How will Liverpool's midfield set up for crucial Old Trafford clash?

Anfield Night

How Liverpool's midfield looks will be an essential part of the Reds' game plan against Manchester United.

One of the most interesting aspects when any side approaches a huge away fixture is how they will line up in the midfield, and given Liverpool's personnel at present, their trip to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United will be no different. 

So far there have been two noticeably different midfield shapes that Brendan Rodgers has set his side up with from the start of games - as they work with either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. There has been a difference between the personnel as well, with Jordan Henderson absent for the two games when the Reds started with the latter of the two systems, but Emre Can and Lucas Leiva have come into the side, with James Milner making up the midfield.

If reports are to be believed, Liverpool's captain could be absent from this weekend's huge clash, though the Liverpool Echo says he has responded well to treatment for an injury to his heel. 

The dynamics of the two set-ups used so far have been different. 

4-2-3-1 has seen both Jordan Henderson and James Milner sitting deep in the opening two games of the season when not in possession, and given the nature of both players - both of them cover a lot of ground and have a lot of energy to their game - they seemed to have thwarted a lot of the counter-attacking play that came their way. It has also allowed Philippe Coutinho to drop deeper into the midfield in order to try and orchestrate things on the creativity side. 

A three-man midfield has left Liverpool a little more open, but operating with a specialist defensive midfielder in Lucas. James Milner and Emre Can have been encouraged to get forward and press the game a lot more, and Milner tends to be the player that tries to help out Lucas when things get a little bit hairy and the Reds look vulnerable. In the first half against Arsenal it seemed to work, but against sides that are willing to stay compact and put men behind the ball, its limitations are there for all to see.  

At Old Trafford, one thinks Liverpool will pack the midfield. When the fixtures came out, if Liverpool were offered a draw for this weekend's clash a large portion of their fans will have taken it - even if there is the thirst to get one over on your rivals.

After a poor defensive display against West Ham United following on from three clean sheets at the start of the season, there will be an eagerness to give the back line the protection it needs.

In terms of personnel, it wouldn't be surprising to see Can, Milner and Lucas line up at Old Trafford, but Rodgers may select them with two sitting midfielders - with Can and Milner possibly taking it in turns to sit deep, or press and join the attack. 

The devil will be in the detail but the midfield is going to provide a base for the Reds to work from, and the other big selection question mark is who will replace Philippe Coutinho. Adam Lallana is still a fitness doubt, meaning there will be one place in the side up for grabs - probably out wide. But, as always, games like these are won and lost in the middle of the park, and that area should get the most of Brendan Rodgers' attention. 

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