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THE FINISH LINE

Potent Liverpool to rule the roost on Man United's turf

EPL leaders are the favourites to claim all three points and extend their winning streak to nine matches

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Manchester United's Anthony Martial (left) is back from injury. Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (right) is looking to score his first goal against the Red Devils.

WITH the football season's first international break done and dusted, attention now switches back to Europe's top leagues, and one match that stands out on this weekend's fixture list is the mouth-watering clash between bitter English rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.

The game at Old Trafford (Sunday 11.30pm kick-off, Singapore time) sees Liverpool - the English Premier League (EPL) leaders with a perfect eight wins out of eight - looking for victory No 9 on the home ground of an injury-plagued Manchester United team that is woefully out of form.

It was not too long ago when the Red Devils (Manchester United's nickname) were constantly head and shoulders above the chasing pack, leaving opponents like Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal in their shade.

How their fortunes have changed for the worse since United's long-serving manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, at the end of a season that brought him a record-extending 20th EPL trophy. Three managers (David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho) have since come and gone, and the fourth - current boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - is fast running out of time and answers to stop the club's rot.

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After a torrid defeat to Newcastle United in their last match, United are now a lowly 12th in the league table, just two points above the relegation zone and 15 points adrift of Liverpool.

United have won just two of their last 13 EPL matches (dating back to last season), and there is little to suggest that they can turn things around any time soon, especially without the injured Paul Pogba and No 1 goalkeeper David de Gea.

Shortage of goals

The Red Devils spent heavily in the summer to strengthen their squad, with £145 million (S$255.3 million) splashed out to bring in defenders Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and midfielder Daniel James. But it is in the striking department where Solskjaer is extremely short of options. After forwards Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez departed in July, the club failed to recruit suitable replacements.

One player who could cause Liverpool some problems, however, is Anthony Martial. The Frenchman has been out of action since United's home loss to Crystal Palace in August with a thigh strain, but he is winning the race to rejoin the squad on Sunday.

The 23-year-old has fond memories of facing Liverpool at the 76,000-capacity Theatre of Dreams. It was against the same opponent at this very stadium where he made his club debut in September 2015, coming on as a second-half substitute to notch the killer third goal in a thrilling 3-1 win for the Devils.

Liverpool, of course, have no worries at all when it comes to scoring goals this season. The reigning European champions boast a lethal front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, and the potent trio have collectively recorded 15 goals and seven assists in all competitions so far.

Having narrowly missed out on the EPL crown last season by a single point, Liverpool are on a seemingly relentless charge towards their first league championship since 1990.

There's something different about Liverpool this season. They've twice recovered from losing positions - against Newcastle and Southampton - to claim maximum points. Their last two EPL opponents - Leicester and Sheffield United - seemed to have done enough to earn credible draws, only for the Reds to pop up with the winning goal in the second half.

These are the results that could well make the difference come the end of the season in May, and the statistics show that Liverpool have now won 17 EPL games on the trot dating back to March, and could tie Manchester City's record of 18 with a statement win at the home of their north west rivals on Sunday.

History on Devils' side

If there's anything that could just help United produce a shock result and end Liverpool's winning streak, it's the fact that the Red Devils have won this fixture 16 times in the Premier League era, compared to just five for Liverpool. The other five games ended all-square.

Manager Jurgen Klopp, who joined Liverpool in October 2015, has never won away at Old Trafford, and his team's last six visits in all competitions to this stadium have yielded three draws and three defeats. Salah, the Egyptian who is usually merciless in front of goal, has remarkably never scored or even provided an assist in his four appearances against United, and he will be eager to break that duck this weekend.

Ahead of the meeting between the two most successful clubs in English football, Solskjaer called on his players to rise to the occasion.

"I always look at the next game as a chance. The Liverpool game is a great chance for us to go the other way," he told Sky Sports. "It's in my nature to think of the best-case scenario. I know the fans and the players will be up for it. These are the big games that you sign up for at Manchester United."

Liverpool's left-back Andy Robertson prefers to temper expectations, warning that his team's winning form means little given the historical rivalry. He said: "I don't think it matters what your form is like in these games. It doesn't matter that we have won eight on the bounce and they are struggling. It's Manchester United versus Liverpool. It's genuinely a different atmosphere when you play against them."