Clash of the Titans, but is it still the biggest?
Manchester United’s clash with near neighbours Liverpool has taken on more significance this weekend as the Reds look to respond after defeat at Stamford Bridge. But with the emergence of a cross city title challenge from Manchester City and recent title tussles with Chelsea does the game against the old enemy still get the juices flowing as much as used to?
Some would say it’s a generational thing but for many supporters it’s a no brainer, this is still the fixture. Beating City, Chelsea and Arsenal is as sweet as its come but the history between United and Liverpool provides that special something else.
Even before England’s two most successful football teams came in to being rivalry still existed between the two famous cities. The River Mersey and the Manchester ship canal providing trading routes which enabled both to prosper; but it’s on the football pitch where the real history has been made.
Liverpool’s dominance of the eighties created a sense of injustice among United followers, Liverpool was a great team yes but many felt Bryan Robson and co. deserved better and with good reason. In the 22 times that United and Liverpool faced each other during that decade United won eight to Liverpool’s four and the rest were drawn. Unfortunately Liverpool easily trumped United on trophies.
This stat proves, however, that the teams were not as far apart in terms of quality as history would have you believe. In fact it still baffles many how United didn’t win the league during the eighties. A side packed with talent such as Robson, Ray Wilkins, Norman Whiteside and Frank Stapleton; a side fit to challenge and beat Europe’s elite, including as Barcelona in 1984. But the first league title since 1967 eluded them. Things did seem to conspire against United, injuries to key players and inability to beat the seemingly “lesser” teams. Yet, despite it being a painful admission, Liverpool was terrific back then and here is where the rivalry truly starts.
Today much has changed. In 1995 shortly after Eric Cantona had been banned for his infamous Kung Fu kick a Liverpool fan hung a banner up at Anfield proclaiming “Au Revoir Cantona, come back when you’ve won eighteen.” Well last season United was back and the club’s record-equalling eighteenth title has simply added more spice to the rivalry between Manchester and Merseyside.
Even after the small demise for Liverpool under first Rafael Benitez and then Roy Hodgson the rivalry has not diminished. It still means everything for a United fan and player to beat Liverpool.
Each club respects the other’s achievements but in turn wants to put the rival ‘in their place’ equally as much. If you want to be the biggest, you have to beat the best as the old football cliché goes. Sir Alex Ferguson knew this when he first arrived in Manchester back in 1986 immediately stating his intention to “knock Liverpool off their perch”. Now, the Merseyside club is no longer the best but just as in other footballing battles such as England versus Germany, or Real Madrid versus Barcelona, it is history and pride at stake as well as three points.
On Sunday Liverpool will be desperate to put a spanner in United’s works – especially the bid for a record nineteenth league title. Many Liverpool fans will feel stopping United winning the Premier League is almost as good as winning it themselves. United have been in a similar situation before. In May 1977 all that stood between Liverpool and a Domestic and European Treble was United. The FA Cup final was massive for United, having lost the previous year to Southampton, but to do it against Liverpool, to stop them winning the Treble – this was too good an opportunity to miss. United grabbed it with both hands and became the halcyon “Scouse busters”. The ‘Doc’s Army’ brought the Cup back to Manchester thanks to goals from “Pancho” Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff.
These games still ooze history. In fact it is the key to the fixture. Both clubs have experienced euphoric highs, devastating lows, tragedy and recovery. Each has always strived to be the best around and respect each other, yet want to beat each other just as much. United versus Liverpool is as special as always.