Manchester United and Liverpool defences wary of wonded strikers Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres
Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres go into tomorrow’s lunchtime battle at Old Trafford in desperate need of a pick-up.
England striker Rooney has crumbled under intense speculation regarding his private life while Torres is also struggling to sparkle for his club, cutting a lonely figure after failing to leave Anfield in the summer.
Although Torres reiterated his commitment to the Reds, he now has the look of a man who has been let down by the Merseysiders.
Assurances given regarding the future ownership of the club have not materialised and the Reds were plunged into fresh disarray yesterday when it emerged that co-owner Tom Hicks is thought to be ready to snap up George Gillett's stake in the club.
Their promises of a new stadium and a bright future for the club have not been delivered.
There appears to be no end to Liverpool’s off-field problems which have contributed to Torres’ lethargic start to the season — although Spain won the World Cup he looked a shadow of his former self even then.
Meanwhile, Rooney has his own personal demons to fight. In the Champions League draw with Rangers he looked like a man who was still haunted by the whirlwind of negative publicity surrounding allegations he was unfaithful to his wife, Coleen.
The fans will want to see a very different United side tomorrow — and a rejuvenated Rooney whose last goal in open play came against Liverpool back in March.
There can be no better fixture for Rooney and Torres to silence their critics.
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson hopes a fully-refreshed Torres and Steven Gerrard will provide the spearhead for victory against United.
The pair were left out of this week’s 4-1 Europa League win over Steaua Bucharest.
The Spain striker has enjoyed a fruitful time at Old Trafford in the past, scoring on his last three visits and terrorising centre-back Nemanja Vidic on a number of occasions, though Hodgson does not read too much into past results.
“I give it no credence, none at all,” said Hodgson in response to Torres' record against United.
“But let's hope on Sunday we see a great performance from him. He is Fernando Torres — he is going to have bad games and wonder games.
“As far as I'm concerned you don't swing between wonder and hopeless. Either you are a good player or you are not and he is a very good player.
“But like all good players he will have games where people will say ‘We expected more of you, we thought you could have done better’ and that was probably the case against Birmingham.
“It will be the case again on many occasions this year but the point is he is a very good player and we are going to get an awful lot of benefit from his services because good players remain good players.”
Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher expects the real Wayne Rooney to shoot down Liverpool.
“There is nothing to worry about with Wayne. Wayne is a top player and the goals will come because he has so much quality,” he said.
“It is up to us to create the chances for him and give him the opportunities to score.
“Maybe we have not done that lately. Against Rangers we didn't create anything for him. He will be frustrated with that but it will come.”
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson knows this is one fixture he doesn’t need to inject a little hype into.
“I sound like a parrot but this is the fixture,” he said. “There is no question about that. It doesn't change. The form fluctuates quite a bit but we won the last game so hopefully that turns it back towards us again.”
Matches against United are always used as a barometer of how good the current Liverpool side are, considering they have not won a league championship since 1990 allowing their arch-rivals to draw level with their record tally of 18.
Hodgson, though, will not be judging his squad on the outcome of one game.
“It is a difficult encounter always but it is a game which has thrilled people throughout the years and let's hope it is no different at the weekend,” he said.
“There is no point in me or Alex (Ferguson) trying to build up the game because it has been built up anyway; all we can do is get on with it and hope our teams are well prepared on the field and our players perform.
“The result will be very important. This is going to be an even league, more than half the table is currently separated by a point or two. But it is going to be a long haul for everyone this season before you get into a position where you hope you will end up.
“Games of this magnitude coming so early in our time here are not exactly ideal but I'm hoping we will give it our best shot and see what the game brings.”