofa had to say about this encounter:



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We say: Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool

Expect drama, fireworks and talking points galore. This fixture rarely fails to live up to the billing and, with both sides eager to bounce back from defeats last time out, they will be desperate for a victory over their fiercest rivals in order to kickstart their respective seasons. Ultimately, though, we feel that neither will come away with maximum points from what is sure to be a feisty encounter at Old Trafford.



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Liverpool players celebrate with Philippe Coutinho after the Brazilian's winning goal against Stoke City in the Premier League on August 9, 2015
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Todays Game Header Right
Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CManchester CityMan City38275683325186
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd382111673442974
3Liverpool38209968422669
4Chelsea381910958362267
5Leicester CityLeicester382061268501866
6West Ham UnitedWest Ham381981162471565
7Tottenham HotspurSpurs381881268452362
8Arsenal381871355391661
9Leeds UnitedLeeds38185156254859
10Everton38178134748-159
11Aston Villa38167155546955
12Newcastle UnitedNewcastle38129174662-1645
13Wolverhampton WanderersWolves38129173652-1645
14Crystal Palace38128184166-2544
15Southampton38127194768-2143
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton38914154046-641
17Burnley38109193355-2239
RFulham38513202753-2628
RWest Bromwich AlbionWest Brom38511223576-4126
RSheffield UnitedSheff Utd3872292063-4323

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