Hostilities resume between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Manchester United’s Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini celebrates scoring during their English Premier League match against Crystal Palace in Manchester on September 30. Photo: VCG
Lots of history has passed between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester, much like the waters of the Manchester Ship Canal that links them – the construction of which many hold to account for the long-standing enmity between the two cities. But like the sight of the words “Liverpool Warehousing Co Ltd” and “1932” on the side of the disused buildings in the shadows of Old Trafford, which sits at the end of the Ship Canal where the Salford Docks once bustled, that is the past. In truth, the only real rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester nowadays is that between Liverpool Football Club and Manchester United. It is a rivalry that goes all the way to the boardroom, with the last player to transfer directly between the two Phil Chisnall who swapped Old Trafford for Anfield in 1964.
Liverpool and Manchester City have no real rivalry to speak of, similarly Manchester United and Everton – perhaps a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend – but this is a fixture that trumps both the Manchester and Merseyside derbies for passion and esteem. The cities are within spitting distance: Liverpool’s ground is just a shade over 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Manchester United’s Old Trafford. And over the years the fans have tested that out, with one Liverpool fan spitting at Eric Cantona as he climbed the famous Wembley steps following his winner in the 1996 FA Cup final. While that behavior is uncalled for it is not necessary, the exception in a rivalry that has often seen tempers fray between supporters in the stands, the managers in the dugouts and on the pitch in front of them: There have been 16 red cards in the 50 Premier League meetings between the two.
For fans of either city’s red sides, this is the first fixture that you look for every season and the biggest game of the season regardless of the relative fortunes of your team. They will both have put a ring around Saturday when secondplaced Manchester United travel to seventh-placed Liverpool for the Premier League’s lunchtime kickoff and the two clubs resume their bitter local rivalry for the 199th time. Jose Mourinho’s men will make the short journey to Anfield with the hope that they can overcome their biggest test of this fledgling season and widen the gap between the sides to 10 points at the final whistle. The truth is that for fans of either side, the league table doesn’t matter. Victory does. This is the biggest game of the season for both sets of supporters and still remains by far the biggest game in England despite the respective recent failings of both teams.
Historically these are the most successful clubs in the country, and they have called upon some of the finest players and managers to have ever graced the game. Manchester United have 20 league titles to Liverpool’s 18, while Liverpool have won the European Cup five times to United’s three. Both sides see these statistics as definitive proof of superiority over the other. The Manchester side’s success of the 1950s and 1960s was blown out of the water by Liverpool’s sheer dominance of the following two decades before United went on a two-decade run of trophies of their own. These are all former glories. The league title has not resided at Old Trafford since 2013 but their five-season barren period is nothing compared to Liverpool’s 27-year wait for the title – a drought that has now surpassed Manchester United’s own 26 years of failure that ended in the Premier League’s first season.
This will be the 51st league meeting between the teams since that first Premier League in 1992-93. The record – 13 Liverpool wins, 27 Manchester United wins, 10 draws – would suggest that fortune will favor the visitors on Saturday, as does the current league table. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s record of three wins, three draws and one loss in head-to-heads with Jose Mourinho over the years suggests that the home side are favorites. The two draws between the sides under those managers last season hints that honors will be even. It’s hard to predict, especially given the improbable match-winners Anfield has witnessed in the past.
This is a game where cult status calls loudly. Diego Forlan’s career at United never fulfilled the promise he delivered elsewhere, but he is forever immortalized in song thanks to a match-winning brace in 2002-03. Gary Pallister was never known for his goal-scoring but he too notched two in a United victory in 1997, while John O’Shea netted a stoppage-time winner a decade later. Arthur Albiston was another defender with a last-minute winner way back in October 1981 – a rare goal for the left back as he only scored six in nearly 400 appearances for United – while Gary Neville didn’t even score but secured his status as public enemy No.1 in the eyes of Liverpool fans and a 5,000 pounds ($6,600) fine from the FA for celebrating Rio Ferdinand’s last-ditch winner in front of the visiting Liverpool fans at Old Trafford in 2006.
United fans would welcome another unlikely hero and Mourinho might need one given his injury concerns. Paul Pogba is still out injured while the Frenchman’s reformed replacement Marouane Fellaini has joined him on the treatment table after picking up a knock on international duty for Belgium. Klopp has his own problems with the talismanic Sadio Mane ruled out after an injury accrued while representing Senegal. The international hangover could extend beyond the injury lists with both players from both sides jetting around the world on World Cup duty last week. Liverpool lost 5-0 to Manchester City in their last game on the back of an international break while United labored to a draw with Stoke City.
There should be no excuse not to be up for this game, knowing what it means to the fans and the clubs, and the atmosphere will be red-hot. The equivalent game last season was notable for United’s lack of possession and unwillingness to go forward, but even without his injured midfielders Mourinho has a very different side this time out. United have been in free-scoring form in his second season while Klopp’s side have impressed in attack but been left wanting defensively. It’s perfectly set up to go down in history.