Neville stirs up rivalry with Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Anfield's bête noire Gary Neville has reminded Liverpool of the vital fact which looms large ahead of the sides' encounter on Sunday – Manchester United are now close to eclipsing their 18 league titles.

Neville's dislike of Liverpool was never more apparent than during his celebration of United's late winner at Old Trafford in January 2006, which erned him a warning from the Football Association, and the opportunity to move past them onto 19 titles is clearly energising him.

"There are a variety of reasons why this fixture is so important," he said. "The cities are very close yet have different cultures, both clubs have enjoyed great periods at different times in the past 40 years, and now we're level on the number of championships won."

The United captain, whose mastery of CSKA Moscow's plastic pitch on Wednesday evening in the 1-0 Champions League victory contributed to his best performance for United since his one-year lay-off from March 2007, insisted the rivalry was not tantamount to a lack of respect.

"I've never said I don't respect Liverpool. You have to respect a team that has been as successful as they have and has the history and tradition they have. But I'm a United fan and the rivalry is well documented. United fans want United to win and Liverpool to lose, and it's the same the other way."

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, faces a difficult challenge in getting Wayne Rooney fit for a match at Anfield which could leave United 10 points clear of Rafael Benitez's faltering, eighth-placed side. Injections are a possibility for Rooney's calf injury sustained for England in Ukraine.

Neville believes that Rooney now resembles Roy Keane in his central role.

"You see a little bit of Roy Keane's character in Rooney and the way he plays," Neville said. "He's very important, he's infectious and sets the tone. Obviously, we have a few people who do that, but he has a fantastic desire that transmits itself to the rest of the team."

The United defender Rio Ferdinand believes Antonio Valencia is destined to become a big star at the club. The Ecuador international, signed from Wigan in the summer, is starting to settle into life at Old Trafford, and followed up his first goal for the club in last week's defeat of Bolton by grabbing the late winner against CSKA Moscow.

"He is from the Paul Scholes mould of embracing hype," Ferdinand said, "but he's the most confident guy on the football field and he's been very impressive. He's playing very well."