It’s that time of year again: Manchester United vs Liverpool at Anfield. Matches do not come much bigger than this in the Premier League.
The media love it, the fans dread it yet look forward to it at the same time. It’s a fixture that is steeped in history and a fierce rivalry that has almost defined two of the most culturally significant cities in the North of England. With that comes a suspicion, that has always existed between both sets of supporters no matter where they are in the league.
Oddly quiet on the northern front
That said, there is a rather strange build up to Saturday’s encounter, the 199th meeting between the two sides in all competitions. The strange part is that there has been very little of that. Something which certainly goes against general trends. Social media, surprisingly, is not filled with special hashtags and Sky montages with endless reels of goals from the vault, dramatic sending offs, failed handshakes and pre-match soundbites. And, in recent years, the Neville and Carragher show.
It almost begs the question as to whether Liverpool and Manchester United are playing each other too early (again) to have any kind of lasting impact on the Premier League’s top end? Probably they are.
However, the lack of build-up does little to take away the fact that Manchester United going to Liverpool is one of the great stories in the Premier League. It is an event not just loved by the media for the drama it can produce, but it is also arguably the neutral’s favourite. Anyone would look forward to the two most successful football clubs going head-on against each other when the result is usually two very good football teams playing against each other with the added spice of long-lived rivalry.
Historical ups and downs
Indeed, for many years, the allure of Liverpool versus Man United has been the strange fact that the two giants never really enjoyed success quite at the same time. Bar the heady days of Benitez’s Liverpool—spearheaded by Fernando Torres—threatening to usurp the throne, the Reds from Merseyside never really came close enough to sufficiently rattle Manchester United’s grip on the Premier League crown. Their best results at that coming three times on the bounce between 2006 and 2009, finishing as close as 2d to United. Chelsea similarly threatened in the same period, as did Arsenal, going further back.
Before 1992, funnily enough football did exist and the shoes were firmly on Liverpool’s feet. It was a time when Liverpool as a city danced to the beat of the Beatles. Another group of Scousers who took the whole wide world by storm.
And their football teams were no less influential as they wiped the floor with everyone else on the pitch. Liverpool were the team to beat, alongside Everton, as Merseyside dominated much of the domestic football in the 80’s. The Reds racked up the trophies then, year after year, leaving Manchester United—certainly the most popular if not the biggest football club in the land even then—drowning in their wake.
Liverpool wounded, Manchester United untested
But the times are changing now. Liverpool and Manchester United are at last on a par. There is a strange parity between the two sides which, given its rarity after all these years, should be enjoyed in my opinion. Both sides look capable of posing a strong challenge for the league title as much as they do of collapsing into abject mediocrity. Man United are slightly ahead in their development, as they set to step into Anfield in their best form in recent months.
For Manchester United, a setback against the first team they face in the top half of the table, would raise doubts again as to how far they can go. That is the last thing they need at this stage of the season when “confidence”, and “momentum” are comfortably winning the race of buzzwords.
Liverpool arrive at the weekend wounded in more than one sense of that word. The Reds are still trying to find their feet at the back quite literally and their pride is hurt after being handed a comprehensive defeat at the hands of City. Klopp and company are now seeking to avenge that result by getting one over their biggest rivals from Manchester. A loss, however, would further damage hopes of ending a title drought that has stretched across three generations of fans.
The Reds and the Red Devils meeting each other for the 199th time. This one at an odd yet dangerously decisive time.