Manchester United's International Champions Cup campaign continues in the United States with Saturday's mouthwatering match against a long-standing rival from a little closer to home.
After draws against Club America and San Jose Earthquakes, and a victory over AC Milan on penalties, Jose Mourinho’s men take on Liverpool in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Stadium at 22:05 BST (17:05 local time) in arguably the toughest test so far of Tour 2018, presented by Aon.
Such is the magnitude of the occasion, staged at the second biggest stadium in the world, the boss could field another experienced line-up – as he did against Milan in our previous outing. It remains to be seen, however, if he will stick with a three-man defence or revert to the more familiar four-man backline he deployed in the first two friendlies.
Mourinho will be without at least three first-team regulars, in Antonio Valencia, Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial.
Regular captain Valencia has left the squad after sustaining what is believed to be a calf injury in last weekend’s goalless draw against San Jose Earthquakes, while Martial has flown to Paris to be with his partner, who gave birth to their second child on Thursday.
The influential Matic was a late arrival in the US as a result of his World Cup exploits with Serbia and has an injury which renders him a doubt for Saturday’s eagerly-awaited encounter.
It means Andreas Pereira – who has performed superbly in the first three pre-season games following his return from a loan spell at Valencia last term – or Scott McTominay could get another chance to start in the engine room, perhaps alongside Ander Herrera who put in a Man-of-the-Match display against Milan.
Like Matic, David De Gea and Fred also linked up with the squad this week after enjoying a well-deserved break following their participation in the World Cup with Spain and Brazil respectively, but it remains to be seen if they will be involved against Liverpool.
Joel Pereira and summer signing Lee Grant have shared goalkeeping duties so far and enhanced their prospects of another start, with Pereira catching the eye by making some fine saves in the shoot-out as the Reds beat AC Milan 9-8 on penalties in Carson, California.
The boss has already admitted that he has a problem at right-back, with Valencia, Diogo Dalot, Ashley Young and Victor Lindelof all unavailable at the moment, while Mourinho has confirmed that Matteo Darmian – who has featured in all three matches in the US so far and captained the side against AC Milan – has expressed his desire to leave the club.
Tim Fosu-Mensah, who was a regular at right-back for Crystal Palace during his loan spell at Selhurst Park last term, could be an option to occupy that position. Axel Tuanzebe and Ro-Shaun Williams have also operated there in the past.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Alexis Sanchez is expected to lead the line again – in the continued absence of Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford – after capping an impressive individual display with a goal against AC Milan.
If the boss opts for a more senior line-up to begin the match against the Merseysiders, he would still have plenty of youthful options on the bench. Two members of the squad – Williams and Joshua Bohui – are still awaiting their first game-time on this tour.
HOW ARE LIVERPOOL SHAPING UP?
Opposition boss Jurgen Klopp has previously confirmed that last season’s top scorer Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Marko Grujic – who has been heavily linked with a move to newly-promoted Cardiff City – will all be involved in the game.
Two senior defenders, Nathaniel Clyne and Joel Matip, have left the Liverpool squad early. Right-back Clyne has returned to the UK for family reasons, while centre-back Matip picked up an injury early on in their 3-1 defeat by Borussia Dortmund.
New signing Naby Keita could also miss out as the Guinea midfielder, who joined from German club RB Leipzig this summer, recovers from a sore neck which kept him out of their 2-1 win over Manchester City in their last friendly.
The match will kick off at 22:05 BST on Saturday evening (17:05 EDT local time) and, like all of United's pre-season games, it will be live on MUTV.
In the UK and Ireland, MUTV is available via Sky, Virgin Media and MUTV.com. Outside the UK and Ireland, it can be viewed on MUTV.com, through the MUTV app on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Xbox, and on Roku.