War of Reds feels real now: Neil Humphreys
Manchester United-Liverpool rivalry may be perfect New Year gift
The year 2020 has been one for clutching at straws, so let's end the horror show with one more effort. The war of the Reds looks set for a comeback.
Liverpool and Manchester United's rivalry might actually matter again, as a collective, unifying force of love and hate that we can all get behind.
On Jan 18 (12.30am, Singapore time), the Red Devils head to Anfield for an English Premier League fixture that means something more than those vague bragging rights that folks obsess over when they've got nothing else to play for.
But this one counts, properly, for the first time in years.
At the time of writing, Liverpool and United occupy the top two positions of a topsy-turvy table that seems to be the fantastical work of Lewis Carroll, rather than anyone employed in professional football.
Somehow, the Red Devils are relevant again, almost in spite of their permanently smiling man-child in the dugout. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems determined to grin his way to silverware. Why not? Nothing else has really worked to date.
Even in their 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday morning, United prevailed despite their manager's interventions rather than because of them.
Marcus Rashford drifted between an inside forward and a left winger for 90 frustrating minutes, drifting towards an identity crisis before knocking in a late, deflected winner.
His attacking colleagues were instructed to treat Old Trafford like an alien environment, sitting back in the conservative hope of nicking a late goal - at home. They managed just two shots on target before Rashford's winner.
Perhaps United intend to sneakily win the title by boring us all to death.
Cliche dictates that scrappy 1-0 wins are a clear sign of prospective champions. Or, they are the latest examples of Covid-19's grim determination to turn this unpredictable season into a farce.
Never mind the Theatre of Dreams. This is the theatre of the absurd, epitomised by the rise and fall and rise again of Solskjaer.
A lifetime ago, also known as last month, the Norwegian was a candidate for the sack. Now he's a title contender. That's entertainment. Or it's the surreal inconsistency of the EPL, depending on your mood or team allegiances.
Still, beggars can't be choosers. As the prospect of an EPL circuit-breaker looms large, the resumption of hostilities between Liverpool and United is a most welcome straw to clutch.
A war of the Reds is arguably a bit of a stretch. Maybe a mild fracas between two old rivals is a more fitting description, but that'll do nicely for now.
In reality, United still have the stage presence and feel of Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band. There are some talented and dedicated performers out there, but honestly, it's Bruno Fernandes and the others at the moment.
The Portuguese automaton made his United debut against Wolves in February and set up the winner against the same opponents yesterday. Along the way, he has directly contributed to 32 league goals - scoring 18 and setting up another 14.
He instigates United's rare counter-attacks almost out of necessity. Too many teammates are too goal-shy, too often.
But Liverpool's defensive crisis is only one injury away from Juergen Klopp setting up a stall and recruiting centre-backs in the town centre. An unleashed Fernandes is a frightening prospect for the Reds.
In a season defined by its inconsistency, the United midfielder has been a metronome of dependable artistry.
Without establishing a clear formation, line-up or fixed style of play, the Red Devils have taken 23 points from a possible 27 in their last nine games, mostly because they have Fernandes.
With the irrepressible maverick in such fine form and Liverpool's centre-backs out of action, United's enticing trip to Anfield suddenly looks difficult to call.
Solskjaer insists there is no title race after 15 games, but there may well be one after Jan 18.
It's almost as if the karmic gods felt obliged to make amends for 2020 by giving us what we needed in 2021 - the return of Liverpool and United, challenging each other, motivating each other and thoroughly hating each other.
The new year might just be a happy one after all.