It’s time for the North England derby
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.