This Sunday sees Premier League leader Liverpool host Manchester United, rival which sits 27 points below it in the table.
There has been a clear gulf in class between Jurgen Klopp’s side, which has accrued a whopping 61 points from a possible 63 across 21 fixtures, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, who have suffered defeats at Watford, Bournemouth and Newcastle United already this term.
Yet one bright spark for United has been the form of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, an attacking duo who have combined for more goals than Liverpool pair Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Rashford faces a battle to be fit for the game having come off against Wolves in Wednesday’s FA Cup replay due to a back injury, but just how do the quartet compare when fully fit, and how have they evolved in 2019-20? We crunched the numbers to find out.
RASHFORD AND MARTIAL: FROM PROFLIGATE TO POTENT
Salah (10) and Mane (11) have combined for 21 league goals (42 per cent of Liverpool’s 50 goals), while Rashford (14) and Martial (8) have scored 22 (61 per cent of United’s 36 goals).
The United duo’s success in front of goal has come thanks to their ability to convert big chances. Excluding penalties, Rashford has scored eight of his 15 big chances, converting 53.8 per cent compared to 23.8 per cent last season.
Martial, with five goals from nine big chances, is even more efficient (55.6 per cent) and both United forwards have better big-chance conversion rates than Salah (50 per cent) and Mane (30 per cent).
Mane has had more big chances than the rest of the quartet, but having scored 15 of his 26 big chances in the 2018-19 league campaign he has netted only six of 20 this time around.
RASHFORD’S LEAP FORWARD
It is not just in front of goal where Rashford has shown an improvement and become a greater focus of United’s attack.
The England international is averaging more touches per game this season (43.68 to 37.18), more touches in the opposition box per game (5.45 to 4.81) and has taken more shots (74) than any of Salah (66), Mane (49) or Martial (40).
Rashford switched between central and wide berths last term but is now firmly established on the left side of United’s attack with a clear purpose.
The one statistic that perhaps outlines that most is that Rashford has attempted an astonishing 57 more dribbles than Salah this season.
ALEXANDER-ARNOLD ALTERS SALAH’S ROLE?
Last season only four players – Eden Hazard, Wilfried Zaha, Nathan Redmond and Raheem Sterling – completed more dribbles than Salah’s 81, but in this campaign it’s a different story.
The Reds forward has attempted just 49 – far fewer than Mane (67) – while he has completed fewer dribbles (23) than team-mates Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino.
Salah led the Premier League for touches in the box in 2018-19 (322), and only Sterling is ahead of him this time, but he has had far fewer touches overall than Mane (764 to 1,000) having led the Senegalese (1,820 to 1,807) in the previous campaign.
That might have something to do with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ascent. Alexander-Arnold leads the league in touches (2,137) and is second in assists, showing that he, and not Salah, is now the focus of attacks down the Liverpool right.
A 27-POINT GAP, BUT SIMILAR ATTACKING STATISTICS
One glance at the table suggests there are few similarities between Klopp’s runaway leader and Solskjaer’s Jekyll and Hyde outfit.
However, a more in-depth dive into the numbers shows there has actually been little to separate the two in many attacking senses.
Liverpool has created 258 chances to United’s 241, and has only conjured up five more from open play and 10 from set-pieces.
The common theory is that United is far more effective on the counter attack, yet both teams have scored four times from fast breaks, with Solskjaer’s men having 20 fast breaks to Liverpool’s 18.
A big difference between the two is the quality of opportunities created, Liverpool accumulating 56 big chances to United’s 34, which points to a clear lack of creativity in Solskjaer’s ranks. Couple that with its defensive fragility (United’s four clean sheets to Liverpool’s eight) and it becomes more obvious just why the two are miles apart in the table.