The saga of North-West England’s two most successful clubs is never-ending. It is bound by history, often controversial, but never short of passion and skill. Though much of the modern-day animosity stems from United overtaking Liverpool as the English top-flight’s most successful club, it goes back much further than many realise.
Red Giants in the Stratosphere
The clubs have a combined total of 38 league titles between them, and current Premier League predictions and odds imply strongly that Liverpool will make it 39 at the end of this campaign. Overall, it is United that currently boast the historical edge in this fixture, with 88 head-to-head wins against Liverpool’s 76. A total of 66 draws, including the most recent clash, completes the record to date.
In the Premier League era alone, United’s historical advantage over Liverpool is even more pronounced, with 28 wins against the Liverpudlian Reds offset by 14 defeats. Liverpool’s tally of 77 Premier League goals conceded vs United is also their highest by far in the new era’s all-time ‘Goals Against’ column, compared to their defensive record against any other post-1992 Premier League ever-present.
Sunday’s result at Old Trafford also made it just one Premier League home defeat for United against Liverpool since 2010, with the Red Devils winning on seven occasions in that time. Liverpool have also now scored just four goals across six visits to Old Trafford under the management of Jürgen Klopp.
In a testament to the competitive nature of this fixture, five of the of the last seven league encounters have ended level, and just two of the last ten competitive meetings have featured three or more goals across the whole match. Nonetheless, there are many classic encounters that have seen the balance of power in the north-west change hands, with every fixture proving pivotal in its own way in that regard.
Classic ‘Pivotal’ Clashes
With the last fifty years seeing the balance of power shift between the sides, the saga of United v Liverpool is awash with classic moments that changed the course of history.
Almost bang on cue, the 1970s saw Liverpool surge for the second time under Bill Shankly after two title wins the previous decade. Starting with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford for Liverpool in April 1971, with Steve Heighway opening the scoring, Liverpool sparked a run of three wins in four over United.
Exactly a year later, the Reds got their first post-war three-goal win at Old Trafford, and the year after that – in 1973 – Liverpool won their third league title under Bill Shankly. Defeats to United would remain a rarity, but the start of the 1980s saw the Red Devils enjoy better fortunes, even though the First Division trophy remained staunchly sat in the Anfield trophy room.
Amongst United’s most memorable 1980s victories over Liverpool were a 2-1 semi-final triumph in the FA Cup semi-finals, with Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes rendering Paul McGrath’s own-goal at Maine Road inconsequential. Exactly two years later, in April 1987, a winner from Peter Davenport at Old Trafford all but ended Liverpool’s title challenge, seeing the title cross Stanley Park to Everton for the second time in three years.
That result was also a taste of the years to come, and in March 1993, a 2-1 win for United at Anfield – their first at the ground in six and-a-half years – represented a huge step towards them becoming the inaugural Premier League champions. Mark Hughes and Brian McLair did the honours on that day, and that old guard paved the way for the new breed, who enjoyed their own glut of wins over Liverpool in the latter half of the 1990s.
When United won the 1999/2000 title by an 18-point margin, Liverpool seemed to have no chance of regaining their lost stature under the Red Devils. However, a shock 1-0 win at Old Trafford in December 2000, courtesy of Danny Murphy, was the first of an impending run of five competitive wins over United. Buoyed by that result, Liverpool finished in the top four in 2001, en-route to winning a treble of their own.
That chain of wins over United is the longest enjoyed by Liverpool since the turn of the millennium, and proved that the Red Devils were fallible, opening up the opportunity for Arsenal – and later Chelsea – to usurp United’s once-immovable crown.
Could Sunday’s Clash Prove Vital?
The most recent chapter of ‘United vs Liverpool’ did not disappoint, with United once again denting Liverpool’s title challenge, and doing so in somewhat controversial circumstances. From a Liverpool perspective, VAR and referee Martin Atkinson were the villains of the piece, with United’s opener embroiled in controversy.
A challenge made by Victor Lindelof on Divock Origi during the build-up to that goal was said flashpoint moment, which promises to be a rampant topic for debate over the next week. Should Manchester City do as they did last season, and somehow pip Liverpool to the title by a single point, that incident will undoubtedly be looked upon above all others over the summer.
While the 1-1 result itself does not explicitly do anything to restore United fans’ bragging rights in this rivalry, it was one of Liverpool’s worst performances in recent times – even though they were dominant throughout much of the second half.
It is not an anticipated turn of events by any stretch, but if Liverpool implode from here, then United will certainly be able to use that result to gain ground on Liverpool. In turn, Sunday’s match would retrospectively be seen as a ‘turning point’ in the dynamic of the rivalry.
Where to from here?
Though Liverpool have lost their perfect record, and their chance of matching Chelsea’s flawless nine-game start to 2005/06, the Reds’ route to success from here should be clear. Up next is a Tottenham side that they beat with aplomb in the Champions League final, completing a Premier League double over the Lilywhites only last season.
With Liverpool last losing a league match at Anfield back in April 2017, the Reds’ home will be of vital importance to a first top-flight title in three decades. Ahead of their Super Sunday clash with Tottenham, Liverpool have won their last 11 league games at Anfield, while scoring more than once on every occasion, and winning both halves of the match on seven occasions within that sequence.
For United, the way forward is less clear. It was extremely rare for a United team to be dominated at home by Liverpool in the way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were for much of Sunday’s match. The Norwegian’s job still hangs in the balance, after what remains the club’s worst points-per-game start to a Premier League season.
As good as Liverpool’s home form is, United’s away form is atrocious by the club’s premier League-era standards. The defeat to Newcastle back on 6 October made it just three points from the last 24 available on the road, and their only away goals coming prior to the half-hour mark.
This implies that United are over-reliant on strong starts to away games, and with trips to Norwich, Bournemouth and Belgrade on the horizon, the season could take an even worse turn before any improvements are forthcoming.
Yet, while no clash of United v Liverpool has ever directly determined the long-term fortunes of either club, it seems as though flashpoint wins can provide the victor with confidence to make a difference for the rest of the season. So too can it arm the beneficiary of an unexpected point with a feeling of pride.
For different reasons, both Klopp and Solskjaer – particularly the latter – can but hope that their respective squads use Sunday’s result in a positive and constructive way from here.