After a two-week long international break, the English Premier League returns to our lives. This weekend, fans will see the first Manchester United vs. Liverpool derby match of the season, and there’s no shortage of storylines to follow leading up to the match. Both sides currently sit on seven points with United ahead in the table through goal differential, and they are both coming off their first losses of the season against clubs that most thought they should’ve beaten. Last year, the Red Devils easily dispatched their Merseyside rivals 3-0 at Old Trafford, but can they conjure up a similar performance this time around?
Friday provided United fans with the best news they could imagine: David De Gea had signed a contract extension with the club. The two-time fan player of the season has yet to play a competitive match this season due to a looming transfer saga with Real Madrid, and Sergio Romero was forced into the starting role. While the Argentine stood tall in his first three games of the season, last week’s 2-0 loss to Swansea reminded fans what they were missing out on. De Gea, who was just minutes away from joining Madrid only for technical problems to halt the move, was easily the most influential player for United last season, and it could be argued that he was the best keeper in the league, as well. The Spanish goalkeeper looked distracted when appearing for the club over the summer, but the conclusion of the transfer window should hopefully help him return to the top of his game.
Over the international break, another United star made headlines across the globe. Wayne Rooney managed to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing English goal record with a penalty against Switzerland. The penalty put the 29-year-old on 50 goals for his nation, and capped off two straight games where he found the net. Despite this impressive international feat, Rooney has still yet to find the back of the net in Premier League competition. Some thought that his hat trick against Club Brugge in Champions League qualifying would help kick start a great run of form in the league, but a poor performance against Swansea dashed those hopes rather quickly. West Ham has shown that Liverpool’s defense *cough* Dejan Lovren *cough* is susceptible to errors after their 3-0 destruction at Anfield, but can Rooney finally get over this early season drought and take advantage of a poor Liverpool defense?
For the visitors, one of their key cogs in the midfield will be forced to watch Saturday’s match from the sidelines. Philippe Coutinho, who had the third most assists on the team last year, was sent off after two yellow cards in the club’s 3-0 loss to West Ham last match day. The absence of Coutinho’s creative spark in the middle of the pitch gives another Brazilian a chance to shine. Summer signing Roberto Firmino plays in a similar attacking midfielders role, but has failed to impress in the early stages of his Liverpool career. The former Hoffenheim man, who had been linked with a move to United over the summer, will be counted on to provide the same type of distribution and attacking prowess that Coutinho brought to the pitch, but the defensive pairing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger could make that very difficult. While it’s impossible to completely replicate what Coutinho brings to the pitch, Liverpool will need Firmino to put in his best performance of the season in order to steal points at Old Trafford.
One of the biggest question marks for Brendan Rodgers going into this massive derby has to be the dependability of his defense. The centerback pairing of Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel looked shaky at best against the Irons, and 18-year-old Joseph Gomez has struggled to deal with his new starting role. Granted, last week’s match was the first time the Reds had conceded a goal all season, but in the fixtures against Arsenal and Bournemouth it was anything but easy for Simon Mignolet to keep a clean sheet. Manchester United boast an attacking force that should be able to top the pressure piled on by West Ham, but we’re yet to see it hit full stride this season. A strong performance away from home could help rebuild confidence at the back, but the match could also see the likes of Rooney, Memphis and potentially Anthony Martial pile on goal after goal.
I just wouldn’t be a good United fan if I predicted anything but a glorious Red Devil victory for Saturday’s match. While I doubt Martial will make an immediate impact on the squad, the potential return of David De Gea to the starting 11 fills me with optimism. Final score: Manchester United 2-0 Liverpool