LONDON - The beach balls have been bought, the songs dusted down and the Internet rants prepared as Manchester United seek to bounce Liverpool out of the title race on Sunday with almost three quarters of the season remaining.
Within hours of Liverpool losing 1-0 at Sunderland last week courtesy of a goal deflected in via a beach ball thrown on to the pitch by a fan, the Liverpool club shop's entire stock of the inflatables had sold out after a rash of Internet orders.
Gleeful Man United fans are presumed to have been behind the sales surge and Anfield stewards will be primed to keep the balls at bay during Sunday's match.
But even if some Liverpool supporters will be suppressing a sly smile at the absurdity of it all, the prospect of a fifth defeat in a row and fifth in 10 Premier League games is no laughing matter.
It would mark Liverpool's worst run for more than half a century and leave them 10 points behind United and potentially nine behind Chelsea, who host Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
With the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Sunderland also above them, the chances of Liverpool somehow steaming through to take their first title in 20 years look remote and will surely be impossible if they lose again.
Sections of the crowd booed the team off after Tuesday's Champions League defeat by Olympique Lyon, having also jeered Benitez after he replaced scorer Yossi Benayoun with Andriy Voronin late in the game.
Steven Gerrard, who lasted 25 minutes into the game after a premature comeback; Fernando Torres, Albert Riera and Glen Johnson are all struggling to make Sunday's game, piling the pressure on Benitez.
"I cannot remember an injury situation like this," he said. "I have no idea what team I can put out against Manchester United until we have had the players tested and seen by the medical team."
United, in total contrast, followed their return to the top of the league last weekend with a 1-0 win at CSKA Moscow to put them in control of their Champions League group.
Their chief injury concern is Wayne Rooney but they have shown they can win with or without the England striker. - Reuters