Even as he watched his Liverpool team endure the disappointment of defeat at the home of their fierce rivals, Brendan Rodgers could see the shoots of recovery on display.

Goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie clinched a 3-0 victory for Manchester United over the Reds at Old Trafford in December last year, opening up a 10-point gap between the sides.

For Liverpool, it signalled a seventh Barclays Premier League defeat in 16 matches and left them languishing in 10th place in the standings, just days after exiting the Champions League against FC Basel at Anfield.

However, Rodgers had tweaked his formation for the United clash, and while the switch to 3-4-3 did not yield the desired result against Louis van Gaal's side, it was to prompt a stunning upturn in form.

As a result, when Liverpool welcome the Red Devils to Anfield today, they have the chance to move into fourth place in the table, a point ahead of their rivals, if they can claim victory in the mouth-watering encounter.

"This formation gives us balance," Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo. "We always have the domination centrally. It also gives us the ability to press well.

"Old Trafford wasn't the first time we played it as we looked at it in the cups and against Newcastle away. But it was probably the game where I felt I was clear to go with it over a run of games and we'd look to work with that type of striker.

"The result against United wasn't great and we had criticism because we lost but I was pleased with how dynamic the team looked.

"We looked fast again. The co-operation between the different units was much better. That gave me the real confidence that we could then have a total shift in terms of system to get the style back into how we work.

"There was a lot of analysis of how can we change this? What will it take to get us back to where we were at? We were quite a distance away. It was my job to find the solutions - it's what I'm paid to do.

"When things weren't going so well, there was that period of thinking while trying to stem the flow which was going a negative way.

"The way I work is about being innovative and creative. I can't then go and watch my team go and slug out a result. We can do that. We've shown that but it doesn't give me joy.

"I love the beauty of football. It's why from a young age I've enjoyed seeing skilful players beat people. But also understand you have to work to defend well and be competitive.

"My natural environment is out on the training field and it was about putting in place something the players can fully believe in. You can see their belief in it and how it's working."

One player who has thrived in the new formation is Emre Can, who did not feature in the defeat at Old Trafford, but was reintroduced to the side as part of a back three for the clash against Swansea City on December 29.

From that point, the towering German has been a mainstay in the side, turning in the sort of impressive, composed displays that have earned him plenty of plaudits, especially from the Kopites in the stands.

"I always like to have a midfield player who can play at the back and that's one of the big reasons why we signed Emre Can," said Rodgers.

"You look at us against Swansea [in the last match], from the 64th minute through to the 87th minute, we actually only had two defenders on the field.

"Some teams play with a back four and two holding midfielders - six defensive players. We had two [Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel] and didn't concede a goal.

"Our ability to press the ball is vital, whatever system we play. But in a three, Emre dropping back in there, who is so comfortable on the ball and can defend, reads the game and is so strong, that gives us great balance.

"It also gives others the opportunity to go and press the game and be really aggressive. We are virtually pressing and attacking with five or six, and negating the counter-attack by having the back three and at least one controlling midfield player.

"It is a risky game. But I've taken risks all my life to get to where I have got to."

Liverpool were second best during the first half against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on Monday night; however, Rodgers opted for a tactical switch at the interval which paid dividends in the second half.

Matching the Swans' midfield diamond allowed the Reds to gain more of a foothold in the tie and their constant pressure forced a breakthrough when Jordan Henderson surged through the opposition ranks to claim a fortuitous, yet vital winner.

"We were positionally a couple of yards off the ability to press at the right moments and when that happens you drop deeper and deeper," said Rodgers.

"The structure of it wasn't right. At half-time we moved to a diamond and pushed the two guys on the outside 15 metres up the pitch. We turned the flow of the game in the second half.

"My experience as a youth coach comes into it - 15 years of travelling the world, international tournaments where you play against all kinds of different systems. That was my apprenticeship so when I moved into senior management I felt like I'd seen most systems.

"Whatever the system, our style will always be the same - we want to be fast and attack the game."

Attentions now turn fully to what promises to be a frenetic and exhilarating clash between two old foes at Anfield when Liverpool host United in Sunday's afternoon kick-off.

Rodgers has faced his opposite number, Van Gaal, once before - during the 3-0 reversal at Old Trafford back in December, and the Northern Irishman admits he has respect for the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich man.

"I have always been impressed by the bravery and the courage he has as a coach," Rodgers said.

"You can trace it back to his time at Ajax. He had a clear philosophy about how he wanted to work. He wants his teams to dominate the ball and have the courage to play. That's the most difficult thing in football to get a team to work that way while being defensively strong.

"But it's not so much about the managers, it's more about the two teams and the two cities. Liverpool v Manchester United is always a wonderful game with a great history.

"United are looking to stay in the top four, we want to get above them and the other teams in there. They're a big rival and we want to win the game."