Manchester United vs Liverpool is a timeless fixture and always eagerly anticipated. The two most successful English teams meet again on what will be a Jack Frost of a Sunday afternoon this weekend.
The current league standing of both clubs is a very close role reversal to the 1978/79 season, when at the same point in January Liverpool were on top and United were in the unfamiliar position of ninth, a distinguishable gulf which separated the ordinary from the supreme as it does now.
Liverpool beat Manchester United twice in the league that season with a convincing 0-3 win at Old Trafford and then a routine home 2-0 victory. Although United knocked out Liverpool in the F.A cup that season, it didn't derail Liverpool's title aspirations and they duly took The old Division One crown that season.
If this role reversal were to play out in full this season then United will take all three points on Sunday and win the league in May. The statistics, if you choose to believe in them, give this outcome a fair probability of being accurate. Man United like Liverpool back then are riding high and looking strong whilst Liverpool are where United were before the Ferguson era, a good side but without the killer instinct and ruthlessness of champions.
Given these facts, you cannot underestimate the derby element between these two clubs and it is this X factor alone which can make a mockery of any educated predictions.
What makes these Derby so compelling is the historical and cultural relationship that exists between both sets of supporters and the clubs. Feuds between the two cities were meant to have started when disputes arose over the building of the Manchester Ship Canal and the disgruntlement felt by Scousers when the construction of the canal bypassed the port of Liverpool causing swathes of jobs to be lost. It's been tit for tat ever since and within this game of one-upmanship lies the drive to do anything possible in order to beat that lot down the East Lancs Road.
Most people who have grown up in the North West in the last Century are descended from Irish Catholics, and so you have a race of people weaned on belief, conflict and passion. Divide these people with music, football and accents, Throw in a Paisley, Busby, Ferguson and there is a recipe for the ultimate tribal football fixture. It is heady stuff.
Any victory by either side is shortlived and the overall major trophy haul is almost equal. (Liverpool 41 to Man Utd's 38 - Source - Sporting Intelligence)
Liverpool may not have won the league for a while but they have been champions of Europe five times and have won the UEFA cup three times. The closeness of major haul of trophies is pretty much even, making the rivalry upon which the game derives it's fever pitch atmosphere from all the more acute.
It is a rivalry like no other and statistically always a bitter match. Saying this, I am a believe in statistics and what they can tell you so I predict that the role reversal will fall true and a home win for Manchester United is on the cards this Sunday.
image: © Paolo Camera