Manchester United could use rarely seen formation against Liverpool to gain upper hand – Liverpool Echo

Liverpool’s match with Manchester United on Sunday is far too early in the campaign to be deemed as any kind of title decider, but it’s clearly an incredibly important game as the season nears the midway point.

For Jurgen Klopp, the key decision looks to be who gets selected to play at centre-back alongside Fabinho. While Jordan Henderson might be the preferred choice from the options available, his drive and energy would be missed from the midfield.

It’s something of a cliché, but the phrase ‘the game will be won or lost in the centre of the park’ often gets bandied about ahead of matches of this magnitude. A tired old saying or not, it seems likely to apply at Anfield this weekend.

So much of what United have done well in an attacking sense has gone through Bruno Fernandes since he signed for the club last winter, and they will hope to get him on the ball as much as possible when they have it.

And as they will pack their own penalty box to limit the space that Liverpool can play in, which will also make it harder for the Reds to make the most of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson’s elite crossing ability, Klopp’s selection in midfield will also be hugely important.

Thiago Alcantara should make his home debut for the club, and his ability to thread incisive passes through the narrowest of gaps could make all the difference.

For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he will send his team out to protect the point they start the match with first, and then look to take all three if possible. The players he chooses in midfield and the formation in which they play could easily determine which giant from the north-west of England is top of the league on Sunday evening.

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As a general rule, the Norwegian sets his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. There have been exceptions this season though, and in big matches too (albeit such numerically based set-ups can often differ depending on who you ask anyway, and they definitely change when the team in question is attacking rather than defending).

For instance, Solskjaer deployed his team in a 4-4-2 framework with a diamond shaped midfield for the home matches with RB Leipzig and Arsenal. United certainly saw the pros and cons of the system in those two games, as they battered the German side 5-0 but lost 1-0 to the Gunners while creating little of note.

And while they won the only away match this season in which they’ve used that system, they had to come from two goals down at Southampton and won’t want to take the chance that similar could happen at Anfield.

One set up United have used in big away games is to employ three centre-backs, again with mixed results. It largely counteracted Paris Saint-Germain’s deadly front three in their 2-1 victory in the French capital, but it also saw them go two goals down inside the first quarter of an hour of their vital Champions League clash with RB Leipzig. As their eventual 3-2 defeat in that match consigned his side to the Europa League, it’s not surprising that Solskjaer has not opted to use a back three since.

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But we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that United will go with a 3-4-1-2 formation on Sunday, as they frequently lined up that way in massive matches in 2019/20. It was their tactical design for both matches with Liverpool, as well as two games with Manchester City and three with Chelsea in all competitions.

In each of the three examples after Fernandes joined, he played in the hole behind the front two, with the pairing of Fred and Nemanja Matic in the line further back. Yet Scott McTominay played there in the aforementioned European away games earlier this season, while the form of Paul Pogba – with two goals and an assist in his last six league starts – suggests he could easily be included.

As Matic suffered an injury last time out, one strong guess is that McTominay and Fred (who has started most of United’s big matches this season) will be the pair in the centre. But whichever set up Solskjaer ultimately decides to go with, the implications for the match and the season could be huge.