Hard to believe it, but there's only nine matches left in the Premier League season. The FA Cup offers at least one more match and three on the high end, but Liverpool are well and truly in the home stretch. Improved form since the last time they faced Manchester United means that they have plenty left to play for over the last two months, and, impossible as it seemed back in December, they'll be directly challenging their rivals for a spot in the top four.
United's performance levels across the course of the season mean it's slightly surprising that they're challenging as well; they have near really hit their stride under Louis van Gaal, often playing reductive, ugly football that almost made the Moyes-era United attractive by comparison. What's been different this year is that they have, aside from a few embarrassing blips, gotten the results they need, and in a Premier League season that's been poor, that's been good enough for a spot in the top four.
They got arguably their best result of the season last weekend at home, scoring three first-half goals against an indescribably poor Tottenham side and cruising comfortably through the second half. Spurs never really threatened, which seemed to have as much to do with their own shortcomings as it did United's dominance, but it was a solid win, their fourth in the their last six, and a nice way to rebound after the loss against Arsenal in the FA Cup.
On Sunday van Gaal picked what appears to be his best and most effective eleven, with David De Gea in goal, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Daley Blind across the back, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, and Marouane Fellaini in the midfield, with Juan Mata and Ashley Young providing support for Wayne Rooney up front. Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo could make their return to the squad, while Robin van Persie remains absent. Angel Di Maria served a one-match ban against Spurs but might feature at some point as he tries to rebound from a terrible run of form.
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Sterling Henderson Allen Moreno
There are very few left on the confirmed absences list, with Lucas, Jon Flanagan, Jose Enrique, and Brad Jones back in full training, and Steven Gerrard making his return from injury against Swansea City on Monday. Mario Balotelli is healthy after missing nine days due to illness, while Jordon Ibe is still ruled out with an LCL injury.
It would be surprising if any of the above names started, however, with Brendan Rodgers mostly settled on a preferred eleven. Leaving out Gerrard in his last-ever match against United would be a big call, but the manager and his squad have hit their stride in the captain's absence, and having him come off the bench--as he did to great effect against Swansea City earlier in the week--allows for a sustained period of influence rather than tired legs as the match wears on.
Rodgers could mix it up a little, however, and not just in terms of starting Gerrard. Lazar Markovic is in the running for a start at wingback on the right or left, though Raheem Sterling and Alberto Moreno are frontrunners, while further forward there is the potential, unlikely as it might be, that Daniel Sturridge starts on the bench with Raheem Sterling occupying the spot in front of Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. That scenario would allow for both Markovic and Moreno on the flanks, but Sturridge looks set to lead from the front for the run-in.
Kickoff is set for 1:30PM GMT/9:30AM EDT on Sunday, with Sky Sports 1 providing coverage in the UK and NBCSN airing the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with any breaking team news, team sheets when they’re released, and live coverage tomorrow including full viewing options and post-match reactions. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SB Nation account and join us for it.