The Big Match

Battle of the big spenders

The potential debut of Manchester United's Anthony Martial is attracting plenty of attention, but one of the major issues for Louis van Gaal is likely to centre around the decision of whether or not to use David de Gea in goal against Liverpool.
The potential debut of Manchester United's Anthony Martial is attracting plenty of attention, but one of the major issues for Louis van Gaal is likely to centre around the decision of whether or not to use David de Gea in goal against Liverpool.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Man U, Reds have not displayed consistency in attack

Between them, they have won 38 English league titles and eight Champions Leagues. They have spent almost £500 million (S$1.1 billion) over the last two summers. And yet Manchester United and Liverpool's realistic ambitions may amount to securing fourth place.

Whichever side succeeds will probably do so at the other's expense. Whoever prevails today will have the upper hand.

They have made near-identical starts, winning the first two Premier League games and drawing the third before - after three consecutive clean sheets apiece - seeing signs they had made substantial defensive improvements demolished in defeat last time around.

They have been frustratingly impotent, with United only mustering three league goals and Liverpool just two. Each has only one scorer - Juan Mata and Christian Benteke respectively - eligible.

Despite expensive recruitment, neither has attacked with the verve of a potential champion.

Liverpool's creative contingent is depleted by Philippe Coutinho's suspension, after he was controversially sent off in their loss to West Ham. Minus their best player, the onus rests with the two costliest - Benteke, the £32.5 million battering ram who was linked with United before he joined Liverpool, and Roberto Firmino, the £29 million Brazilian - to offer incision and inspiration.

United possess Wayne Rooney, now England's record all-time goalscorer but a striker whose Premier League drought dates back 10 games. They also have the untried Anthony Martial, whose £58.8 million fee was branded "ridiculous" even by manager Louis van Gaal.

The 19-year-old Frenchman has been compared to Thierry Henry, which makes his potential debut intriguing, even if the probability is that it will come as a replacement.

The more significant consequence of United's chaotic dealings could come in goal.

David de Gea's £29 million move to Real Madrid broke down, with both clubs blaming each other. Van Gaal really ought to recall the Spaniard, whom he has omitted for the last six games, instead of the unconvincing signing Sergio Romero.

Liverpool can testify to de Gea's brilliance. He denied them time and again when United won 3-0 at Old Trafford in December, and their meetings tend to be pivotal in the shifting balance of power between historic rivals.

Two seasons ago, Brendan Rodgers' side won both meetings, including an emphatic 3-0 victory, as they surged to second and United stumbled to seventh place.

Last season, van Gaal did a double and United finished fourth.

It makes this match crucial. As Liverpool are lacking Coutinho and are looking to show more steel on the road after conceding 11 goals on their trips to last season's top four, Rodgers could repeat his approach in the stalemate at Arsenal, when James Milner, Lucas Leiva and Emre Can all operated as defensive midfielders. Breaking them down could pose the real challenge for United. And that might mean they send for the £58.8 million man.

MANCHESTER UNITED V LIVERPOOL
Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 12.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline 'Battle of the big spenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe