Wayne Rooney is finding the success of Liverpool "really difficult" to watch this season, a feeling intensified by Manchester United's year of despair under David Moyes.
Whether you blame the changing of Old Trafford's hierarchy, the players or a combination of both, United's dismal campaign is likely to end with the team missing out on a place in next season's Champions League.
Liverpool, meanwhile, remain in the title hunt and are 11 points clear of their rivals—a fact that is difficult to take for Rooney, he admitted in an interview with Inside United.
To see City doing well, and particularly Liverpool, is really difficult. It's not nice when we know we are capable of being up there challenging and we haven't been doing that this season.
However, it means we have to step up and get back up there because the feeling we've had this season is not a nice feeling at all to have. We have to keep working, keep progressing and finish the season stronger.
Rooney's campaign has been blighted with injury and an inconsistent run of form, much like the rest of his teammates. The Englishman netted nine of his 11 Premier League goals before Christmas and has only recently started finding the target again with two in his last duo of domestic appearances, per WhoScored.
United have gone unbeaten in their last four top-flight games and will certainly need Rooney in prosperous form if that is to continue. The powerful forward, whose career is defined by streaky goalscoring runs, has the opportunity to dent Liverpool's title hopes by producing a virtuoso display during the Old Trafford clash on March 16.
A win is unlikely to influence United's finishing position too heavily, but it could help dictate where the Premier League trophy ends up this campaign. The mouthwatering tie is the first of a crucial four-game spell for United, which also sees them take on Olympiakos, West Ham and Manchester City across nine days that will make or break their season.
Robin van Persie's sudden loss of form—and criticism of teammates after the Champions League round of 16 first-leg loss to Olympiakos—has forced many to question the Dutchman's attitude, per Jeremy Cross of the Daily Star.
Rooney's performances have taken on more importance during this difficult spell for his attacking partner and there's little doubt he will play a major part in United's progression across the next few years, despite Martin Allen suggesting the burly forward's place "is most definitely in question" due to his lack of pace, per the Daily Mail.
If Rooney's selection was seriously in doubt, United wouldn't have offered him a deal worth £300,000 per week, as reported by BBC Sport. He was at the heart of United's increased passing style during the win over West Brom, a match which saw him link excellently with Juan Mata. When possession is moving at such a speed, Rooney's suggested lack of pace isn't noticeable.
Both he and United's squad will be itching to catch Liverpool next season. Although that feat is looking unlikely this year, there's no doubt a home triumph over Brendan Rodgers' side would lift spirits in the United camp.
Rooney can be the catalyst and will be the man who Moyes builds his new team around in the summer.