It’s time for the North Eng­land derby

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

LON­DON. - One of foot­ball’s big­gest bat­tles takes place on Sun­day at Old Traf­ford and, if the vis­i­tors can pick up all three points, we might just look back on it as the game that showed Liver­pool had fi­nally over­taken their old ri­vals.

A win on Sun­day would not get Liver­pool back in front of Manch­ester United in terms of league ti­tles won, that’s go­ing to take a while longer yet, but it would show the An­field side were once more the su­pe­rior of the two.

Hav­ing spent the past cou­ple of decades try­ing to catch up to the club that had well and truly been in their shadow through­out the 70s and 80s, the Mersey­side club would once more have their old en­emy trail­ing in their wake.

Liver­pool fans grow­ing up in the days when Bob Pais­ley firmly ce­mented his side as the Kings of Europe got used to their Reds he­roes dom­i­nat­ing foot­ball, ev­ery new sea­son’s team photo adorned with the shin­ing booty from the last one, but that era even­tu­ally did what all good things have an an­noy­ing habit of do­ing – it came to an end.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, as the An­field club sat on its back­side wondering what had got wrong and wait­ing for it to just mag­i­cally sort it­self out, it was that lot from down the East Lancs Road who took their place in the as­cen­dancy.

Games be­tween these two sides are usu­ally epic bat­tles in them­selves – ex­cept when Jose Mour­inho de­cides in­stead to treat the watch­ing world to a mas­ter­class in the park­ing of large ve­hi­cles – but rarely bear lit­tle re­sem­blance to the fight for the league ti­tle it­self.

Me­mories from Old Traf­ford clashes – Carra and Neville squar­ing up, Ger­rard kiss­ing the cam­era, bleached-blond Rob­bie Fowler si­lenc­ing the place twice in one game, An­drea Dossena (ex­actly) scor­ing Liver­pool’s fourth in an­other – bring smiles to faces but, ul­ti­mately, never had much of a bear­ing on the des­ti­na­tion of any ti­tles.

Much the same will ap­ply on Sun­day – this game will not de­cide the ti­tle and not just be­cause Chelsea well and truly have the up­per hand in this sea­son’s race as of now. It’s as much of a ‘must win’ as any other his­toric derby clash be­tween bit­ter ri­vals and it’s gut-wrench­ing to be on the wrong end of the score­line but, in league ti­tle terms, we are only just past half­way and there are still only three points at stake – two fewer than the gap be­tween Manch­ester United and Liver­pool or be­tween Liver­pool and Chelsea. The hype ma­chine re­sets it­self again the week­end af­ter for an­other round of be-all and end-all fix­tures.

When Liver­pool picked up their 18th league ti­tle in 1990 they were quite clearly the team every­one else had to over­take if they wanted to dom­i­nate foot­ball. A few years later Manch­ester United fi­nally ended their bar­ren run in the league and by the time Sir Alex Fer­gu­son re­tired from the game they were the side ev­ery­body needed to over­take.

Manch­ester United’s post-Fer­gu­son slump may prove to be short-lived – Jose Mour­inho’s Chelsea hangover seems to have cleared up now and they are start­ing to get re­sults that make them look a lit­tle less like a money pit – but it could last as long as Liver­pool’s did af­ter Graeme Souness de­mol­ished the boot room.

Speak­ing to some Manch­ester United fans ear­lier this sea­son they were more than a lit­tle un­happy with Mour­inho.

Granted, this was in the mid­dle of that run of poor re­sults and not long af­ter their 4-0 hu­mil­i­a­tion at Stam­ford Bridge, but to them the big­ger con­cern was the style of foot­ball they were watch­ing: “It’s not the Manch­ester United way,” they com­plained, par­tic­u­larly trou­bled to see their club visit An­field and leave any am­bi­tion back home.

It was quite funny to lis­ten to, and Mour­inho’s pleas for the Old Traf­ford faith­ful to put their prawn butties aside and get be­hind the team add to the feel­ing that Manch­ester United are gen­uinely wor­ried about Liver­pool, but ul­ti­mately Liver­pool’s ef­forts to re­turn to their old po­si­tion of dom­i­nance should not be depen­dent on any kind of slump from Manch­ester United.

Maybe part of Liver­pool’s prob­lem for the last cou­ple of decades has been to fo­cus on their old ri­vals in­stead of them­selves, so ab­sorbed on what was go­ing on at Old Traf­ford that they kept trip­ping over their own feet, al­low­ing them­selves to be over­taken by far too many other teams too.

When Mo Farah fell in the 10 000 me­tres at Rio he didn’t stay there com­plain­ing about how hard done to he was or lament­ing how good it could have been if only he hadn’t fallen. He got up and fo­cussed on his own race, mak­ing sure he did ev­ery­thing in his power to win in­stead of wait­ing for some­one else to lose.

Liver­pool had to pick them­selves up and fo­cus on their own race. Un­der Jür­gen Klopp that is ex­actly what they have been do­ing.

As this cam­paign goes on and as sea­son fol­lows sea­son Klopp must keep his side fo­cussed on their own race, short term and long term, keep­ing their own pace, driv­ing for­ward un­til, one day, they find them­selves back at the top of tree once more.

When Klopp ar­rived he could see just how many were ahead of Liver­pool in the race and how many more were breath­ing down their necks. It doesn’t mat­ter who they are, what the his­tory is be­tween them and Liver­pool, the Reds have to get past all of them and stay there if fans are to see a re­turn of the good old days.

Still, there’s no harm in cel­e­brat­ing the good bits as the race goes on, and if Liver­pool win on Sun­day it will en­hance their ti­tle-con­tender cre­den­tials and con­sign their ri­vals to the outer reaches of Euro­pean qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

It would also show Liver­pool have fi­nally over­taken their arch en­e­mies. - The Mir­ror

ARCH-EN­E­MIES . . . Jose Mour­inho (left) and Jur­gen Klopp will face off in a block­buster English Pre­mier­ship soc­cer match at Old Traf­ford on Sun­day.

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