Perhaps the most ancient and enduring of Manchester United's rivalries will be rekindled at Anfield on Sunday, with new Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp set for his first experience of an invariably bitter contest. United head into the match only three points above the Merseysiders in the table, though their recent record in this fixture can give us an early reason for optimism.
Indeed, Louis van Gaal's record against Liverpool is perhaps the only unqualified good of his entire tenure, with United having recorded three consecutive wins in this north-west derby since the Dutchman's arrival. Only time will tell whether we'll be able to make it four on the trot for the first time since fixtures were suspended at the outbreak of World War I.
Long-termers Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo are all out injured; midfielders Nick Powell and Michael Carrick will join them on the sidelines. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phil Jones could be involved if they pass late fitness tests, but knowing van Gaal, there's very little chance of either being thrown straight into the starting lineup after their recent layoffs.
Liverpool are currently in the throes of an injury crisis, with their chief absentees being attacker Philippe Coutinho and defenders Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren. Daniel Sturridge is on the comeback trail after another injury setback, though this came could come slightly too early for the England striker. Squad players Joe Gomez, Danny Ings, Jordan Rossiter, Jordon Ibe, Jon Flanagan and Divock Origi are all unavailable.
Take a glance at the predicted lineup posted below, and something should jump out at you: this Liverpool team is not very good. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a liability; left-back Alberto Moreno is fine going forward but weak defensively; recent acquisition Steven Caulker had probably found his level in the Championship; a midfield of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Joe Allen is industrious if uninspiring; and Adam Lallana and James Milner are little more than serviceable squad players.
However, Liverpool supporters could reasonably say the same thing about United; so while we shouldn't be afraid of facing this team, we certainly shouldn't be complacent. Particular attention should be paid to Liverpool's "Thing Two," Roberto Firmino ("Thing One" being his injured compatriot Philippe Coutinho), who is set to lead the line with Sturridge still stuck in the purgatory between being injured and being match fit. Firmino looks a genuine diamond, and delivered a wonderful performance as Liverpool drew 3-3 with Arsenal in midweek. He's physically small but an outstanding technician, and will punish United for any space they leave him.
Klopp's best-known tactical invention is the gegenpress, in which his sides spring forward after winning the ball in the hope of preventing a quick break. Given that van Gaal doesn't seem to know what a counter-attack is, Klopp's famous strategy will seemingly be somewhat fruitless. Nevertheless, United's defence are unlikely to be given much time on the ball, and it'll be interesting to see if United are forced to play a little bit more direct as a result.
Without possession, United will have to be robust: Klopp's teams tend to be quick and insistent in their build-up play, with quick short passing through the middle of the pitch. With Lallana and Milner both tending to drift inside, and Henderson and Allen given the freedom to break from midfield, it could be a busy day at the office for Morgan Schneiderlin. Let's hope United's other midfielders are able to afford him a little assistance.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Simon Mignolet; Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho, Steven Caulker, Nathaniel Clyne; Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Joe Allen; Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, James Milner.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Ashley Young, Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian; Morgan Schneiderlin, Marouane Fellaini; Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata; Wayne Rooney.