Statistics favour Liverpool over Manchester United
Whatever the mechanism used to divide up English Premier League income, Liverpool vs Manchester United will always be one of the biggest attractions of the season, and today's showdown at Anfield is no exception.
As has become the norm, the match is the earliest kick-off in the weekend programme and that makes it perfect for the television audience here. Interest will be huge, not least because of the personalities involved.
Sir Alex Ferguson has achieved his aim of knocking Liverpool off their perch but he remains as hungry as ever to leave an enduring legacy, something Kenny Dalglish failed to do after his departure as Liverpool manager 20 years ago. Within a couple of years the dynastic rule had shifted from Anfield down the road to Old Trafford.
Dalglish is back now and there is no doubt he is just as intense about making a more concerted challenge to United at the top as Ferguson is about keeping Liverpool down.
The first match on Dalglish's return in January was a trip to Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round, when United won 1-0 with an early Ryan Giggs penalty. Liverpool were not helped by Steven Gerrard's sending-off with almost two-thirds of the match to play.
But there was better to come for Liverpool in the league match at Anfield in March, which they won 3-1 in impressive style, thanks to a Dirk Kuyt hat-trick and, just as importantly, an excellent performance from Luis Suarez.
In fact, that was a third consecutive home win for Liverpool against United, which followed a period of success for Ferguson's side (five wins and a draw in the previous six meetings at Anfield).
One factor for the turnaround in fortunes may be the underperformance of Wayne Rooney. He scored the only goal in a win at Anfield in his first season with United, but since then has failed to score in seven trips.
As he has scored in just two of his six visits to Goodison Park since his controversial departure from Everton, Rooney has a question mark over whether the atmosphere gets to him when he returns to his home city. In the wake of his petulance in Montenegro, the ability to hold his emotions in check and produce his best football is open to further doubt.
United certainly appear to need Rooney at his best, having been held to draws by Stoke and Basle in the two top-level matches he missed recently. They are still reliant on scoring more than the opposition (just three clean sheets in 10 games this season against Premier League and Champions League teams) and Rooney is the key to doing that.
If Rooney is fired up in the right way, he is clearly a potential match-winner, but preference is for Liverpool after the progress they have made under Dalglish and the more rounded team he has built.
Added to that is the recent trend towards home teams in games between the big six. In the past two seasons, the home win rate has been 60 per cent, and this season there have been five home wins out of seven, with two defeats.
Overall, the defeat rate for home teams has been 22 per cent since the start of the 2009-10 season. With the overall figures tying in with Liverpool's wins in their last three home games against United, the value lies with the hosts.
Another factor, in view of United's problems keeping a clean sheet, is that Liverpool's home record under Dalglish when scoring in Premier League and European games is nine won out of 12, with no defeats. That record makes Liverpool the pick on the handicap.
Two of the early pacesetters among the rest will be put to the test against elite teams this weekend when Newcastle and Aston Villa - the only unbeaten Premier League sides apart from the two Manchester clubs - host Tottenham and visit Manchester City, respectively.
Newcastle's underrated form has been pointed out here before, although there were still murmurings after their latest win at Wolves that they hadn't played a decent team yet.
It is true that they have met only one of the big six this season and that was on the opening day against a clearly below-par Arsenal, when the score was 0-0 at St James' Park. But last season, after Alan Pardew took charge in December, Newcastle lost only one out of five at home to big-six teams.
The defeat was 3-1 against Manchester City early in his reign and a month later Newcastle held Tottenham 1-1 and even then were pegged back only by a last-minute equaliser for the visitors.
But any temptation to back Newcastle again on the handicap is tempered by Tottenham's excellent form this year against teams outside the big six. Since the start of this year, Harry Redknapp's team have lost only two out of 15 and the last defeat was in February.
This season their good form against the bulk of the division has been masked by the late start and early defeats by the Manchester clubs, but since then they have won four out of four.
Aston Villa have been steady rather than spectacular, as you might expect of an Alex McLeish team, and are likely to come unstuck at City. The biggest doubt about City is how they might cope without Sergio Aguero.
Shortlist: Liverpool, Wigan, Stoke, Malaga, Cagliari, Fiorentina, Nurnberg
TOP 5 BETS
1 Liverpool on handicap
Scoring record points to a good result
2 Stoke home win
Easiest fixture yet for strong home team
3 Malaga on handicap
Unbeaten in five as investment pays off
4 Cagliari home win
Have won all three against teams below them
5 Nurnberg on handicap
Unbeaten in four against teams outside top six