Man Utd v Liverpool: When Pikachu meets Godzilla
Little Coutinho and giant Ibrahimovic hold the key to success in Old Trafford clash
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Philippe Coutinho would never get mixed up in a police line-up.
Side by side, they are a genetic mismatch, Godzilla against Pikachu, a Victorian freak show ready for the circus at Old Trafford tomorrow.
When Manchester United and Liverpool meet, it's always weird and wonderful warfare.
Battle lines were drawn decades ago. Only the weapons of mass adoration change.
And Ibrahimovic and Coutinho couldn't be more different.
You bring Ibrahimovic to a gunfight. You bring Coutinho to the ballet. But size won't matter at Old Trafford, where little and large will share the billing. Each man represents his team's best chance of success.
Indeed, Ibrahimovic and Coutinho encapsulate the finer qualities of United and Liverpool respectively.
If the Swede has moulded himself into the Mount Rushmore of modern strikers, then Jose Mourinho has cultivated an equally rugged and committed squad of dogged campaigners, chalking up nine consecutive wins through sheer force of will.
As the critical eye flitted between the perils of Pep Guardiola and the rise of Antonio Conte, Mourinho quietly went about his business of sculpting a winning side from the pieces of fractured superstars.
Paul Pogba is slowly rediscovering his inner Turin terrier.
Zlatan is my natural heir and he will now carry on the legacy. I gave them a lot of s*** but he made them 'eat their b****!'. Respect!Man United legend Eric Cantona says Zlatan Ibrahimovic has replaced him as the most offensive player with journalists
The centre backs are minding the gaps and Michael Carrick continues to ignore Old Father Time. But it's Ibrahimovic who typifies United's steady resurgence.
Eighteen goals in 28 appearances in the 35-year-old's first season in English football is a ridiculous statistic, even for a long-haired behemoth.
In a telling Sky Sports interview with Thierry Henry yesterday, the Swede reiterated the driving forces behind his endurance: pride, anger and revenge.
No striker should leave home without them.
Even now, Ibrahimovic finds motivation in defying faceless sceptics he has never met and humiliating distant critics he can no longer remember.
His aggression flows through the United squad like a dark side of the force and his band of rogues are winning.
The Red Devils now display a mean streak not witnessed since Sir Alex Ferguson.
It's a new day for United. It's a way of life for Ibrahimovic.
Coutinho, on the other hand, carries himself like a timid commuter who constantly apologises for bumping into strangers on the MRT.
When he floats along Liverpool's left flank, the lightweight Brazilian leaves no stud marks in the turf.
But his influence in a red jersey is easily the equal of Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford, a point proven by Liverpool's uneasy wobble in his absence.
He's a top player and every team in the world would miss him. The more he plays, the more influential he will be for us again.James Milner on Philippe Coutinho
When Coutinho picked up his ankle injury in the 2-0 win against Sunderland In November, the Reds topped the table.
He missed nine games and Liverpool dropped seven points in the interim.
The squad's obvious lack of depth was ruthlessly exposed, but the greater concern was the dip in creative industry.
Without Coutinho's speed of thought, the fleet-footed Reds lost their rhythm.
Like Ibrahimovic, the Brazilian's attributes mirror Liverpool's playing style - intelligent, quick, easy on the eye and often improvised.
He's been sorely missed.
His decent cameo against Southampton in the League Cup in midweek must tempt Juergen Klopp to start his best player to compensate for Sadio Mane's absence and support the overworked James Milner at left back.
Coutinho's compatriot, Roberto Firmino, has gamely tried to deputise, but the roving role only curbed his striking instincts and denied service to Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge.
United's settled back four, behind an invigorated Pogba, will not suffer a bout of insomnia at the thought of Firmino holding the conductor's baton.
Only Coutinho's artistry brings the uncertainty. Only uncertainty breeds fear.
The Brazilian isn't fully fit and probably can't manage 90 minutes, but it's hard to envisage a Liverpool victory without him.
United have the momentum. They also have the monster up front.
Standing at 1.95 metres, Ibrahimovic towers over the slight, 1.71m-tall Coutinho.
But they could both scale the heights of Old Trafford.