On few occasions in recent memory has there been a greater gulf between Manchester United and Liverpool on the pitch, yet the rivalry between the two giants of England’s North West remains undiminished.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who arrived at Old Trafford with the stated objective to knock Liverpool off their perch as the dominant team in the country, is still acutely aware of the importance that clashes between the two sides holds.
“Of course, it's Liverpool, a derby game,” Ferguson said, according to Manchester United’s official website. “It never changes, it's always an immensely important game and also intense and emotional. Everything you can think of in a derby game will probably be there on Sunday. At least we go into the game in reasonable form."
Results wise, United’s form has been more than reasonable. Ferguson’s men have won eight and drawn one of their last nine league matches to establish a seven point lead at the top of the standings and in prime position to claim a 20th league title and move further ahead of Liverpool’s total of 18.
Currently, Liverpool remain some way off from adding to their title haul. Brendan Rodgers clearly has a long-term project in mind and it appears that he will be given time to try and bring success back to Anfield. There have been encouraging signs during his first season in charge, although it has also been a campaign marked with inconsistency.
Having recorded successive 3-0 victories over Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland, Rodgers will be hoping that his side can begin to avoid the type of sloppy performances displayed against Aston Villa and Stoke recently.
Rodgers is in little doubt about what he wants to achieve during his time with the club.
“Of course Manchester United have been very dominant over a number of years, but this is a football club that also had dominance for many years,” he said, according to Liverpool’s official website.
"What you are always fighting for, every day, is to get back to that level.”
Rodgers will have to decide whether to start Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez together for the first time after both scored in the FA Cup win over Mansfield last weekend.
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has returned to training following a knee problem, although Ferguson has said that the forward will make his return in the midweek FA Cup replay with West Ham. Nani and Anderson are back in the squad for the visit of Liverpool and are expected to start on the bench.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra
M: Carrick, Cleverley
Valencia, Kagawa, Young
F: Van Persie
D: Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson
Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard
Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez
Prediction: There will be much intrigue in the Liverpool lineup to see if and how Rodgers integrates Sturridge to the forward line. The manager has intimated that he sees Sturridge as a natural striker, while believing that Suarez can operate anywhere along the front line, particularly cutting in from the left.
Certainly the Uruguayan has the ability to operate there and he could cause United’s defense, which has been far from secure this season, ample problems.
But Liverpool have also looked far from resolute and, with Robin van Persie in imperious form and Nemanja Vidic back in defense, United have the superior quality to get the three points.
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off from Old Trafford at 8.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available later in the day via Fox Soccer 2Go.