It is a tribute to the indelible grandeur of Manchester United that even a season of constipated football and toxic managerial asides can still seem epic-scale and entirely engrossing.
What have we got? Goals? Sparkling football? Er, no. But we do have Jose telling people off at the weekly pressroom postmortems, all the while trying heroically to pretend that he suffers as a noble deed to save someone else.
Not that Mourinho or United are ready to roll over just yet. Defeat at Valencia in midweek should not cloud the fact United have qualified for the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League from a tough-looking group.
Free-flowing victory at home to Fulham last Saturday was significant even against a team who also conceded four to Cardiff. At the end of which one of the most febrile away days in English football’s unremittingly febrile history arrives at a fascinating moment in the seasons of both United and Liverpool.
For Jurgen Klopp the weekend’s big-ticket game offers a rare and precious thing for any Liverpool manager. Victory could effectively kill Manchester United’s league season and perhaps even add a decisive blow in Mourinho’s own extended retreat from Old Trafford. Should United lose and the teams above them win, they would be 11 points off fourth spot, the likely base level for Mourinho to stay in the job into next summer. On the other hand, victory for United — or even the avoidance of defeat — could be a significant marker too given the history of this fixture, which has tended to stand as a staging point in the snakes and ladders of rising eras, ruined empires and periods of retrenchment.
This is a meeting of two teams without a league title between them in the past five years. But it still feels a more emotionally significant rivalry than Liverpool and Manchester City, whatever the relative strengths of those two teams. With good reason too. Between them United and Liverpool have won a third of all English league titles. They have defined themselves against one another, sketched out their periods of success and relative decline.
It is this sense of conjoined fates that adds an extra glaze of interest to Sunday’s meeting. For the first time in a quarter century Liverpool are unarguably and demonstrably in the ascendant on almost every score. If not quite on the perch, they are hungrily staking it out, top of the league and last season’s Champions League finalists, while United are as close points-wise to the relegation spots as they are to the top.
More significantly Klopp has an opportunity to apply, if not the decisive death blow to a United era, then a significant cut. Mourinho is still favourite to be the next Premier League manager sacked, albeit defeat at Anfield would hasten rather than spark his departure. It would also be an experience with a few recent echoes. Here is an odd coincidence: Mourinho left Real Madrid a month after the 4-1 defeat by Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund in April 2013; two years later Mourinho was sacked at Chelsea a month after the traumatic 3-1 defeat by Klopp’s Liverpool at Stamford Bridge during which the travelling fans sang “you’re getting sacked in the morning” and the wheel turned decisively against him.
Klopp has a chance of an extended Jose hat-trick here. Not that anything of the sort will be on his mind. The preoccupation is instead with trajectory, the rising of another red-shaded era, this one in the west.
Brighton v Chelsea, 5.30pm
Southampton v Arsenal, 5.30pm
Liverpool v Manchester United, 8pm