Opinion: Liverpool need Salah, Mane & Firmino at their best v Manchester United

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates with Mohamed Salah after scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield on December 29, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Liverpool v Manchester United is always a big game. Their rivalry over the past few decades has ensured as much. For the former, though, it could be the most significant meeting with their old rivals for quite some time.

Sitting level on points with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, this is their best shot at winning the Premier League for many years.

The last time they found themselves in this position they slipped up. City recovered and won an unlikely title. There is a determination to ensure that doesn’t happen again, particularly after a disappointing January has allowed Pep Guardiola’s side back into it.

In 2013/14, their title bid was built on the goalscoring prowess of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. This year, it has been the defensive nous of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson upon which their title challenge has been built.

As a result, their forwards have suffered somewhat. While all three are in good form and have posted decent numbers, Salah is the Premier League top goalscorer; they have not been as potent as last season.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 07: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool at Molineux on January 7, 2019 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

That has been down to their team’s change in style. Jurgen Klopp has abandoned the gung-ho football for a more pragmatic approach. There’s no denying it has worked.

The problem is, it has blunted the front three. Mane, Salah and Firmino thrive in open, fast-paced games and have had had little opportunity to do so because of Liverpool changing. Their lack of edge was on show this week.

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A 0-0 against Bayern Munich was a surprising result in itself. Bayern are not in good form and are struggling to find their feet under Niko Kovac. Liverpool were supposed to blow them away. Instead, their forward line floundered.

Salah looked off the pace, Mane lacked a finishing touch, and Firmino was mostly absent for most of the game. It was a slow performance from a formidable front three. They cannot afford the same against Manchester United this weekend.

If Klopp’s side are to see off their rivals, they need the front three firing. United are not the side they once were. Under Solskjaer they are more defensively solid and control games much better. They will look to do the same against Liverpool this weekend.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 19: Sadio Mane of Liverpool during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between Liverpool and FC Bayern Munich at Anfield on February 19, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

With Paul Pogba in fine form and Ander Herrera establishing himself, Liverpool are likely to struggle to control the middle of the park, but they have enough to deal with United’s attacking prowess at the same time. It could make this game something of a stalemate.

They will need their attacking three to take chances when they come. They cannot afford to miss opportunities as they did in midweek against Bayern.

This is a game that may be a tight, tactical affair. Salah, Mane and Firmino are the types of players that can make the difference. It’s time to deliver regardless of the situation.

They have to be at their best in arguably the biggest game of their team’s season. If they don’t turn up, it’s hard to see how Liverpool win this game.