Paul Merson has warned Liverpool that, while they can get away with playing Jordan Henderson and Fabinho at centre-back on some occasions, they won’t be able to do so on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp’s charges host Manchester United in what is already one of the biggest fixtures in the Premier League calendar, but has added importance due to both sides being first and second in the table.
The Red Devils leapfrogged Liverpool at the summit courtesy of their 1-0 win at Burnley in midweek, with three points now separating the two giants of English football ahead of their big game on Merseyside.
One of Klopp’s biggest dilemmas ahead of the game concerns the fitness of Joel Matip, who picked up a groin injury in the 1-1 draw with West Brom on 27 December and missed the following three games in all competitions as a result.
Liverpool’s back line has been beset by injuries this season, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez both out long-term.
Meanwhile, knocks for the likes of Matip and Fabinho have resulted in academy stars Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips getting senior game time, as well as Henderson playing out of position.
And Merson, writing in the Daily Star, thinks Manchester United have “every chance” against a makeshift Liverpool defence.
“This is the proper test to see if they are the real deal though. Liverpool away is the one,” said the Arsenal icon. “And they have got every chance of winning the game against that Liverpool defence.
“Playing Jordan Henderson and Fabinho at centre half, you can get away with that at certain times. But I can’t see them getting away with that against Fernandes, Rashford, Pogba and Anthony Martial.
“I think Liverpool just have to hang in there and make sure they don’t lose. I think they would take a draw.”
Luckily for Liverpool, it looks as though Matip could be back in contention for the game, having taken part in training on Friday.
However, it all depends on whether he comes through Saturday’s session unscathed, and even then Klopp will have a decision to make in terms of playing him so soon after coming back from injury.
Liverpool have been streets ahead of United over the past few years but Reds fans are likely to be much more nervous this time round.