Recent instalments of the storied rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United have been littered with great individual battles.
Paul Ince v Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard v Paul Scholes, Fernando Torres v Nemanja Vidic. We think we know who won that last one!
The personnel might not be so esteemed, but tonight’s Europa League last-16 clash at Anfield could be decided by similar head-to-heads.
Here, CaughtOffside has identified three key battles which could go a long way to determining the first European meeting between the sides.
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Nathaniel Clyne v Anthony Martial
With captain Wayne Rooney, who scored the winner in this Premier League fixture in January, still sidelined, Martial is United’s most potential attacking weapon, with his pace and direct running.
Although he may dovetail with Marcus Rashford, alternating between central striker and left winger, the Frenchman is likely to at least start the match on the flank, and that means he is Clyne’s responsibility.
The England international is a rock-solid defender and was given a breather for the 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, perhaps in preparation for this test. Clyne and Martial appears to be a well-matched contest.
Roberto Firmino v Chris Smalling
Firmino has been one of the Premier League’s in-form players since the turn of the year. He has seven goals in his last eight top-flight games, although he is without a Europa League goal so far this term.
The Brazilian has spent much of 2016 leading Liverpool’s line. If Daniel Sturridge is recalled, his position might change, but he is sure to still spend plenty of time trying to break beyond United’s defence.
Smalling’s job is to stop that from happening. The 26-year-old has developed into a defensive leader for the Red Devils, and should look to use his physical advantage to bully Firmino into submission.
Simon Mignolet v David de Gea
Big games are often won in the centre of the park. This one probably won’t be, because neither Liverpool or United possess the intimidating midfield quality that they have in previous editions of this fixture.
Instead, the two goalkeepers could be decisive figures. David de Gea is United’s best player and has rescued them on countless occasions over the past couple of seasons – Liverpool know that too well.
Simon Mignolet has De Gea-esque displays in his locker, but he also has a fair few Massimo Taibi-like errors in him! The Reds cannot rely on the Belgian as United can on Mignolet, and that will be a worry.
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