Sir Alex Ferguson is insistent that matches between Manchester United and Liverpool are still the biggest on the domestic football calendar.
The veteran United manager takes his side to Anfield on Saturday for the first meeting between the traditional north-west rivals this season at a time when Manchester City appear to be credible title contenders.
With Liverpool having missed out on Champions League football this season, and standing outside the top four before kick-off at Anfield, it might be expected that the Manchester derby had overtaken the United-Liverpool games as the cornerstone of United’s season.
But Ferguson is adamant that his team’s encounters with Liverpool remain the highlight of any campaign, not only for him but for the English game in general.
“They are the two most successful clubs in England, historically,” said Ferguson.
“Also, from an industrial point of view, the way industry changed when they opened the (Manchester) Ship Canal — it’s all to do with the history of both clubs and the history of both cities, Liverpool and Manchester.
“And it’s an inherent situation. It has been there since I came. To me, although things may change in the next two or three years with Manchester City which mean that a derby game, United-City, could equal a Manchester United-Liverpool game, I have always considered this to be the game of the season in English football.
“And, at the moment, I think it remains there.”
The rivalry between the two clubs has not always manifested itself in a positive manner with the two sets of supporters all too often displaying a clear hostility towards each other.
Ferguson, however, believes the rival fans should show more respect towards each other.
“That’s (hostility) never going to change. But I think both clubs need each other to be honest with you,” added Ferguson.
“The history both clubs have should be appreciated by both sets of fans. That’s sometimes annoying when I hear silly chants about Munich, about Hillsborough, I don’t think it does either club any good at all because, without each other, there wouldn’t be the English league.
“If it came to a stage where fans were banned from each other’s ground, it wouldn’t really be the same game. So we need each other in that respect.
“The respect, in terms of the history of both clubs, should be adhered to and hopefully we can see that because it’s a fantastic occasion. For fans to see these games, the intensity, the rivalry, looking out on the football field, at great footballers. To me, it’s the game of the season.”
Ferguson hoped to have experienced centre half Nemanja Vidic available for the visit to Liverpool although the United manager remains impressed by the maturity currently being displayed by his younger guard.
“They all fit in well,” said Ferguson. “They have shown they have the temperament. They have come through the Chelsea game, the Arsenal game and the Tottenham game — all great tests. I am pleased with the form they are in.”