Gunslinger Rooney can silence Liverpool, says Andy Cole
It is always one of the most eagerly-anticipated clashes in football.
The rivalry has churned up talking points and endless debate, produced villains and heroes, and even in not so pretty games offered drama.
And with both sides this time chasing a top-four spot, there will be much at stake when Liverpool host Manchester United in the English Premier League tonight.
The 22 men who will march out of the tunnel at Anfield will each have chance to emerge as a hero in the 192nd meeting between the two deadly rivals, and former United striker Andy Cole singles out Wayne Rooney as the player who matters the most.
Cole, who netted 121 goals in seven seasons with United, met fans at Courts Megastore Tampines yesterday as part of the retailer's celebrations for Singapore's 50th birthday. Courts will also host former France international and ex-Chelsea defender Frank Leboeuf next month.
Cole had no doubt what Louis van Gaal needed to do: field Rooney up front, and not in midfield.
"I read van Gaal's comments from a few weeks ago about how, if he had someone who could score 20 goals a season, then we would be competing for the championship," Cole told the New Paper.
"Well, Wayne Rooney's been doing that for numerous seasons so just play him up front - that's where you're going to get the best out of him.
"Sometimes you see things like that and it makes you scratch your head."
Cole is an ambassador for the club and clearly has United blood in his veins, but he admitted Liverpool are the favourites even though van Gaal's team were two points ahead of them.
He says the Reds will be the more confident of the two teams, following an impressive run of form that has seen them win 15 of their last 23 games in all competition, including a 2-1 win over defending champions Manchester City at the start of the month.
"You would have to say Liverpool (will be favourites) based on the form they've been in, as well as them being the home team," he conceded. "To beat City at home and also win away at Swansea, which is never easy, tees them up nicely for this clash."
One main area of consternation for United fans, who Cole says have every right to be disappointed, has been the team's failure to excite in the attacking third, despite boasting the likes of Rooney, Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria.
The ex-England international, who also had stints at Newcastle and Blackburn, believes the root of the problem lies much deeper than just the forwards misfiring.
"The fans have certainly showed their disapproval and for me, as an ex-player, you're disappointed when Manchester United are not playing well and winning," Cole said. "Manchester United are known to play a certain way - they're attack-minded and they always score loads of goals.
"You would think with such names in attack it should be working but, from my experience, I played in a team that created a hell of a lot of chances with people that made it very easy for the boys up front.
"Van Gaal's team play totally different to Sir Alex Ferguson's United - they don't create half as many chances, and that makes it a lot tougher for the strikers."
United will almost certainly end the season empty-handed for the second year running, but victory at Anfield would give the fans bragging rights over the Reds, after they also beat Liverpool 3-0 at Old Trafford last December.
However, Cole believes that will count for nothing if Liverpool finish among the top four at the expense of United.
"Forget bragging rights - I don't think they have any relevance now," he insisted. "Finishing inside the top four - that's the real 'bragging rights'."
- The writer is a freelancer.