Three key battles that could decide Liverpool vs. Manchester United

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
1 Comment

While we’ve become accustomed to powerhouses Liverpool and Manchester United dominating the Premier League, the current season has been a bit of an oddity for both clubs.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Neither side’s woes will matter though on Thursday, when the two giants meet at Anfield in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 fixture.

 [ MORE: Van Gaal says United must win vs. Liverpool ]

Let’s take a closer look at three individual matchups that could decide Liverpool-United.

Roberto Firmino vs. Chris Smalling

With the expected return of Daniel Sturridge in the cards for the Reds, Firmino will likely be presented the opportunity to free himself up and scatter around the attacking third. Not only has the Brazilian established himself as a goalscoring threat this season, tallying eight goals, but the midfielder has also been a nightmare of a matchup for opposing defenses because of his creating abilities.

Smalling will require the support of Daley Blind in the heart of of the defense, as well as goalkeeper David De Gea, who may be the most critical piece for the Red Devils. The Spaniard has maintained 10 clean sheets in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata vs. Jordan Henderson

With the absence of Wayne Rooney leaving a size-able hole in the United attack, Mata will figure to be one of the go-to guys up front. The midfielder’s versatility and technical abilities on the ball make him a danger basically in any position when thrust into the attack. He’ll need to link up with newfound star Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, who have both shown positive signs in front of goal this season.

Marcus Rashford vs. Liverpool’s back line

At a time when United’s season was seemingly dead and buried, Rashford has revitalized Louis Van Gaal‘s attack. His two goals against Midtjylland in the previous round of the competition proved that even an 18-year old is capable of restoring United’s dreams. The youngster’s movement has been fantastic in his short career, making it all the more important for Liverpool to keep a close eye on him. The Reds haven’t conceded more than one goal in their last five matches, which will certainly give Jurgen Klopp‘s defense a moral boost heading into the tie.

Follow @MattReedFutbol