Manchester United v Liverpool: Liverpool's five most dangerous facets

We analyse the threats to Manchester United's prospects of beating Liverpool to maintain their top-four challenge in the Premier League

Manchester United will host Liverpool at Old Trafford in the north-west derby this Sunday.

United will need a win against the Reds in order to salvage any hope of a Champions League spot. Arsenal have a tricky fixture list this month, which could see United moving a point adrift of the Gunners in April – if they manage to win their encounters and Arsenal lose most of theirs.

It could be argued that this engagement is more important for Manchester United than it is for Liverpool. Irrespective of this result, the Reds look secure in the top four and many doubt their prospects of winning the title. Therefore, we look at the Reds' most dangerous facets that United will need to prepare for to stand a chance of victory.

1. Counter-attacks

Liverpool have perpetually hit opponents on the break this season, with the Reds scoring the most goals (6) from counter-attacks in the Premier League Brendan Rodgers' tactics have been increasingly focused on drawing opponents into the Reds' half prior to breaking into dangerous spaces, notably behind opposition full-backs.

Moyes' Manchester United tactics have been heavily reliant on full-backs this season. Patrice Evra is their second highest chance creator (34) behind Wayne Rooney (48). United's system enables creative outlets Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj to drift inside, leaving space for the full-backs to push forward and provide width.

In Arsenal's 5-1 loss at Anfield, Santi Cazorla's inside runs left full-back Nacho Monreal vulnerable. This gave Liverpool more space to break into and consequently scored two goals. If United are to succeed against the Reds, they will need to find the balance between attacking efficiently and reducing room for Liverpool to break into, otherwise the Reds could exploit the space United create when their full-backs advance forward or their wingers narrow inward.

2. Set-pieces

Manchester United will have to be wary of Liverpool's set-piece delivery, as the Reds have scored more set pieces (17) than any other side in the league. United were known as the specialists last season, scoring 22 goals from set-pieces in 2012/13. It seems as though that tide has now turned, as Moyes' men have scored fewer set pieces (11)

In Liverpool's convincing victories over Everton and Arsenal, the Reds were able to score early set-pieces. This gave Rodgers' side the opportunity to sit back and react to incoming attacks. It will be of utmost importance that United are wary of initial set-pieces, as they cannot afford to allow Liverpool to repeat this same tactic.

 

3. Through-balls

On average, Liverpool have made six through-balls per game this season. This is the highest tally in the league and a feat that Manchester United will have to be wary of. In essence, this characteristic is reminiscent of what the United fans have been dying to see from their own creative talent. Mata, Januzaj, Kagawa, and Rooney, would ideally deliver cutting edge passes, but tactically it hasn't quite worked for them yet.

Philippe Coutinho has been pivotal in Liverpool's through-ball threat, providing 16 threaded chances through the middle this season. Jordan Henderson has also been a strong provider from the centre, as 22 of the 50 chances he created have been through in the hole.

In Arsenal's victory over the Reds in the FA Cup, Arsenal's defenders – particularly Mertesacker – were deployed in deeper positions in order to cope with Liverpool's threaded passes. This tactic worked as Coutinho, for example, was unable to make any through-ball contributions. United attempted this approach in their Anfield encounter but lost out to a set-piece.

4. Midfield battle

It is no secret that Manchester United have struggled against teams with a numerical advantage in midfield. Newcastle proved that in an embarrassing 1-0 defeat for Moyes' men at Old Trafford in the nascent stages of the campaign.

United have already lost at Anfield this season, a game in which they played a deep defensive style. This tactic was useful in countering Liverpool's creative threat, but their attacking play suffered as a result. Moyes' side focused their efforts down the flanks and made 32 crosses with a substandard success rate of 19%. If United are to drop deeper, their attacking options will need to be more efficient when creating and taking chances.

The recent performance of Marouane Fellaini will be encouraging for Moyes. The Belgian international was a key figure in United's contest with West Brom, making the most touches (98) and passes (71) of anyone in the match. He also had the second highest number of tackles (4) and defensive clearances (8).

It will be intriguing to see if he can replicate that feat in this game, as Tom Cleverley could not cope with Liverpool's midfield trio in United's last encounter with the Reds, providing little to help Michael Carrick.

5. Jordan Henderson

Jordan Henderson's £16 million fee has finally paid dividends for Liverpool. Aside from the threats of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Henderson has been a consistent thorn for the opposition in important games for the Reds. The 23-year-old has scored three, assisted six and created 50 chances this season.

If United are to succeed in their midfield battle, they will need to find a way of combatting the England international. The midfielder is known for his tireless work rate, and in his last game against Southampton, the midfielder made the highest number of tackles (7) of any player in the match.

Should United fail to deal with Henderson, the Reds could overrun the midfield and dominate the game. In their Anfield encounter, Liverpool managed to make nine tackles in the opposition half, whereas United were unable to make one, due to Rodgers' side having a strong capacity to press high up the field.

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