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Dhvanil Gagvani takes a look at some of the key battles which could decide the outcome of the Sunday derby at Old Trafford..

Brendan Rodgers' side had left the ground disillusioned when these two clubs last met at Anfield in September. In spite of dominating the opposition with ten men, they were beaten by a late Robin Van Persie penalty.

Come Sunday, Liverpool visit Old Trafford to take on league leaders Manchester United in another eagerly awaited clash between the old rivals. Liverpool haven’t won more than two matches on a trot this season but having scored eight goals and conceded just one in their last three games, they will look to change this.

Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs described the Reds as their biggest rivals earlier this week and placed them in front of local rivals Manchester City. Ferguson and Co. would come into this fixture fairly confident, with 21 points separating the two clubs and having a seven game winning strike at home.

As the two clubs square off against each other at Old Trafford, Goal.com looks at some of the crucial duels that would decide this tie.

Robin Van Persie
vs Daniel Agger

The Flying Dutchman scored an absolute peach of a goal against West Ham in the FA Cup in the mid-week. He’s been in top form since his move from Arsenal and with 16 goals from 21 games, as Ferguson’s investment is reaping rewards. The quality and frequency of service Van Persie has received from the United midfield has shown in the amount of chances created and taken by the forward; an impressive 17.1% conversion rate says it all, the second highest in the league after Michu.

However, with back-to-back clean sheets in the previous two league games against Sunderland and QPR, Daniel Agger will be up for the challenge. Manchester United might be in a different league altogether compared to Liverpool’s last two opponents, but the Danish international should be a tough nut to crack. He has the pace and strength to match Van Persie and his excellent ability to read the game will come in very handy.

The United Centre-Backs
vs Suarez and Sturridge

 
 
 
 

Luis Suarez has been exceptional this season and is playing possibly the best football of his career. With Daniel Sturridge coming into the side, Suarez now has a strike partner. The Uruguayan will now be given a free role, a position that he cherishes given his style of play, with Sturridge playing as the central striker. Suarez covers a lot of ground in the attacking third of the pitch, pulling players out of positions. This would enable Sturridge to move into open space and remain unmarked in vital positions. We might see Suarez and Sturridge regularly interchanging positions. The Suarez-Sturridge linkup would be one of the few things to watch out for in this derby.

The United centre-backs have looked fairly unstable this season and they do not like players running at them. Liverpool would be looking to pounce on this weakness with Suarez and Sturridge’s inclination to run at defenders and the unconventional movement of the former would add to United’s problems. However, like Liverpool, United come into this fixture with two clean sheets against Wigan and West Brom behind them and would be hoping that Suarez and Sturridge lack that telepathic communication.

Michael Carrick
vs Steven Gerrard

Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard will not feature in a direct positional confrontation but they will be the two main forces in the midfield for their respective teams. Both, United and Liverpool, love to play possession football and will be heavily relying on the England midfielders for control, like they have for much of the season.

Sitting back deep in midfield and more or less dictating the tempo of play, Carrick has been one of the silent heroes for United this year. He makes an impressive 82 passes per game to keep United on the move with only Yaya Toure and Mikel Arteta bettering this record this season. He has also provided four assists so far and has been one of United’s consistent players this season.

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard has finally adapted to Rodgers’ style of play. In his last six Premier League outings he has managed a remarkable tally of three goals and six assists, making him the league’s leader in terms of the latter (with eight so far). He also holds the record of playing the most accurate long balls (161) than any other midfielder this season. His mere presence in the team is an inspiration for youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom to strive to do better.

The result of the game could be decided on who has better control of the midfield with both teams looking to keep the ball and play.

Antonio Valencia
vs Glen Johnson

Much of United's play this season has originated from the wide areas. Valencia with his pace will prove to be a handful for Glen Johnson. Ferguson has deployed Valencia as a touchline-hugging winger which allows the side to really stretch their game. The Ecuadorian manages to put in nearly three successful crosses per match and with the likes of Van Perise and Javier Hernandez in the box, it is pretty likely that one of these crosses might end up in the back of the net.

With Jose Enrique injured, Rodgers will shift Johnson to a left-back role with Andre Wisdom playing as their other full-back. It’s worth noting that both of United’s goals came from the right-wing at Anfield earlier in the season but Johnson would be looking for redemption this time around. The Liverpool full-back would love to get forward and will have to do so carefully keeping in mind United’s strength from the wings during counter-attacks.

With such neck-to-neck battles on the field, this game looks to be a cracker.

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