This weekend sees Man United and Liverpool face each other for the 160th time, but there has rarely been a bigger gap between the two clubs in the modern era, with a massive 21 points separating the two.
Sunday's fixture is being billed as Robin Van Persie v Luis Suarez, with little to choose between the Premier League's leading hotshots, so will it be the supporting cast that make the difference?
Man United under Fergie are famed for their wing play and, despite flirting with a narrower formation this season, the Scot is likely to call upon Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to give his side attacking width.
By comparison, Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers will probably select Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling to patrol the wide areas, with the former a much-maligned winger and the latter still a raw 18-year-old talent, so do the Red Devils' have the upper hand in these areas? We asked our friends at Opta to see how they compare and the result isn't as clear cut as you might expect, given United's lofty position in the Premier League table…
Antonio Valencia v Stewart Downing
Two traditional wide-men, Downing and Valencia aren't adverse to getting a bit of chalk on their boots. Both are more likely to play the role of provider, than finish - as can be seen by their crossing statistics, Downing and Valencia are the key outlets for their sides from wide positions, but Valencia has more assists than Downing, which may reflect more the superiority of United's finishing over Liverpool's.
Downing has become a maligned figure due to his difficult first season at Liverpool and while he has improved this campaign, the jury remains undecided. Valencia's reliability on Man United's right flank has gained him plenty of plaudits, but as can be seen by the figures, the difference in effectiveness between the two this season is not great. Crossing aside, both have created 25 goalscoring opportunities for their team, a stat which is made slightly more impressive given Downing has featured just 12 times for Liverpool in the league this season.
Ashley Young v Raheem Sterling
Ashley Young and Raheem Sterling are more direct players than Valencia and Downing. The Liverpool youngster has been one of the breakout performers of the 2012/13 season, earning rave reviews for his exciting, yet mature performancesl. As such, the 18-year-old has played 20 times in the league already this campaign, racking up more game time than Downing, Valencia and Young. The Man United man has started to feature quite frequently for the Red Devils since his return from injury and it is only over the past month that his impact has been really felt.
Both players start as nominal wide attackers, but have a direct approach to goal, particularly in the case of Sterling, who has attempted a high number of dribbles, with a respectable 40 per cent completion rate. Indeed, Sterling is providing healthy competition for Young within the England set-up and while he has certainly enjoyed a better season thus far, Old Trafford will provide a test to measure exactly how well he compares to the more experienced United attacker.
How the wide men perform at Old Trafford could be crucial to the result. Both teams have Spanish 'keepers with question marks hanging over them, neither side is rock solid defensively and both can boast lethal finishers. Liverpool will do their best to compete with United in the middle of the park, leaving the wide players as the men who could make the difference. While Man United will be expected to beat Liverpool on Sunday, if Sterling and Downing step up to the plate in comparison to Young and Valencia, as the statistics suggest they can, it may not be so straight forward for the home side. Liverpool have nothing to fear, but can they Sterling and Downing play without fear in the cauldron of Old Trafford? We shall see!
Are Liverpool capable of getting a result against Man United on Sunday? Is the gap between the two sides smaller than first thought? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below...