The Premier League returns from the international break with Liverpool hosting Manchester United in today’s lunchtime kickoff.
Arguably the most-anticipated game of the weekend is the first and it gives United the opportunity to go top of the table, at least prior to Manchester City hosting Stoke City at 3pm.
Jose Mourinho’s side start the weekend joint-top of the table with their local neighbours and are already seven points ahead of rivals Liverpool after only seven games.
Liverpool have been held at Watford and Newcastle, and at home to Burnley already this season and the 12 goals they have conceded is only fewer than West Ham (17) and Crystal Palace (13).
If things weren’t going bad enough for Jurgen Klopp’s side, the international break has handed Manchester United a big advantage ahead of today’s trip to Anfield.
Here’s how each team’s starting players got on over the international break:
Simon Mignolet – Unused substitute in both of Belguim’s games.
Joe Gomez – 90 minutes for England under-21s last Friday but didn’t feature in Andorra midweek.
Joel Matip – Not part of the Cameroon squad
Dejan Lovren – Only played 90 minutes for Croatia but that was the crucial trip to Ukraine on Monday night.
Alberto Moreno – Not part of the Spain setup.
Jordan Henderson – Played all 180 minutes for England which culminated in a 1-0 win in Lithuania last Sunday. Jurgen Klopp actually said in his pre-match press conference that Henderson was made to play the latter which was a dead rubber.
Emre Can – Came on for the final 25 minutes in Northern Ireland before playing the full game for Germany in their 5-1 thrashing of Azerbaijan last Sunday.
Georginio Wijnaldum – Played 160 minutes for the Netherlands which ended on Tuesday at home to Sweden in which his country were disappointingly eliminated.
Mohamed Salah – Egypt only played one game, at home to Congo last Sunday, in which Mohamed Salah scored the crucial 94th minute penalty which sent his nation to the 2018 World Cup.
Roberto Firmino – Came on for the final four minutes of Brazil’s 3-0 win over Chile on what was early Wednesday morning GMT. A long flight home just three days before today’s game.
Philippe Coutinho – Started both of Brazil’s games, the first in the high altitude of Bolivia, the second only a few days ago. Was replaced in the 66th and 87th minutes respectively but Philippe Coutinho will surely show signs of jet lag or fatigue today.
Other key players:
Sadio Mane – Picked up a hamstring injury whilst away with Senegal that will keep Sadio Mane out of today’s game and for up to six weeks.
David de Gea – Started both of Spain’s games in Europe but the goalkeeper position is not known for suffering from fatigue.
Antonio Valencia – Booked midway through the second half of Ecuador’s defeat in Chile so that he was suspended for Ecuador’s final qualifier versus Argentina on Wednesday morning our time. Home early to avoid jet lag ahead of this weekend’s big game.
Phil Jones – Was the number one name on the starting teamsheet today after Jose Mourinho pulled him out of the England squad. Phil Jones has played 90 minutes in all of Manchester United’s seven Premier League games so far this season.
Chris Smalling – Turns out that Eric Bailly picked up a knock whilst with the Ivory Coast for their only game this month on Friday 6 October. Chris Smalling is fresh because, like Phil Jones, he didn’t feature in either of England’s final two World Cup qualifiers last week.
Matteo Darmian – Played 150 minutes for Italy who were all-but assured of finishing runners-up in their group. Was involved in the first hour of the Italians trip to Albania on Monday night.
Nemanja Matic – Played 180 minutes for Serbia over the break with the final game being on Monday at home to Georgia. Not a huge blow for United as both games were in Europe but Nemanja Matic is clocking up a lot of minutes and a lot of work in the centre of midfield.
Ander Herrera – Not part of the Spain setup.
Ashley Young – Not part of Gareth Southgate’s squad so has had two weeks to prepare for this game.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Played 180 minutes for Armenia with the second game being in Kazakhstan last Sunday.
Anthony Martial – Not called up after reports of injury post-CSKA Moscow game. However, Martial was involved in the squad for the Crystal Palace game three days after. Great work from Mourinho to get Martial out of international duty whilst his other left winger, Marcus Rashford played 161 minutes for England. I think Martial will be a huge factor today.
Romelu Lukaku – Played just 25 minutes for Belgium, after a claim that he went into the international break with an injury. However, Romelu Lukaku played the full 90 minutes in United’s win over Crystal Palace immediately before the break. He simply looked tired, not injured. Great work from Mourinho to get his target man a break.
Other key players:
Marouane Fellaini – Picked up an injury in Bosnia and Herzegovina – a blow for United with Paul Pogba also sidelined. But they have depth in this position with Ander Herrera. Did prevent Mourinho switching to a 4-3-3 if he had considered it.
Marcus Rashford – Started both of England’s games and is subsequently dropped to United’s bench. At 19 years old he’ll still be fresh to come off the bench today and make an impact.
Essentially, Liverpool have lost their best attacking played in Sadio Mane to injury, whilst other two starts up top, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino are expected to be jaded after a lack of time to recover from playing in Brazil only a few days before today’s kick off. Preparation for the game must have been minimal too.
Dejan Lovren and Mohamed Salah was also involved in high pressure games.
United were able to rest starters Phil Jones, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku during the international break; players who would normally have been expected to start. As an additional bonus, neither Chris Smalling and Ashley Young played either.
Eric Bailly’s injury certainly comes as a blow though as he’s one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League. Marouane Fellaini is a bit of a blow too but Ander Herrera may have started if the Belgian was fit anyway.