Global Sports : Anfield Key Battles

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The race for Champions League qualification heats up at Anfield on Sunday when Liverpool host Manchester United hoping to continue their good form and leapfrog the visitors to move into the top four.
With an intriguing contest in store, we talked to Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville and tactics expert Jonathan Wilson to find out more about where Sunday’s game could be won and lost.
Will Raheem Sterling have too much pace for United or can Marouane Fellaini bully the Liverpool defence. Here we pick out six potentially decisive battles to look out for…
Could Carrick hold the key?
Gary Neville: The most fascinating thing for me will be the first 15 or 20 minutes when Louis van Gaal asks the centre-backs to split and for Michael Carrick to go and get the ball. They like to play with a controlled tempo out from the back with the defence splitting. I’m not quite convinced by that as a strategy for winning at Anfield because it’s never worked for United.
We couldn’t do it when we were at the top of the league so to think that we’re going to do it on Sunday, that would be a bit of a mistake if that happens. Liverpool will be pressing high and the crowd will be up. Can United get out, will they get dispossessed? I always felt the first 20 minutes was defining at Anfield. You have to get through it.
Jonathan Wilson: I think Carrick is vital to how United play when they play well. In games when he’s played an hour or more, United have won 2.3 points per game and when he hasn’t they’ve won 1.6 points per game. I think the reason for that is that Van Gaal likes his deep-lying playmakers, whether that’s a centre-back who steps out as Frank Rijkaard used to do for Ajax, or someone who sits at the back of midfield and distributes the ball. Carrick is the only one in that squad who has got the reading of the game and the range of passing.
Fellaini v Can mismatch?
Gary Neville: Marouane Fellaini moving into that channel around Emre Can. I look at that as a key battle. How does he deal with such a massive physical presence who is brilliant at bringing the ball down out of the air.
Jonathan Wilson: Fellaini is going to play to the left and Carrick deep, so it’s sort of like a lop-sided triangle. With Fellaini being on the left side and high up in that triangle, he’s often playing just off Rooney. It makes him that weird thing – a deep-lying target man. So he poses a great aerial threat. He’s been involved in 8.7 aerial duels per game this season and winning around 60 per cent of them.
Can has been involved in just 2.7 so if you look at him, although he’s a lovely player and has worked very well in the system, if you compare him to Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel or Dejan Lovren then he’s clearly the weakest header of the ball. He’s also going to play on the right so he’s naturally going to come up against Fellaini who plays on the left. So that battle – Fellaini v Can – you could see Fellaini getting the better of that battle in the air.
Balance of power in midfield
Gary Neville: Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen will be interesting in midfield. How will they play against Ander Herrera, Carrick and Fellaini if they play? How will United cut off those little pockets for the passes into Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. There are so many things happening during this match for Liverpool and United to contend with.
Jonathan Wilson: That’s the reason why the formation has worked so well. Opponents have found it very hard to play against because they don’t play central and they don’t play wide. They don’t play as forwards and they don’t play as midfielders. They play in an in between position. Almost as old-fashioned inside forwards. The centre-backs can’t really go that far forward out of the back four because you risk leaving space for the centre-forward.
The holding midfielder can go with one of them but not the other. Even if you’ve got two of them, they can then get dragged apart, creating the space in between them. So having two players in those areas, they play in the holes left by the formations we are used to seeing and that creates problems for teams. Carrick already plays as a half centre-back but that’s why I think you’ll see Herrera playing much deeper.
Battle on the flanks
Gary Neville: There is a decision to make on the other side with Angel di Maria because you can see Alberto Moreno maybe running off Juan Mata at Anfield.
Jonathan Wilson: It’s always an issue when you’ve got wing-backs. The wing-back is one man against two essentially. So that can work in your favour as the one can drive the two back. It may be that Moreno can force Mata to defend when it’s not really Mata’s natural game. You end up forcing the winger onto the full-back and taking out two men which opens up space in the middle.
Alternatively, if the wing-back gets forward, maybe Mata gets space in behind him. Perhaps you gamble and tell Mata to stay there – stay in that space and see how they try to deal with it because if Sakho or Lovren gets dragged into that space on the left then that has got a knock on effect as it makes it harder for Skrtel to back-up Can against Fellaini.
Where will Sterling play?
Gary Neville: If Daley Blind plays as a left-back, will Raheem Sterling play out there on the right? We can talk about Sterling’s speed against Blind’s intelligent positioning but the fact of the matter is that when it comes to a one-on-one battle you can see that being a bit of a mismatch.
Jonathan Wilson: But will Sterling play at right wing-back? I think there’s a possibility that he might play at centre-forward because I don’t think Sturridge is quite back to his best. The one question mark against Blind is his pace. If it is Sterling on that side then yeah that could be an issue. It wouldn’t surprise me totally if Sterling played as a forward, Jordan Henderson moved to right side and Gerrard came back into the middle.
Because of the nature of the game, do you really want Sterling having to defend against Angel di Maria or Ashley Young? That’s quite a big ask, especially if there’s pressure on Can from Fellaini then you might want to bolster that right side of the defence.
Can De Gea be beaten this time?
Gary Neville: If you think of the goalkeepers last time, Brad Jones struggled at Old Trafford and David de Gea was incredible to keep a clean sheet.
Jonathan Wilson: Goalkeepers were obviously a big factor at Old Trafford because even though United won 3-0 it was 19 chances to 11 in Liverpool’s favour. Jones didn’t have his best day and De Gea had a great game. I guess that’s the one reason he might not play Sterling at centre-forward. He’s only scored six goals from 66 shots at a rate of one in 11. The average across the Premier League is one in nine and Diego Costa is one in four. So when De Gea has got one over on him before does that affect the confidence of the forward?

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