The difference is 10 points. But if you go back to April of last year, it was six years. After Liverpool defeated Manchester United 4-0, Ralf Rangnick said, “We have to accept they are six years ahead of us now”. It concluded a 9-0 overall victory over the league season, the biggest win in a rivalry since 1895.

Saying United needed “open-heart surgery” was an indictment of the Glazers, Ed Woodward, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the players as well. It was also a controversial statement which probably did not endear Rangnick to his employers. Liverpool’s excellent strategy had given them a significant advantage, while United had wasted years. Managers at Manchester United are not supposed to cite Manchester City or Liverpool as inspirations, but by that point, Rangnick frequently did. They had bigger issues than the lack of diplomacy an interim manager showed because Liverpool were going for the quadruple and United were having their worst season since the 1980s. Last season, Liverpool beat their rivals by 34 points; their goal differencel was plus 68, whereas United’s was zero. They were separated not by the length of the East Lancashire Road, but by an oceanic gulf. 

Erik ten Hag’s team defeated Liverpool nine days after losing to Brentford 4-0. Sometimes revivals start slowly, but United’s appeared to have started abruptly. United’s first goal for the season from a United player came from Marcus Rashford. This changed the course of his career from the worst to the best. Harry Maguire was benched, and Lisandro Martinez, who was taken off at halftime for Brentford, excelled against a hungry Liverpool side that was also winless at the time. When Anthony Elanga was replaced by Anthony Martial to reorganize the attack after an encouraging first half, it was clear that Ten Hag was skilled at using substitutes. Rashford, who had been switched to the left wing, pounced on Martial’s pass to score eight minutes later. Cristiano Ronaldo, who had played the full 90 minutes at Brentford, was confined to the role of a late substitute.  A role which he loathed as it became apparent as the season progressed.

A fresh group was coming together. United, not Liverpool, is still contending on four fronts after seven months. Klopp’s Liverpool has been supplanted as Carabao Cup champions by Ten Hag’s United. After the EFL cup victory, the Dutchman said, “I just love United,” as he stood in the depths of Wembley with the trophy in front of him. Rangnick did not feel inclined to use those words as he developed into United’s most scathing critic.

Rashford has served as an inspiration to Klopp’s team this season, serving as a reminder to them that they too have the power to change their circumstances. Rashford might feel like a perfect Klopp player if he weren’t from the red half of Manchester. He has replaced Mohamed Salah as the most productive winger in the league.  However, the Egyptian scored his 20th goal of the season on Wednesday in Liverpool’s match against Wolves. Casemiro is having the midfield campaign that Liverpool hoped Fabinho would have. The Brazilian acts as the catalyst and is described by Fred as “a big leader,” while the other has been replaced by Stefan Bajcetic, an 18-year-old. They both have the same number of goals allowed on defense, but while United’s improvement started earlier, their statistics are still skewed by huge losses to City and Brentford. Liverpool’s improvement has been more recent, and even then, their four straight clean sheets were broken by Real Madrid’s five goals.

It might imply that they are now required to prove their case. United are most likely not going to win the league title. However, a top four finish is almost certain. This means that Liverpool appear to have a greater need for victory come Sunday. Liverpool have a more enigmatic vibe than Ten Hag’s team, who have only suffered two losses in 32 games across all competitions. Ten points from four games could be the beginning of a comeback that puts them back in the Champions League positions, but United can make sure that doesn’t happen.

They are a team that has made history, frequently for the better and occasionally for the worse, so history favors them. Three months into Klopp’s administration, United earned their last victory at Anfield. Since then, they have scored just once in seven visits, with Jesse Lingard’s goal coming on the day Liverpool sent Jose Mourinho packing. Meanwhile, Salah has surpassed all other goal scorers in the rivalry’s history with 10, five of which came last season alone.

However, there appears to be a seismic role reversal this season. Despite the underwhelming results and trophy drought under Solskjaer, the fact that United is currently on track to finish ahead of Liverpool for the second time in three seasons flatters to deceive on paper. There is some doubt as to whether this is a long-term change and whether Ten Hag, like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, will topple Liverpool and knock them off their perch again. While Liverpool’s six years of success under Klopp have not yet been undone and can never be, Rangnick has been left with the unflattering reputation of having underestimated his successor. Or perhaps it’s only been six years, or Manchester United has perfected the art of time travel.

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