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Big battles ahead for these touchline generals

15 October 2016 - 02:00 By AFP and Soccerlens

Jose Mourinho faces one of the biggest decisions of his Manchester United reign as he weighs up whether to recall Wayne Rooney for the Premier League clash with bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield tomorrow.

Rooney has endured a miserable few weeks after being dropped by United and England.

The 30-year-old's troubles have led to a debate about whether he should be used in midfield instead of his long-time role as a striker, while some critics claim he is no longer worthy of his place with club or country.

After crushing Leicester City in their first match without Rooney, United were less impressive in a draw against lowly Stoke City and Mourinho might be tempted to bring him back at Anfield.

Given Rooney's experience and track record in big games - he scored the winner at Liverpool last season - if Mourinho does leave him out for such a significant fixture it will cement the striker's diminished status in the Old Trafford pecking order.

Dwight Yorke, a Champions League and Premier League winner during his time with United, has no doubts Rooney is still a force to be reckoned with.

"People in football have such bloody short memories. He just has to get his confidence back and play in the manner we're used to seeing, banging in goals. Then everyone will be singing his praises again," Yorke said.

After losing their last four league meetings with United, Liverpool have a chance to make a statement about their title credentials.

Jurgen Klopp's side have won four successive matches to climb to fourth, but the German isn't satisfied.

"Even when you are good, you need to get better because the teams around you all get better. To stay in the race, development is everything," Klopp said.

Three key battles

Paul Pogba v Jordan Henderson

While Pogba had a fine international break as France's heartbeat, Henderson toiled with England as Gareth Southgate's team struggled against Malta and Slovenia.

Henderson has had a far better start to the 2016/17 season than Pogba, but United's record signing has recently shown signs of rediscovering his best form.

It will be an intriguing battle, and who comes out on top could be determined by the players who play alongside Henderson and Pogba in midfield. Ander Herrera has done well in a sitting role beside Pogba, while Henderson has been content to sit deep for Liverpool with runners like Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana flanking him.

With both Lallana and Wijnaldum not expected to be fit, it remains to be seen how Henderson goes about his job with a new set of midfield partners. United and Pogba seem to have an edge in midfield, and it will be interesting to see how Klopp patches up his lineup for the big game.

Sadio Mane v Daley Blind

Mane has seemingly blown the roof off Anfield with his start to life at Liverpool.

Three goals and three assists tell only part of the story; Mane has brought a new-found sense of excitement and optimism at the club with the ball at his feet. And on a Monday evening clash that will see Anfield roaring on every touch from the Senegalese, United leftback Blind could have a tough time.

Blind has experience of being written off in the past in games where he has confounded expectations. The Dutch international might not be physically imposing or have pace to burn, but has a sense of calm about his game which could be key to douse the fire that is Mane.

Mane has scored in both Liverpool's home matches so far, and should he maintain his good run of form at Anfield, the Reds could be well on their way to another big scalp.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Joel Matip

Both Ibrahimovic and Matip had extended periods of rest during the international break, and the battle between the Swede and the Cameroonian could shape the match.

Ibrahimovic has been the Red Devils' top scorer this term with six goals in all competitions, and Liverpool are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league despite bringing in defensive reinforcements in the form of Matip and goalkeeper Loris Karius.

Ibrahimovic and young Marcus Rashford aside, United haven't looked sharp in attack in recent games. Tomorrow against a less-than-formidable Reds defence, Mourinho's men will be looking to regain their knack for scoring and who better to look to than Ibrahimovic, who has taken to English football well.