As far as club fixtures go there are only a handful in world football that lie firmly in the ‘unmissable’ category. El Clasico certainly, which resembles a soap opera given the drama of the players involved. The Auld Firm produces pure hatred between the two Glasgow sides, as does the Derby Della Capitale between Roma and Lazio. The Manchester derby is fast becoming the Hollywood blockbuster fixture of which Sky Sports and Twitter’s football hipsters dream. Yet, Liverpool against Manchester United has something just a little different.
The two cities have a long held a bitter history. Back in the 19th century Manchester trade merchants became disaffected with the level of fees charged to import and export goods via Liverpool. The merchants constructed their own ship canal to bypass the Liverpool docks, which became the largest in the world on its opening. The relationship between the two cities has been frosty ever since.
Industry, geography, fashion and particularly music has of course has played its part in the rivalry, with various bands from the cities pitted against each other regardless of their generation. But it is football that has benefited -or suffered – the most from rivalry, with both sets of supporters freely admitting a mutual hatred.
The cities have dominated English football since the 1950s when Matt Busby’s Babes won a first league title and headed into Europe. United became the first English side to win the European Cup in 1968, but by then the tide was already beginning to shift towards Liverpool. The Merseyside club was unmatched in the 70s and 80s, winning with an all-conquering team under Bill Shakily and then Bob Paisley. It wasn’t until Sir Alex Ferguson arrived from Scotland proclaiming that he wanted to knock Liverpool ‘off their f*cking perch’ that the tide shifted in United’s favour.
United broke free from the ‘cup team’ tag that haunted the club in the 80s and, more than knock Liverpool ‘off their perch’, overtook the Anfield club’s record of 18 league titles in the process. Ferguson’s teams became everything Liverpool used to be, winning and revelling a rival’s misery. It has now been 26 years since the Merseyside club’s last league title. Yet, ask Liverpool’s supporters, and they may suggest the tide is turning once more.
After all, United has now gone without a title in three years, the club’s joint longest drought since Ferguson’s first win in 1992. The Reds’ period of transition under new manager José Mourinho continues, although the Portuguese firmly believes that he is able to stop the drought. Yet, in Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool can boast the club’s best manager in years – perhaps even the man to finally end a 26 year itch.
Klopp certainly has his team playing fantastic attacking football, born on the foundation of relentlessly pressing the opposition until the ball is won. And no Premier League team has scored more goals than Liverpool since the German took over on Merseyside, which should cause some concern for Mourinho’s defence.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]As far as club fixtures go there are only a handful in world football that lie firmly in the ‘unmissable’ category. Liverpool against Manchester United has something just a little different. Mourinho will surely enjoy the cauldron on Monday night.[/blockquote]
Still, Liverpool’s back four is questionable, having not kept a clean sheet in the team’s last seven games. If Mourinho’s is to be successful on Monday night, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co will need to remember their shooting boots, which have been of dubious quality of late.
It remains to be seen whether either of these sides are good enough to win the Premier League this season. After all, the level of quality in the league means that Liverpool’s leaky defence and United’s inconsistency makes it all the more difficult to be successful against Manchester City and the rest. The hope being that, while neither of Monday’s rivals have found any consistency, neither has City, with Pep Guarliola’s side having not won any of the team’s last three games.
It means that even at this early stage three points is crucial and not just because of a local rivalry. Mourinho has, of course, faced Liverpool many times as a manager, although it is his first as United boss. He should need no reminding of the game’s importance.
“I have to feel it, to play and then make my conclusions,” said the Portuguese. “I am in England for a long time; I’ve never played this match, but I’ve played against Liverpool and United and understand the dimensions of this game. Now I understand the dimensions of two historical rivals.”
“I always like to play at Anfield. I have won big matches and lost big matches there, so I cannot say I like to go there as I am always successful as this is not true. I like to go there, I like the atmosphere and the characteristics of the matches. It is a big match that can be comparable to Inter v Milan and Real v Barcelona, maybe Porto v Benfica. This I like”
United will be prepared for a toxic atmosphere as hot as any fixture on the planet. Indeed, there were unsavoury scenes between the two sets of supporters during the clubs’ Europa League ties last season. Mourinho will surely enjoy the cauldron on Monday night.
Subs from: Romero, Blind, Rojo, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Memphis, Rooney
Subs from: Mignolet, Klaven, Moreno, Lucas, Can, Origi, Sturridge
As if being a derby wasn’t enough, the added pressure of a ‘must win’ tag makes an already explosive fixture all the more important. Mourinho’s team selection must nullify Liverpool’s excellent pressing and attacking threat, while maximising United’s chances.
There is good news on the injury front, with Mourinho confirming that both Luke Shaw and Henrik Mkhitaryan are fit to play at Anfield. At the back Mourinho has key selection issues to resolve. Antonio Valencia will start, with Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling likely to be given the task of containing Liverpool’s fluid attack, with both offering plenty of pace to counter Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho. However, on the left Daley Blind will only start if a high-profile error in the Manchester Derby has been forgiven. Luke Shaw is ready to step after recovering from injury and illness.
The United manager is likely to go with a three-man midfield to contain Liverpool’s pace and pressure. Again, the selection is crucial. Ander Herrera can expect to start after excellent recent performances in a deeper midfield role. He may be partnered by Michael Carrick, whose experience and defensive discipline could be crucial at Anfield. It may leave Paul Pogba free to roam, causing problems for Jordan Henderson if the Frenchman brings his A-game. Pogba scored for France during the international break and his reaction was that of man seemingly tired of doubting onlookers. United fans will be delighted if Pogba brings that attitude on Monday.
Further forward Mourinho must seek to exploit Liverpool’s weak defence with United’s two biggest assets: pace and height. The manager has much to learn from the Manchester Derby as is unlikely to throw Henrik Mkhitaryan in straight after injury. The Armenian is a wonderful player, but is likely to be protected so soon after his return. Marcus Rashford gets the chance to test his pace against the false-fullback James Milner, seeking to pin his compatriot back at every opportunity.
On the opposite flank, Anthony Martial can expect to return to the side after scoring against Stoke City. United supporters certainly hope the goal brings a return in the young Frenchman’s confidence. Ibrahimovic continues up front and could enjoy a height advance against Livepool’s shaky defence.
Whatever the selection, Mourinho knows how to handle the pressure of an in-form Liverpool side playing at Anfield. He all but ended the Scousers’ title challenge in 2014, with Chelsea’s resolute display on Merseyside. Few Reds will complain if there is a similar performance on Monday night. And while it is far too early for title challenges to end, Mourinho will be certainly want to de-rail Klopp and close the gap on leaders Manchester City.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistants: S Bennett, S Child
Fourth Official: M Atkinson
Liverpool 1-1 United