2:45pm ET, live in the US on BeIN Sport
Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 09.01.13
1-2 United (a) 01.13.12
1-2 United (h) 09.23.12
1-2 United (a) 02.11.12
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (h); 2-2 Swansea (a); 1-0 United (h)
United: 1-4 City (a); 4-2 Leverkusen (h); 2-0 Palace (h)
Liverpool: Sturridge 6; Henderson, Moses, Sterling 1
United: van Persie 6; Rooney 4; Welbeck 2; Valencia 1
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Toure Sakho Enrique
Sterling Alberto Moses
The same old debate – should Rodgers play the first team or use a mix of reserves and fringe players – exacerbated by Liverpool having to face the Evil Empire.
Precedent suggests that Rodgers will play a fairly full strength line-up, injuries permitting, with one or two possible changes. My hope is that the few changes include Sturridge and Gerrard, at the very least. They're most in need of rest, whether due to previous injuries (Sturridge) or age and fatigue (Gerrard). They're two that Liverpool cannot live without going forward, especially with Coutinho out for the next few weeks. But we all know that dropping Liverpool's talismanic captain in a match against the hated Mancs probably isn't happening, form and fitness be damned. Sigh.
Despite the constant cup lineup uncertainty, there's one player whose name you can write in pen. Luis Suarez will start, despite Rodgers slightly playing coy in the pre-match press conference. And not a moment too soon. Hopefully he'll replace Sturridge up front, his preferred position and allowing Sturridge a match off. Make Liverpool reliant on someone else's goals for a change.
Otherwise, your guess is probably as good as mine. The above lineup is more my preference than the usual educated guess. Maybe because I don't want to contemplate the educated guess, which would look something like Mignolet; Wisdom, Toure, Sakho, Enrique; Gerrard, Lucas; Henderson, Suarez, Moses; Sturridge. Not enough change. Too much of the same concerns voiced in the post-Southampton eulogies.
I'd rather Kelly than Wisdom if fit, Toure rather than Skrtel if fit. Sakho pretty much has to start with Agger absent. Enrique should be available after being relegated to a substitute appearance on Saturday. Maybe both Henderson and Allen start in midfield if Allen's finally available, allowing Lucas a modicum of rest as well. Maybe Henderson, Lucas, and Allen all start in midfield if Allen's finally available. With Coutinho out for a long stretch, we need to see Luis Alberto get opportunities, and even though tomorrow's match is at Old Trafford, tomorrow's match is still a third round League Cup tie. Better sooner than later, better now than in the league. I want to like Iago Aspas, I still want to think he'll succeed, but Rodgers simply cannot use him as the #10 again. It hasn't looked like working for a second.
Manchester United, on the other hand, seemingly have to play a strong lineup. Although given the strength of their squad, Moyes or no Moyes, they can still rotate a fair few faces and still play a strong lineup. But the loss to Liverpool in the league a couple of weeks ago and humiliation by City on Sunday means that Moyes needs wins and Moyes needs them now.
Van Persie will miss out due to the groin injury that kept him out of the Manchester Derby, and United will undoubtedly make a few changes from the previous last starting XI. Their squad is still a deep squad, after all. Ferdinand's likely to be left out due to his age and fatigue, Lindegaard will probably continue to get cup matches, and we might even finally get a Kagawa sighting. I'd except United's XI to look something like Lindegaard; Smalling, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Fellaini, Carrick; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Chicharito.
If this were any other opponent, the cries for starting a weaker Liverpool XI would be even louder. That it's Manchester United, at Old Trafford, means that Rodgers is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Lose with a weaker lineup, and Rodgers isn't taking the enemy seriously. Lose with a stronger lineup, and it could not only harm confidence, but Liverpool's league chances as well.
Forget who Liverpool are playing tomorrow, as hard as that is. As said in Monday's match infographic and as said even better by Ted Knutson on StatsBomb, Liverpool – especially in attack – have gone away from the tactics which led to last season's few successes. We simply shouldn't, can't see more of the same tomorrow, even if "the same" is what led to the narrow 1-0 win over United three weeks ago. Liverpool need to focus on getting back to Liverpool's style of play, to focus on improving on what we've seen so far this season. That's seemingly best served by rotating a handful of key players, as well as the very welcomed return of Suarez.
Tomorrow is a third round League Cup tie, no more, no less. Liverpool should want to win every game, play to win every game, but it's still a third round League Cup tie.