Man United’s next two games take on extra importance as Old Trafford mood darkens

Man United renew old rivalry.

In March 2009, one of the most iconic images of the Man United v Liverpool rivalry was born.

Steven Gerrard, seconds after putting the Merseysiders 2-1 up at Old Trafford, kisses the badge on his grey Liverpool shirt before planting another smooch on the first television camera he could find, much to the delight of the travelling supporters.

Steven Gerrard v Man United.

The then-Liverpool captain knew exactly how much this would wind up the home fans and the afternoon would get a lot worse for them, as Rafael Benitez’s side added another two goals to win 4-1.

The result closed the gap between the rivals at the top of the Premier League to four points and while United would go on to claim a third consecutive Premier League crown, Gerrard’s celebration remains a fly in the ointment when Red Devils fans look back on the campaign.

The gesture was very much in keeping with the bitterness between Gerrard and Man United during his playing career, with few rival players sharing such a mutual dislike with the Old Trafford crowd.

Defeat could be disastrous.

This coming Monday, Gerrard will come face-to-face with those very supporters for the first time as a manager, when he takes his Aston Villa side to Old Trafford for an FA Cup third round clash.

Never shy about having a pop at Man United in the media, the game provides an opportunity for the 41-year-old to get one over his old rivals on the pitch, where it matters most.

For a fanbase that is already disillusioned with how this campaign is going, defeat to Gerrard on Monday would only darken the mood.

United have already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup, the Premier League title is a million miles away and Champions League glory is just a pipe dream at the moment.

All of this means that the FA Cup could be the club’s last chance to end a five-year trophyless spell this season.

Steven Gerrard could twist the knife.

To have that taken away by Gerrard’s charges, and to see him celebrating in front of the Aston Villa section at the end of a game that will be broadcast live on BBC 1, could be too much to take for United supporters.

While the home side will be favourites, Villa winning at Old Trafford is a distinct possibility given how poorly United have performed of late, with a 1-0 home defeat to Wolves still fresh in the memory.

To make matters worse, Gerrard would have a chance to twist the knife just five days later when United visit Villa Park in the Premier League next Saturday evening, with the Birmingham outfit looking to complete a league double over United for the first time since the 1954/55 season.

After registering 13 points from their opening five matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, the Red Devils have since embarked on a run that has seen them win just five times in 14 Premier League outings, and it all started with Villa’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford in September.

Man United v Aston Villa double-header.

Solskjaer has since been dismissed, to be replaced with Ralf Rangnick on an interim basis, and after some encouraging signs under the German coach, it seems United have reverted to the habits of the Norwegian’s final days.

A day rarely goes by without stories of squad disharmony filtering out of Old Trafford and while it’s up to the players to fix things on the training ground, fans would love nothing more than for them to do so before Gerrard rolls into town.

The former midfielder has enjoyed a positive start to life at Villa and, with new loan signing Philippe Coutinho in tow, you wouldn’t bet against him grinning from ear-to-ear come full-time on Monday, Saturday or both.

Whether he will be able to resist another nose-rubbing kiss towards the camera is another matter.

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