It’s an obvious point to make but the identity of both starting XIs will have a large bearing on the outcome of Saturday’s big clash between Manchester United and Liverpool.
United have a number of injury doubts, with Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini, Daley Blind and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all having been absent for differing periods of time.
It remains to be seen whether any of them will be in contention to face the Merseysiders at Old Trafford, but Jose Mourinho will have other selection decisions to make as he masterminds his victory plan.
One – or rather three – of those could centre on the substitutes who made a game-changing impact when they came off the bench for the second half of Monday’s dramatic victory at Crystal Palace.
Marcus Rashford replaced Scott McTominay at the interval and immediately injected a threat with his pace and direct running from the left flank.
Mata and Rashford completely changed the game last night. We began to pass with purpose and with intent. Fair play, Jose #MUFC— Essa Al-Khalifa (@eak_99) March 6, 2018
It doesn't always work, but Juan Mata coming on was the difference for #mufc last night. His runs, link-up play, getting in between the lines. He was the antidote Mourinho and United needed.— Tom Roddy (@TomRoddy_) March 6, 2018
All the substitutes were game changers. Rashford kept width with Shaw on the left which allowed Mata to make his runs in behind the defence causing havoc in the Palace defence #mufc— Manas Sinha ★ (@manassinha09) March 5, 2018
Mata has been a regular in the XI this season and may have been in Mourinho’s starting plans on Saturday anyway, but Rashford and Shaw have perhaps given the boss food for thought as he ponders the make-up of his team.
Rashford played on the left to accommodate Alexis Sanchez’s central shift at Selhurst Park, with Jesse Lingard initially moving out to the right wing, before switching to what Mourinho called a
“crazy” right-back role when Mata replaced Valencia.
The manager was certainly pleased with his substitutions’ contribution, telling reporters after the game:
“Marcus was good. Immediately he created dangerous situations and opened more spaces between defenders, where our attacking players could make runs and penetrate these gaps.
”From the wider positional point of view he was very good for us. And I think what I call a crazy right-back was also very important because we had to take the risks and Lingard as a right-back is this kind of crazy right-back that can make a defensive mistake by losing his position but can also be an extra man attacking other areas.
“It was difficult for them; Roy [Hodgson] saw it. He brought [Jaïro] Riedewald to play wide and cover him, but he was really aggressive and Mata was coming to the inside, so we created a lot of problems in the second half.”
Mourinho has deployed a 4-3-3 formation in recent games, having often favoured a 4-2-3-1 before that, and it’ll be interesting to see which system he considers most effective against Jurgen Klopp’s side, who are the Premier League’s leading scorers on the road this term with 34 goals.
Perhaps the only players we can predict with a certain degree of confidence to be in the starting line-up on Saturday, based on what has gone before this season, are David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku. Yet the fact there’s another huge home game – against Sevilla – only three days after Liverpool could influence the manager’s selection decisions.
The boss may provide more clues at his pre-match press conference on Friday but you’ll have to wait until 11:30 GMT on Saturday for our official team news, ahead of the 200th meeting between English football’s most famous rivals.