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THE FINISH LINE

Table-toppers Liverpool ready to slay the old enemy

Beating Manchester United at Anfield will strengthen the Reds' hopes of a first league title since 1990

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A picture depicting Liverpool's back-in-form forward Mohamed Salah is seen in front of a shop in the pedestrian area of Dahab resort at Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

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Manchester United's goalkeeper David de Gea has already conceded 26 goals in 16 games, whereas last season he let in only 28 in 37 appearances.

London

EVEN Manchester United's ever-reliable goalkeeper David de Gea has struggled for form this season in the English Premier League (EPL), but the Spanish star will surely need to be at his very best in Sunday's big clash with bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield (11.55pm kick-off, Singapore time).

Last season's Golden Glove winner has not looked himself since some uncharacteristic mistakes undermined Spain's World Cup campaign in Russia, and they duly exited the tournament in the Round of 16 after a penalty shootout defeat to the host nation.

De Gea's struggles have continued into this season as United sit sixth on the EPL table, a whopping 16 points behind Liverpool, the current leader of the pack.

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The 28-year-old has already conceded 26 goals in 16 games, whereas last season he let in only 28 in 37 appearances.

De Gea may not, therefore, be relishing Sunday's showdown with Liverpool's back-in-form forward Mohamed Salah, who scored a scintillating hat-trick last week in a 4-0 win away to Bournemouth that sent Juergen Klopp's side to the top of the table.

Salah also struck the vital winner against Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday that enabled the Reds to advance to the tournament's knockout stage.

De Gea has not been helped by his manager Jose Mourinho chopping and changing his defence, but the goalkeeper does look low on confidence and is not the same formidable barrier that had him once linked with moves to Real Madrid, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

With his contract due to end in the summer of 2019, de Gea might have been distracted by thoughts of a transfer to another club, although United have now activated a one-year extension meaning an escape from Old Trafford may now depend on someone being willing to cough up some big bucks.

His form at the moment means his stock has slipped, although if he can keep out Liverpool's free-scoring triumvirate of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, in the Anfield cauldron no less, then he will at least put his price back up.

His opposite number at Liverpool, the Brazilian Alisson, has made a flying start to his EPL career, keeping 10 clean sheets.

Paul Ince, the former Liverpool and Manchester United midfielder, is torn on who would take the No 1 jersey in a combined team.

"If you look at reputation, you would say de Gea, but he has made a few mistakes this season, and if you're looking at what's happening this year then Alisson would start," Ince told the Mirror this week.

United, deservedly beaten 2-1 by Valencia in the Champions League on Wednesday in Spain, have drawn 0-0 on their two most recent trips to Anfield.

According to Darren Fletcher, a former Manchester United midfielder, the Red Devils would be well-advised to adopt another safety-first approach.

"Manchester United are not drilled enough, they don't have enough patterns so to go and do that, to play Liverpool in an open game, would be suicidal," Fletcher told the BBC.

Liverpool can count on manager Klopp to keep their feet firmly on the ground if they begin to believe the hype that has accompanied their unbeaten start to the EPL season, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum said.

The Merseyside club are the only remaining unbeaten side in the 20-team league after defending champions Manchester City suffered their first defeat of the season against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

Liverpool, bidding to win a first league title since 1990 and end a generation of frustration for their supporters, have put in some solid defensive displays this season.

That, along with a steadily improving attack, has raised hopes among fans that they might emulate Arsenal's "Invincibles" of the 2003/04 season, who lifted the EPL trophy after going the entire season undefeated.

"I don't really think we are invincible and, if we think that, we have a manager that would put both feet on the ground," said Wijnaldum.

"We know we have to do a lot to not lose games and even more to win it. We know we have to give a good performance every week to continue the run we are in."

Liverpool would not underestimate United despite the Manchester club's struggles this season, said the Dutch international.

"It's going to be difficult. Things can happen, everyone can have a bad season... last season, with the same players, they finished second. One season goes well, one season a little bit more difficult," Wijnaldum noted.

"It doesn't mean they have a bad team. They have good players, a good manager, and they know how to manage games and win games - or not to lose games."

Liverpool will go into the match extra motivated should Pep Guardiola's City reclaim top spot on Saturday as expected by beating Everton at home in the first match of the weekend.

Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur will also be breathing down the Merseysiders' necks should they overcome Burnley at Wembley.

Fourth-placed Chelsea go to Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, when Arsenal - aiming to protect their 21-match unbeaten streak - will be in the South Coast of England where they will play Southampton. REUTERS