LONDON - Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand says Liverpool will not challenge for the Premier League title this season, ahead of their derby showdown on Sunday.
Liverpool took maximum points from their first two games, with 1-0 victories over Stoke City and Aston Villa, and will move five points clear of United if they beat them at Anfield.
However, despite their impressive early form, Ferdinand believes the best the five-time European champions can hope for this season is a top-four finish and a place in the Champions League.
"It is too early to say whether they will challenge the top four," Ferdinand told United's in-house television channel, MUTV.
"I don't think they would have been in anyone's reckoning before the season began. But they have started the season very well and are looking to put themselves in a good position after those first three games.
"I still see it being between Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal going for that fourth spot."
Ferdinand, 34, has sampled the fiery atmosphere of United's games with Liverpool on 19 previous occasions and has twice scored late winning goals in the fixture at Old Trafford.
He also sat in the stands for United's FA Cup loss at Anfield in February 2006; a game that saw visiting midfielder Alan Smith stretchered off with a badly broken leg and dislocated ankle.
Despite identifying City and Chelsea as the strongest title contenders, Ferdinand says Liverpool remain his side's greatest rivals.
"You still get a different feeling when it is Liverpool," he said.
"I think it is the history between the clubs, the success Liverpool had and the success we have had in recent years. The rivalry is always going to be huge.
"But I can tell you, the tension isn't as great on the pitch as it is in the stands. Just getting to the ground can be hairy at times.
"On the pitch, you sense the atmosphere leading up to the game and also during it. You know what it means to the people of Manchester to beat Liverpool, especially at Anfield.
"I have been lucky enough to be on the winning team a few times. To come away from Anfield with a win is a great feeling."
New United manager David Moyes will get his first taste of the fixture on Sunday, but Ferdinand says the Scot's Everton connections will not have any impact on the atmosphere.
"I don't think it will make any difference having an ex-Everton man in charge," Ferdinand said.
"His desire to beat Liverpool will be as strong as ever. He had that with Everton. It is a big game for them.
"I am sure he will quickly realise this game is as big in Manchester as it was for them."
Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson, however, believes the sight of the former Everton manager in the United dug-out will fire up the home fans even more.
"A lot of families in this city are split - some are Red, some are Blue," Johnson told the Liverpool website.
"I'm sure the Liverpool fans will still see him as part of Everton, so I'm sure to those families it will add a little more spice."
Moyes is yet to be defeated in his three games at the United helm, but he failed to lead Everton to victory at Anfield during his 11 years at the club.