15 October ~ There can be few matches, in the Premier League at least, that instil as much nervousness in both sets of supporters as when Liverpool play Manchester United. Although only the most geographically-challenged supporter of either club would ever dare to call the tie "the real derby", there's no denying that the games seem to matter more than any other, irrespective of the clubs' fortunes at the time. In recent years there's only been one occasion upon which the clubs met as anything approaching equals – in 2009, at the tail end of Liverpool's only concerted title challenge in recent memory, when a Rafael Benítez side at the peak of their powers dished out an unexpected 4-1 drubbing at Old Trafford.
That result seemed indicative of the manner in which Liverpool often seem to raise their game against their neighbours from up the M62. Yet even considering this, or the recent trend for home wins at Anfield (United haven't triumphed there since doing so twice in 2007), it's still hard for a Liverpool fan to comprehend why a Mancunian would ever be nervous about facing us.
From our end, the fear seems simple and logical. It's Manchester United – as much as we may dislike the fact, comfortably the best side in the country for well over a decade – and so pretty much the hardest game that anyone in the league can hope to face. Bitter memories of the repeated capitulations in the late 1990s, or of Mike Riley's refereeing, always seem to override thoughts of Danny Murphy's knack for long-range winners or Fernando Torres' terrorising of Nemanja Vidic.
What's more, the last time the two sides met, the mood before Liverpool's 3-1 victory was somewhat different. At that time, the euphoria surrounding Kenny Dalglish's appointment was still successfully filtering down to the team and masking long-standing and glaring deficiencies in their make-up – not to mention the impact of the newly-signed Luis Suárez being in full effect. And besides, while United were ultimately on their way to that record-breaking 19th title, they were hardly sweeping all before them in doing so.
A scant half a year later, however, and although Dalglish could still walk the surface of the Mersey in the eyes of his club's fans, it's fair to say that a honeymoon period in which any act or decision could be forgiven without question has come to an end. In terms of points garnered, it's been a better start to the season than is generally being portrayed – after all, a victory today would see the club move to within just three points of their opponents – but questions remain over the values of almost all of the summer signings (Stewart Downing and the cut-price José Enrique the only real exceptions), and arguably only the win over Bolton has been in any way convincing.
As such, while a decreased allocation of United fans may roll up to Anfield concerned about the threat of Suárez, or the possible inspiration of a returning Steven Gerrard, they surely still have more cause to feel confident – and not just because their club has never lost four successive games at a particular ground in the Premier League era. But then, this is Liverpool-United, a fixture in which Andrea Dossena and John O'Shea have scored goals in the recent past. Logic and predictability go out of the window, to be replaced on both sides with the nail-biting fear of losing to the one club from whom defeat hurts the most of all. So: draw, anyone? Seb Patrick