Jose Mourinho may have labelled Saturday’s crunch clash with Liverpool at Anfield as “just a match”, but to fans of the two teams the northern derby is, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, more important than “life or death”.
The first meeting between the rivals this season will see an in-form United travel to Merseyside looking to add to the misery of Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool fans, who have seen their team win just one of their last four Premier League games.
But who will shine and who will bury their head in the sand? FOX Sports Asia takes a look at some of the key battles that could decide the winner.
Mohamed Salah vs Ashley Young
One thing that has been consistent for Liverpool this season is Mo Salah. The Egyptian winger has been in outstanding form for the Reds so far, grabbing six goals in 11 games and giving opposition defenders nightmares with his electric pace.
Ashley Young has done well at left-back for United, having been thrown into the mix by a desperate Jose Mourinho, but everyone knows that his attacking skills are far superior to his defensive abilities.
Young will struggle to keep up with Salah, whose presence will also limit the United full-back’s chances to get forward. Buoyed by Egypt’s World Cup qualification Salah could prove a real handful for Young, and if he doesn’t handle the flying winger well, Liverpool could enjoy some real success down the right flank.
Joel Matip vs Romelu Lukaku
Liverpool’s defensive frailties under Klopp are well documented, and Matip initially looked like he could be the answer to them only for the hesitancy of his teammates to start affecting him. Still, the 26-year old is Liverpool’s best central defender and the task of stopping United’s goal-machine will likely fall on the Cameroonian’s shoulders.
Lukaku has enjoyed a superb start to his career at Old Trafford, better than anyone expected, and looks a threat each time the Red Devils go forward. Matip will have to be at his best to keep the powerful Belgian in check. If he doesn’t then it could be yet another miserable afternoon for Klopp and company.
Nemanja Matic vs Philippe Coutinho
Coutinho is the man who makes Liverpool’s front line tick and has shown signs in recent games that he is approaching his best form after his start to the season was hampered by injury and rumours of a move to Barcelona.
Matic, meanwhile, has settled in quickly at Old Trafford and his ability to snuff out opposition attacks has added a steel to United that has helped transform Jose Mourinho’s side into genuine title contenders.
Matic’s presence in front of the United defence, the space where Coutinho likes to weave his magic, presents a big problem for the mercurial Brazilian. If Matic is able to stifle Coutinho then Liverpool’s attack will be much less threatening and this could hand the advantage to United in what will probably be the most crucial battle of all.