There’s just something about Liverpool vs Manchester United games that make them impossible to predict.
There was so much confidence from Reds supporters heading into Sunday’s game at Anfield, but to use an old cliche, it truly is a fixture where form often goes out of the window.
Let’s not forget that when Liverpool annihilated United 7-0 last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men were struggling and the Red Devils came to Anfield full of confidence.
What unfolded at Anfield on Sunday afternoon was painfully frustrating, with the Reds making a fast start for a couple of minutes, before producing a limp showing that never merited all three points.
Granted, they still dominated their opponents and created enough chances to find the net, but the final ball was so sloppy, and several players are hugely lacking in form currently, including Dominik Szoboszlai, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nuñez.
A day that threatened to be memorable in front of an almost-full new Anfield Road stand turned into a damp squib – for the neutral, it must have been an appalling watch.
This was a chance for Liverpool to make a big title statement, going back ahead of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League, but instead, they have given the Gunners fresh impetus ahead of their trip to Merseyside this Saturday.
That fixture really does feel huge now.
There was understandable negativity after the final whistle against United, but was it an overreaction? And how should the Reds’ title push be assessed currently?
Such is the hyperbolic nature of the modern football fan, some have been quick to play down any hope of Liverpool winning the title this season, with talk returning to this being a campaign of transition.
This feels knee-jerk because of one disappointing result, and the truth is that this is going to be a year when the eventual champions will have been far from perfect.
A 95-point campaign isn’t going to be needed - somewhere in and around the mid-80s feels more likely at this point - and both Arsenal and Man City have their faults, too.
One thing that is for sure is that clear improvements have to happen if Liverpool are to end up being crowned Premier League winners for the second time in their history, though.
Winning ugly is a priceless weapon to have, but there are only so many times you can do it, and the Reds found that out on Sunday afternoon.
The late wins over Fulham and Crystal Palace were thrilling, but they still papered over what were two underwhelming performances that saw a lack of creativity and cohesion on show.
The 2-0 win at Sheffield United wasn’t exactly brimming with quality either, and there is an argument to say that Liverpool haven’t actually played particularly well since the 1-1 draw away to City on 25 November.
At some point, they are going to have to find another gear, or there is the risk that they could slowly go from being genuine challengers to solid top-four finishers.
Saturday’s visit of Arsenal feels like a defining moment in the entire season, and we will know so much more about both sides by the time it comes to a close.
On the one hand, Liverpool could excel against a bolder team than the painfully defensive United, enjoying more space in attacking areas and producing a memorable performance.
Should that happen, all the pessimism on show currently will immediately disappear, and the Reds will suddenly feel like potential front-runners once again. Football is fickle.
On the flip side, a win for Arsenal would feel like a significant moment in their continued growth under Mikel Arteta, with a statement-making away victory something that they haven’t yet produced, both this season and last term.
The Gunners feel like a more polished team than Liverpool, with Declan Rice adding more leadership and character,. After falling short last time around, they feel ahead of Klopp’s side in their development.
Then there’s City, who may feel flat currently, but who are always capable of unstoppable winning runs in the second half of the season. Write them off at your peril, and it would be no shock to see them win a fourth successive Premier League crown.
So are Liverpool title contenders, or is their position a false one?
In truth, there is a middle ground that the Reds currently sit in. They are undoubtedly in the mix to go all the way, but they feel far more flawed than in previous trophy-chasing seasons, and you can foresee them falling away.
If they were going up against the City of 2017-2019, for example, Klopp’s side would have little to no chance of matching them, but that isn’t the case this time around and points will be dropped at a more frequent rate.
Liverpool aren’t close to their near-perfect title-winning outfit – nobody expected them to be this season, in fairness – which had an immaculate defence, a ferocious midfield and a world-class attack, but they remain an excellent side in their own right.
In Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, the Reds have two true leaders at the back who are capable of being the backbone of a title-winning team, while Mohamed Salah remains relentless, even if his top form has deserted him completely of late.
The midfield is far less experienced than it used to be, but Alexis Mac Allister, Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch are capable of brilliance – Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott are exciting options, too – while the hope is that Diaz and Nuñez can overcome their current slump and hit the ground running again.
Looking at it in a positive way, Liverpool are only one point behind the league leaders and arguably haven’t played well in more than a handful of games in 2023/24 to date, so there could be so much more to come.
That being said, if Arsenal or City find a gear that sees constant wins coming their way, will the Merseysiders be able to match them?
The United game acts as a reality check, and while big improvements are required in Liverpool's overall standards, they are still in a great position.
Saturday will tell us so much more.