Fierce rivals Liverpool and Manchester United prepare to renew hostilities in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon, and there is much more than just bragging rights on the line in this highly-anticipated showdown.
The two English powerhouses are going toe-to-toe for top spot heading into the midway point of the season - a battle which Man United are currently winning as they boast 36 points compared to second-placed Liverpool's 33 after 17 matches.
Jurgen Klopp's men have endured a faltering start to their first ever Premier League title defence and host Man United having failed to win any of their last three top-flight matches, although they did sweep aside a youthful Aston Villa team in the FA Cup.
Meanwhile, Man United had wantaway midfielder Paul Pogba to thank as his goal against Burnley propelled the Red Devils to the top of the pile with a 1-0 win, and they can establish a six-point lead over the reigning champions with a historic win on the Anfield turf.
With a host of world-class players on show in this fixture, Sports Mole picks a combined XI from both teams, using only players expected to be available for the showdown.
Difficult choices were abundant in this combined lineup, and having to decide between Alisson or David de Gea as the last line of defence was anything but straightforward. Liverpool have struggled to maintain their defensive solidity when their number one has been sidelined throughout portions of the campaign, but only 12 goals conceded in 14 Premier League matches demonstrates his world-class qualities. De Gea continues to be on the receiving end of criticism despite his evident ability, but having already shipped 21 goals in 15 games, the Spaniard loses out to Alisson.
A 2019-20 Trent Alexander-Arnold would have waltzed his way into this lineup, but the 22-year-old has struggled to hit top gear so far. The right-back boasts two assists in the Premier League season but no goals, and he lost possession 38 times against Southampton in Liverpool's 1-0 defeat at St Mary's earlier this month - more than any other player in a Premier League game this season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka's attacking output is still not as high as United fans would desire, but only three players have made more tackles than the Englishman (49) so far this season and he gets the nod in our team.
With Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all struggling with injury, none of the trio is eligible for a spot in this XI. However, the versatile Fabinho has excelled in the heart of defence - often alongside an inexperienced pro such as Rhys Williams or Nat Phillips - and the Brazilian was an easy selection for us. Alongside him is Man United's ever-present captain Harry Maguire, who continues to divide opinion, but as the leader of the Premier League table-toppers he has to be included. The England international controversially had a goal ruled out in the win over Burnley, but he did not let that disappointment affect his defensive play as United kept a clean sheet at Turf Moor.
Luke Shaw's resurgence on the left-hand side of defence has restricted Alex Telles's game time at Old Trafford in recent weeks, but it is impossible to look past Andrew Robertson, who has managed to maintain his creative output from the flanks with Alexander-Arnold struggling for goals and assists. Robertson has struck once and provided five assists in the Premier League for the holders so far and was a routine pick to complete the defence.
While Paul Pogba continues to ply his trade at Old Trafford, question marks over his future will forever be hanging over his head. However, the World Cup-winning Frenchman struck the winning goal against Burnley and has enjoyed a more consistent run in the team as of late, so he gets the nod over teammates Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay. Alongside him is Thiago, whose maiden season at Anfield has been plagued by injuries, but the Spaniard has already displayed flashes of brilliance in red and keeps Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Barcelona-linked Georginio Wijnaldum out of the team.
Despite the array of attacking talent in both camps, the wingers pick themselves in our lineup. Mohamed Salah is another player with an uncertain future after he refused to rule out a future move to Barcelona or Real Madrid, but with 13 Premier League goals - a season-high at this moment in time - as well as three assists, he was one of the first names in this team. The Egyptian's teammate Sadio Mane has only found the back of the net six times this season, and Diogo Jota could very well have been considered for selection had he not suffered an injury which brought his prolific start to a halt, so Mane occupies the left-wing spot over Mason Greenwood and Daniel James.
Liverpool have enjoyed unprecedented success in the absence of a traditional number 10, but United would be nowhere near the summit without their inspirational playmaker. Only Salah (13) and Son Heung-min (12) boast more top-flight goals than Bruno Fernandes (11) this season, and the seven assists he has chalked up puts him second on the list of goal contributions behind Harry Kane. United simply have to keep the 26-year-old fit and firing on all cylinders to maintain a title charge this season, and he walks into this team over the likes of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The focal point of the attack was possibly the most challenging selection in this lineup, with Roberto Firmino finally managing to increase his scoring tally and Edinson Cavani bringing a new dimension to the Red Devils' attack in spite of a recent three-game ban for a controversial social media post. The Uruguayan is now back and ready to build on his impressive start to life in England with Anthony Martial doubtful for this game, but we could not leave Marcus Rashford out of the team. Despite mainly operating from the left-hand side, the 23-year-old - whose charitable work off the pitch continues to make headlines - has scored seven and set up seven more in the 2020-21 top-flight campaign and completes our star-studded XI. body check tags ::