Rio Ferdinand is predicting fourth place at best for Liverpool in the Premier League this season.
It is four seasons since the Merseyside giants last achieved that feat, and 23 since the last of their 18 league championships.
Given the huge amounts of cash spent by Kenny Dalglish and the rebuilding work required following the exits of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam over the past 12 months, it is hardly a surprise so little was expected of Brendan Rodgers’ troops this season.
Yet Liverpool have started the campaign with back-to-back victories and should they beat Manchester United at Anfield today, they will find themselves five points ahead of their old rivals.
However, Ferdinand does not feel it will be the prelude to an extended championship drive. That, the United defender is convinced, will be the preserve of his own club, Manchester City and Chelsea.
“It is too early to say whether they will challenge the top four,” Ferdinand told MUTV. “I don’t think they would have been in anyone’s reckoning before the season began. But they have started the season very well and are looking to put themselves in a good position after those first three games.
“I still see it being between Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal going for that fourth spot.”
Ferdinand has identified Daniel Sturridge, who scored the winner against both Stoke and Aston Villa, and Philippe Coutinho as the main threats to the visitors on what is sure to be a high-octane occasion. The 34-year-old is well used to the unique atmosphere, having played in 19 such contests, including scoring late winners twice at Old Trafford. Not only that, Ferdinand also sat in the stands for United’s FA Cup defeat at Anfield in 2006, a game chiefly remembered for the horrific injury suffered by Alan Smith.
So, for all the noise generated by those increasingly troublesome neighbours at Manchester City, Ferdinand accepts it is the Liverpool games that remain the pinnacle.
“You still get a different feeling when it is Liverpool,” he said. “I think it is the history between the clubs, the success Liverpool had and the success we have had in recent years.
“The rivalry is always going to be huge. But I can tell you, the tension isn’t as great on the pitch as it is in the stands. Just getting to the ground can be hairy at times. On the pitch, you sense the atmosphere leading up to the game and also during it. You know what it means to the people of Manchester to beat Liverpool, especially at Anfield.
“I have been lucky enough to be on the winning team a few times. To come away from Anfield with a win is a great feeling.”
And this year United have a new man in the dug-out, someone Liverpool’s supporters already have a grievance against given that David Moyes spent 11 seasons at Everton.
“I don’t think it will make any difference having an ex-Everton man in charge,” said Ferdinand. “His desire to beat Liverpool will be as strong as ever. He had that with Everton. It is a big game for them. I am sure he will quickly realise this game is as big in Manchester as it was for them.”
Brendan Rodgers’ side have a 100 per cent record to date this season, having won at home against Stoke and away against Aston Villa in the league and secured an extra-time home victory over Notts County in the Capital One Cup second round on Tuesday.
Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel is set to make his return to action in today’s contest but full-back Aly Cissokho will play no part in the game after picking up an ankle injury against Notts County. Two other Liverpool players who came off injured in that match, defender Kolo Toure (groin) and midfielder Joe Allen (hamstring), are both doubts.
Striker Luis Suarez is still suspended, although he could face United at Old Trafford in the Capital One Cup third round next month as his ten-game ban will then have been completed.