The Premier League season may still be in its infancy, but Saturday’s clash between Manchester United and Liverpool is already being billed as a potentially crucial encounter for the fierce rivals.
There is no love lost between two sides that always manage to produce great drama when they face each other and the teams go in search of morale-boosting bragging rights after disappointments before the international break.
United are looking to bounce back from a 2-1 reverse at Swansea City that followed laboured 1-0 wins over Tottenham and Aston Villa, as well as a 0-0 draw against Newcastle United.
With plenty of investment made during the transfer window, manager Louis van Gaal is expected to challenge for trophies this term and the Dutchman – whose side did the double over Liverpool last season – will be keen for improvements at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal will also need to contend with media reports that some of United’s senior players are unhappy with his methods, which are sure to face further scrutiny should Liverpool return to Merseyside with all three points.
However, there is cause for optimism ahead of the mouth-watering clash.
David de Gea, United’s Player of the Year in each of the past two seasons, could make his first appearance of 2015-16 following the well-publicised collapse of the goalkeeper’s transfer to Real Madrid on deadline day.
Captain Wayne Rooney has not scored in his past 10 Premier League games, but the striker will be buoyed by becoming England’s record goalscorer during the international break – surpassing United legend Bobby Charlton’s tally of 49.
Rooney, the former Everton man who always relishes this fixture due to his Merseyside roots, could have a new strike partner with Anthony Martial in line to make his debut after the teenager joined from Monaco.
For Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers will demand a response after his side were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by West Ham at Anfield last time out.
Liverpool started the campaign with unconvincing 1-0 wins over Stoke City and Bournemouth before a 0-0 draw against Arsenal.
The West Ham setback showed there is still plenty of work for Liverpool to do to rediscover the form that saw them challenge for the title in 2013-14, while a red card for Philippe Coutinho has robbed them of one their greatest attacking threats.
While there is plenty of expectation among supporters, midfielder Lucas Leiva has called on Liverpool to keep a check on their emotions.
“We have to try to approach it the same way we approach every single game but we know there [is] a lot of [talking] and the fans are more excited about it,” he told Liverpool’s official website.
“For the players that have never played [the fixture], they just have to try to approach it the same way they always do.”
Liverpool still have doubts over captain Jordan Henderson (ankle), Adam Lallana (thigh) and Joe Allen (hamstring), while Michael Carrick (calf) is a doubt for United.
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