Supremacy in the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United has swung back and forth between English football’s two traditional powerhouses but there is no mistaking where it lies currently.
Liverpool have added an armour-pleated rearguard to their quicksilver front line, are enjoying their best ever start to a Premier League season and sit top of the table as the campaign approaches its halfway point.
United, by stark contrast, have regressed in all areas of the pitch and fallen even further off the pace. They average a full point fewer per game than Liverpool, who they trail by 16 points already.
In this most keenly fought of local feuds, even the most one-eyed Old Trafford fan would concede that the men from Anfield hold the upper hand.
Jurgen Klopp’s team ought to be approaching United’s trip down the M62 to Merseyside on Sunday with glee, then, relishing a chance to ram home their obvious superiority at the expense of their hated foes.
Yet their curiously dreadful recent record in this fixture might give them pause for thought. In the last eight meetings, Liverpool have not won once and have accrued a meagre total of three points.
They did torpedo United in the Europa League three seasons ago, but not since 2013-14 have they beaten them in the top flight, when Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez scored the goals in a 3-0 win.
For all the strife at Old Trafford since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, they have retained an uncanny ability to scupper the opponents he resolved to “knock off their f****** perch”.
If there were ever a time when the stars seemed to be aligning for Liverpool to end their dismal run against the old enemy, though, then this is surely that moment.
Klopp has improved his team year-by-year since taking charge in October 2015, finishing fourth in his first full season, and repeating the feat while reaching the Champions League final last term.
The progress coaxed out of Liverpool by the German has reached its fullest expression in the last week, when they have hit the front in the title race and progressed in Europe by beating Napoli.
Over at United, meanwhile, every green shoot of recovery, such as Saturday’s thumping victory over Fulham, is reliably trampled upon at the earliest opportunity, as in Wednesday’s dire 2-1 loss at Valencia.
To view United as no-hopers this weekend, however, would be to neglect a factor that is no respecter of form or reputation – or, it seems at times, a great deal else: Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho has built a career on his twin propensities: amassing trophies and raining on the parades of his most celebrated opponents. Indeed, it is tempting to wonder which gives him greater satisfaction.
His Chelsea team did for Liverpool’s Premier League bid with a 2-0 win at Anfield in 2014 and dished up a 6-0 humiliation for Arsene Wenger’s 1,000 game in charge, while Mourinho’s United delayed Manchester City title celebrations with a belligerent 3-2 comeback victory.
One of his greatest achievements – 10-man Inter Milan reaching the Champions League final after overcoming Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona – was a masterclass in defiance, spoiling tactics and getting one over on rivals he resented like no other.
Mourinho would derive particular pleasure from derailing Klopp and Liverpool’s bandwagon.
The Portuguese is fond of reminding media that their praise for the former Borussia Dortmund coach is backed up relatively little silverware and none as yet at his current club.
In response to the Reds’ £250m outlay on new signings this year – spending Mourinho might have eyed jealously given his gripes over United’s transfer policy – he called for Klopp to be held to a higher standard.
He also a history of run-ins with Liverpool, notably during his first spell at Chelsea when the sides vied for domestic and European supremacy and revisited four years ago when Demba Ba seized on Gerrard’s slip to tug at the thread of a title charge that quickly unravelled thereafter.
Despite struggling to get a tune out of United for much of the season, Mourinho has not completely lost his touch for frustrating some of the teams has clashed with most in happier times.
Against expectations they came within seconds of inflicting Chelsea’s first defeat of the season before settling for a 2-2 draw and held resurgent Arsenal to the same scoreline earlier this month.
With the title race disappearing into the distance and little sign of him assembling a project for future seasons, denying feted rivals is one of the few things he has left to play for.
Klopp and Liverpool have their sights set on bigger things: a first trophy of any kind since the 2012 League Cup and perhaps the end of their wait for a league title that is now in its 29th year.
United’s decline may mean this isn’t the top-of-the-table shootout it has been in the past, but it still feels like a significant test of the hosts’ credentials.
End a sequence of underachievement against the only team to have been crowned champions of England on more occasions and the title talk will only grow louder. Fail to do so and the crowing will all be Mourinho’s and United’s.