Liverpool v Man United: The big battles
Expect a no-holds-barred encounter when Liverpool host arch-rivals Manchester United. GARY LIM singles out three individual battles which can decide the match.
HENDERSON V POGBA
Five years after his £20-million ($33.89m) move from Sunderland, there is a feeling this could be the season Jordan Henderson finally silences all his critics.
Manager Juergen Klopp has reinvented the box-to-box midfielder by playing him in the No. 6 role, and Henderson, recently named England captain in the game against Slovenia, is thriving.
In hindsight, it seemed like the most natural position for a player who has never been one to thread the killer-pass or bang in 20 goals per term.
The 26-year-old skipper's industry and tactical discipline qualify him as the best candidate to be Klopp's deep-lying midfielder to protect his defence while the midfielders and forwards harass players in the opponents' half.
His statistics are remarkable.
He has more touches on the ball (102 per game) and passes (84) than anyone else in the Premier League, and covers more ground per match (11.8km), behind only Burnley's George Boyd's 12.7km.
At Anfield, he will be juxtaposed with Manchester United's world-record signing Paul Pogba.
Under his manager Jose Mourinho, the 23-year-old Frenchman operates as one of two deep-lying midfielders.
United paid £89m for a player regarded as one of the most complete midfielders around, but he has yet to justify his transfer fee.
From 21 shots, he has scored just one league goal - the same as Henderson who attempted seven shots altogether - even though he is afforded more attacking licence.
But his wonder-strike against Holland last week could be just the confidence-booster he needs.
His 1.91m frame makes him a danger during set-pieces, and Liverpool must also watch out for his long-range strikes.
But, against a fluid Liverpool attack, he may have to curb his attacking instincts and pull his weight in his own half.
STURRIDGE V RASHFORD
Daniel Sturridge (above) may be widely considered as England's most natural finisher around but he is struggling to nail down a regular starting role.
He has made just three starts out of Liverpool's seven Premiership matches, and his only goal came in the League Cup romp at Burton Albion in August, when he came on as a second-half substitute.
Whether he will start against United is unclear, although his chances have improved significantly after Philippe Coutinho started back-to-back games for Brazil during their recent World Cup qualifiers in South America.
Klopp clearly favours forwards who run themselves to the ground, but Sturridge doesn't fit into that category.
But the 27-year-old England striker's ability to produce the unexpected in the penalty box will work in his favour when Klopp decides on his starting line-up.
His sensational opening goal against Sevilla in last season's Europa League final comes to mind.
If he starts, he will likely find his young compatriot, Marcus Rashford, lining up against him.
The teenage prodigy is the best thing to happen to United since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager three years ago.
Still only 18, Rashford is already an England international, and appears to have nailed a regular starting spot as a wide forward under Mourinho at United.
With three Premier League goals (from just 10 goal attempts) from three starts and two substitute appearances, he has been one of the more consistent performers in a side that blow hot and cold.
He is the opportunistic plunderer, with a knack of being at the right place at the right time.
His willingness to run at his markers will also stretch Liverpool's backline.
That he has outshone the glut of big names at United this season shows that he is in the right mood to eclipse Sturridge at Anfield.
MATIP V BAILLY
Joel Matip (left) and Eric Bailly. PHOTOS: REUTERS
The muted response by the Anfield faithful to the signing of Joel Matip from Schalke, on a free transfer, now looks myopic.
The 25-year-old Cameroon international is proving to be an instant hit, providing much-needed steel and reliability to a notoriously shaky Liverpool defence.
It is why Juergen Klopp, after securing his signature, said: "If you asked in Germany what other clubs would have paid for him had he been under contract, you can just pick a number."
His ball-playing ability is a huge bonus, but it is his reassuring presence to those around him that catches the eye.
The centre back's 1.95m frame is also a great defensive asset to a Liverpool side so frail when defending set-pieces last season.
The aerial ability may prove especially crucial against a United team boasting lanky players such as Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
And it can be a secret weapon, too, at the other end.
But Eric Bailly is making sure that Matip isn't stealing all the thunder.
Like Matip, Bailly is regarded as one of the best new defensive signings.
While Matip cost nothing, the 22-year-old centre back carries with him a £30m price tag.
Not that United fans are complaining.
The Ivory Coast international was part of the Villarreal back line that let in only 35 goals in 38 La Liga matches last season, when he also showed his versatility by playing in all the positions across the backline.
His power, athleticism and speed are attributes that helped him settle in quick in the Premier League.
So solid has he looked that even teammate and fellow-centre back Chris Smalling, whose starting spot is no longer certain after Bailly's arrival, has hailed him as the new Nemanja Vidic.
Against Liverpool, the Premier League's joint-top scorers with 18 goals and a team deemed by many as the most entertaining, Bailly has to be on his toes.
If there's any one in his defence Jose Mourinho is counting on to hold his own against the Reds, it is Bailly.
WHAT THE PUNDITS SAY
"What’s happened to (Wayne) Rooney in the past couple of months will have left him feeling embarrassed and hurt but he can also reshape himself. I agree with Jose Mourinho, who sees him as a No. 9 or No. 10, and in the No. 10 role Wayne can become the guy who feeds the other attackers. Many people are too quick to dismiss him."
- Rio Ferdinand
"I doubt whether Jose Mourinho would want to lose a player of Rooney’s experience right now. Wayne is not in a situation where he needs to be discarded by club or country. My belief is that eventually he will be playing well enough to get himself back in this United team and stay in."
- Glenn Hoddle
"To me Liverpool know better what to do on the pitch. Jose Mourinho is still working with Man United players to create a reliable system and to find the right players for the right positions in the squad."
- Danny Higginbotham
"If United can skip Liverpool’s pressure, play a long pass — not a long ball — into Zlatan (Ibrahimovic), if he plays, and then play from there, maybe that can be a tactic. It can be a way to play against them and it worked very well for Burnley."
- Thierry Henry
"There’s no Champions League, no Europa League for Liverpool and they’ve got fresh legs. Playing the way they play, I think it would be a problem for them if they were in Europe and having to repeat it every three or four days. But the fact it’s nearly one game per week is a massive advantage."
- Gary Neville
"It doesn’t matter how bad United are, or how bad they have been, this is the biggest game of the season. They will be going to Anfield expecting to win the game, no matter what the formbook says, but Liverpool have a settled team firing on all cylinders, and they’ve proved already this season they can beat the top teams."
- Paul Ince
"It is a big game, with a lot of new players. But it feels like in the Premier League every game is a big game now. This is extra special, under the lights at Anfield, and there’s been some great games there. It will be a great atmosphere, and I think Liverpool will go in confident with the way they’re playing."
- Jamie Carragher