THERE is only one sort of riot predicted for Old Trafford on Sunday.
And that is the sight of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and all running amok in front of the Stretford End.
It is almost six months since mass protests against Manchester United’s ruling Glazer family – and their backing for a breakaway European Super League – turned violent and caused the postponement of English club football’s grandest fixture, United versus Liverpool.
It was an unprecedented event – the first time a Premier League fixture had ever been cancelled because of fan unrest.
And as United prepare to ‘welcome’ their most bitter rivals again tomorrow, a fragile peace holds sway.
For once, United’s ruling family did not ignore the revulsion directed at them.
Joel Glazer has been involved in fans forums, there are plans for weightier supporter involvement in decision-making, the faded Theatre of Dreams, described as ‘rusty and rotting’ by Gary Neville, is being spruced up.
And, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo is back in town, providing stardust, nostalgia and goals.
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The menacing atmosphere on May 2, the day of the riot, bore stark contrast to the air of liberation around Old Trafford when Ronaldo made his triumphant homecoming, scoring twice in a 4-1 victory over Newcastle last month – even though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have been unconvincing since.
Anti-Glazer sentiment is sporadic. The most steadfast critics of the regime headed off and formed a new club, FC United of Manchester.
And while green-and-gold rebel scarves can still be seen around Old Trafford, most match-going supporters concentrate on the football.
After all, it is not as if the Glazers are the most troubling Premier League owners – Florida venture capitalists do not preside over public beheadings or the dismemberment of dissident journalists, like Newcastle’s new Saudi overlords.
Shiny new signings can overcome much – Ronaldo’s comeback, coupled with £77million arrival of long-term target Jadon Sancho and Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane quietened the air of mutiny among United’s fanbase this summer.
And while the vast majority of paying punters – as opposed to United’s vast global support – remain staunchly loyal to Solskjaer, a stiffing from Liverpool can always represent a mood-changer.
Solskjaer is yet to enjoy a Premier League victory over Jurgen Klopp’s men in five attempts and United have won just one of their last ten such matches.
Liverpool are a superior team unit, with a superior manager. They are unbeaten, they are swaggering and Salah is in incendiary form, having scored in nine straight games.
United must defy logic to win this one. They must rely on individual brilliance and Solskjaer’s daydream believing in Ferguson-era folklore – that no-longer-reliable idea that United will always find a way.
Liverpool’s visit will be United’s first match this season against genuinely elite opposition – although the dangerous Champions League underdogs of Villarreal and Atalanta have both been defeated by late Ronaldo goals to stave off a sense of full-blown crisis.
Solskjaer has often adopted a safety-first approach in fixtures against fellow elite clubs.
Last season, United bored out goalless draws with Chelsea (twice), Manchester City, Arsenal and, in January, a Liverpool team heading into a dramatic slump.
Now, with Ronaldo adding greater goalscoring potency but further imbalancing the team, United seem less suited to caution.
They must gamble and they must hope for Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and – if selected – Paul Pogba, to conjure something golden from Manchester’s grey heavens.
Defeat would leave United seven points adrift of Liverpool after just nine games.
Then the Glazers might have to erect the barricades once more.
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