Key battles which will decide Man United vs. Liverpool

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Bitter rivals Manchester United and Liverpool clash in the second leg of their Europa League Round of 16 clash at Old Trafford on Thursday.

Liverpool dominated the first leg at Anfield last Thursday and should be taking a larger lead than 2-0 into the return game, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side still have one foot in the last eight.

If Louis Van Gaal‘s side grab an early goal though, the complexion of this tie will change drastically.

Here’s a look at three key battles which will determine who makes it through to the Europa League quarterfinals.

SCHNEIDERLIN vs. LIVERPOOL’s FLUID THREE

If Morgan Schneiderlin gets the nod to play as a holding midfielder, he’ll have a huge job on his hands. In the first leg Liverpool’s fluid front three of Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho dictated the tempo and did the damage.

Lallana was especially impressive but Schneiderlin knows him well after they spent five years together at Southampton. The French international must put aside his inconsistent form and lock down the supply line to Liverpool’s three attacking midfielders. That will give United a solid base to build from.  

UPDATE: Michael Carrick is starting in the holding midfield role in place of Schneiderlin, but the same as above applies.

MARTIAL vs. LOVREN

With injuries up front, Anthony Martial has been used in a central role instead of out wide. He’s provided plenty of problems for opposition defenses since that switch and if Mamdou Sakho and Dejan Lovren start at center back again, Martial will likely peel off to Lovren.

While playing youngster Marcus Rashford up top and Martial out wide might make more sense, LVG will likely start Martial up top. It’s remarkable to think this is still his first season in the Premier League and he’s consistently been United’s most dangerous attacking outlet with 11 goals so far. If Martial is in the mood, Liverpool will find it hard to stop him. If he scores early, the 2-0 win they need to push it into extra time is possible.

STURRIDGE vs. SMALLING

At the other end of the pitch an intriguing battle is likely to play out between two England internationals. Daniel Sturridge has a very good record against Manchester United, scoring four times against them for Liverpool. After a good start to this season, United’s Chris Smalling has faded but he must use he’s decent turn of pace to make sure Sturridge can not sneak in behind him.

The shield Schneiderlin should provide will help Smalling, but he will have to be prepared to step high and not only mark tightly but also start attacks when he has the ball.