Man Utd forwards Rashford and Fernandes can exploit Liverpool’s problems at centre-half without crocked Van Dijk
MANCHESTER UNITED will travel to Anfield knowing they can exploit areas in this Liverpool side that are normally watertight.
And that will be music to the ears of United’s attacking threats, in particular Bruno Fernandes.
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It begins with Liverpool’s centre-half problems. The absence of Virgil van Dijk is huge not just defensively but for his pace to recover ground consistently and effectively.
In previous games Jurgen Klopp has opted for experience with players who are unfamiliar to the role, such as Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
This is hardly ideal and, as a defender, if you know you are up against players with great pace like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, you will drop deeper.
But Klopp’s teams are front-foot orientated, so the midfield will continue to press high up the pitch, as well as the two full-backs, leaving the centre-backs exposed.
At times in their 1-0 loss away to Southampton, they had just two men behind the ball who were uncomfortable having to cover so much ground around them.
This is not to say Liverpool have been ‘bad’ defensively this year. Only five teams have conceded less in the division so far.
And in the 12 Prem games since the 2-2 draw with Everton in October, they have not conceded more than one goal in a game. But on the other hand, they have only had four clean sheets in the process.
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And in the last six games where they have conceded just one, they have drawn four, lost one and won just one.
So, take away Liverpool’s ability to keep a clean sheet, and they are struggling. That’s very unlike the Reds.
As is the space left around their defenders. If the midfield push high to win the ball back and leave the centre-backs sat deep, that will leave a huge space for Fernandes to drift into.
Alternatively, if the front three press high and the midfield drop off to protect their defenders, a space for Paul Pogba — who played that role against Burnley — will open up.
So for United, it is all about the transition and where they focus their attacks when they get the ball back.
To Fernandes, to Pogba — or whoever plays that deeper role — or out wide to the likes of Rashford or Martial with Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold going forward.
With the right defence, Liverpool can play their pressing game and have that space covered by an intelligent and speedy centre-back. But right now, he is missing.
Their saving grace has been their home form — one thing United should not take for granted.
Liverpool have five more points than anyone else at home this campaign, scoring the most goals. Played eight, won seven and drawn one.
A lot of teams have gone to Anfield and tried to play exactly how United will likely play and failed.
United may be joint-top of the away-form table, and the onus may be on Liverpool, but the Red Devils cannot afford to take their opponents lightly and drop too deep, encouraging Klopp’s men to attack.
Ultimately, this game will be about which team is best set up for when they lose the ball
Which means for Klopp he has some big decisions to make on his understrength backline.
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