Manchester United vs. Liverpool: Premier League Matchday 31 Preview

It's time for one of the biggest Northwest Derbies in recent memory, as Liverpool will travel up to Old Trafford with Premier League dreams still very much alive.

A match between Liverpool and Manchester United is always a special occasion. That being said, this one feels even a bit more exciting than usual.

After a stretch of dominance from Liverpool including wins of 4-0, 5-0 and of course 7-0, a draw in December and a recent scintillating FA Cup win in extra time for United have driven some fire back into this iconic rivalry.

With the matchday numbers now starting with a 3 as the season races to a close, Liverpool are atop the league table, albeit by the thinnest of margins, while United are desperately clinging onto hope in the battle for European football.

As both teams absolutely need all three points, we shouldn't see any semblance of settling for the draw, so it should be a positively thrilling match- let's break down what we should expect to see.

Top of the Pitch

If not for a high-effort and perhaps high-luck opener from Darwin Nunez, Liverpool's 3-1 win over dead-last Sheffield United may have looked quite different. The Reds took 29 shots, including 9 on target, but only mustered 1.83 xG in a very frustrating performance.

Mo Salah was uncharacteristically quiet before being subbed off around the hour-mark; the frustration he showed when coming off paired with his general track record against United should have Liverpool fans quite excited for the role he could play Sunday's clash.

Luis Díaz was once again lively but lacked end product- he was quite lucky to pick up an assist by redirecting a Sheffield clearance to the feet of Alexis Mac Allister.

Expect all three of these forwards to start against United, and hopefully bring more to the table than they did on Thursday.

Cody Gakpo did chip in a nice goal to seal the match after coming in as a substitute; some increased confidence for him could be a big deal as he hopes for another big goal against United, another match in which he's extremely likely to come off of the bench.

United have been facing an outrageous amount of shots, but the excellent play of goalkeeper André Onana has helped the defense keep its head above water. The team has allowed the sixth-most xG in the league, but the fifth-fewest goals per match, and this dichotomy has never been more on display than in the 0-0 draw at Anfield in December.

The Reds fired in a staggering 34 shots, including 8 on target, and racked up 2.38 xG, but were kept off of the scoresheet, and will need to be creative to avoid a similar fate this time out.

The Midfield

The midfield was once more dominant against Sheffield United, driving the team to set a Premier League record- the team's outrageous possession rate of 83.% for the match is the highest in league play since the statistic began being tracked in the 2003-04 season.

The Reds also completed 714 passes across the match, compared to 82 for Sheffield

Once again, Alexis Mac Allister was the maestro. He scored an absolute belter of a goal to get Liverpool back ahead late in the match, created a pair of chances, and earned Man of the Match honors from FotMob with a score of 8.9.

He's been in outrageous form, and will need another massive performance to lead Liverpool to victory at Old Trafford.

After a partial outing against Sheffield, Curtis Jones could return to the lineup for this match. If not, we'll have to see if Wataru Endo returns from a knock, or if Klopp will simply keep rolling with the same record-setting midfield from the Sheffield match.

That would pair Mac Allister with Ryan Gravenberch and Dominik Szoboszlai, after both contributed well last time out. It was an especially big bounce-back match for Szoboszlai, as the Hungarian showed hints of a return to his excellent early-season form, and his full-pitch contributions could be positively key in this tremendous clash.

United's possession numbers are bang average; they're 10th in the league with a figure of 50.2%. Once again, Bruno Fernandes has been the squad's best player by some margin, while the Red Devils will be waiting with bated breath to learn more about Casemiro's status ahead of the Liverpool match.

The Back End

Conor Bradley had what could be considered his first stinker as a member of the everyday Liverpool lineup, as an own goal further marred what was already a relatively shaky match for him. He'll be tasked with slowing down Alejandro Garnacho, who has been in some really strong form, so the young rising star fullback will need to take a step up from last week.

Andy Robertson was lively off of the bench after coming in after an hour of play, providing an assist, so we'll have to see if he gets the start despite Joe Gomez coming into some really strong form.

If Gomez doesn't start on the left, he'd be a contender to stand in at centre-back aside Virgil van Dijk, although Ibrahima Konaté looked fit and in solid form as he played 90 minutes against Sheffield, and Jarell Quansah has been fantastic of late as well.

This United attack definitely has some talent, and they've shown recent flashes as they scored thrice against Chelsea and of course four times in 120 minutes of play against Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Overall, they're 15th in goals per match in league play, and 12th in xG, so Liverpool's best chance to win this game might be to keep a clean sheet and push hard for just a goal or two on the other end.