On Monday night, most of the country, and beyond, will stop what they’re doing to watch one of the biggest games in the Premier League calendar. Manchester United make the short trip to Anfield where they take on Liverpool.
Two of English football’s heavyweights face off against each other for the first time this season. This game is arguably bigger than their respective local derbys. There is no love lost between the two clubs, which is echoed from the fans through to the boardroom. Both will be desperate to get the three points, to get bragging rights, and ultimately get one over on their title rivals.
For the first time in decades, this game represents more than just a normal league fixture. The atmosphere at both iconic clubs has changed from the years before. Manchester United are no longer the super power they once were, whilst Liverpool seem to have finally moved out of a ridiculously long transitional period. The result of this game could be the start of a new shift of power between the two North-West clubs, which could have ramifications across the Premier League.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United were an unstoppable force. No matter who the starting XI were, they just seemed to steamroll their way to trophy after trophy, after breaking their title duck in the 1992/93 season.
For many fans, this level of success was a long time coming. Before Ferguson’s regime, the Red Devils hadn’t won the league since 1967. In between United’s two title wins, Liverpool dominated the top league. They lifted the Division One trophy 11 times. It was a golden era for the red side of Merseyside.
Manchester United had to mostly settle for scraps during those 26 years. They won 4 FA Cups, a League Cup and lifted the European Cup in 1968 – compare that to Liverpool’s trophy cabinet in the same time, and there really is no question who were the better side. On top of the 11 titles, they won 4 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 UEFA cups and won the European Cup four times. Against United’s six cup wins, Liverpool collected an amazing 25 trophies.
As soon as the Premier League era began, Liverpool slipped away. Manchester United replaced them as the strong force in England. It was Liverpool’s turn to be happy with the odd cup win. Yes, one of those cup wins happened to be a magical night in Istanbul, but the one thing they wanted eluded them. They had to watch United captain after captain, lift the league titles. In total, under Sir Alex, United won the Premier League 13 times. It meant Liverpool’s long standing record of 18 titles was overtaken; it meant Liverpool were no longer the footballing super-power of previous years.
Football became slightly boring. Although Chelsea and Arsenal tried to overthrow United, they could never manage it for more than a season. The Red Devils would come back stronger and reclaim their titles. Not only did they manage to pick up all those titles, they also won two European Cups with the last one being in 2008. It was as if they won it to spite Liverpool’s triumph in 2005 – anything you can do, we can do better.
During United’s dominance, Liverpool had many false dawns in trying to capture their rivals. Under Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez, they came second in the league. On both occasions they finished with a point total that in other seasons would’ve seen them crowned champions.
Then, under Brendan Rodgers, they were in touching distance of the title until they threw away a 3-0 lead against Crystal Palace, and for a third time in their barren years finished second. It never fell into place for Liverpool, they continued to play the audience to United’s dominance.
Everything changed when Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down from United. They entered into a period of transition and uncertainty. Strangely, they appointed David Moyes, who unsurprisingly failed to deliver. In came Louis Van Gaal, who seemed to divide the supporters instead of pushing United forward. As they were trying to identify why the power machine had stopped, Liverpool had appointed Jurgen Klopp and the sleeping giant slowly started to wake.
Under Klopp last season, Liverpool stuttered to deliver his style. There were signs of progress, but that was often overshadowed by the frequent costly defensive mistakes. This season, however, that has changed.
With a full Klopp pre-season under their belts, Liverpool are re-born. Their extended transitional period is over. A free-flowing attacking team with intense fitness levels, have resulted in critics hailing the club as potential champions.
They have been magnificent against everyone they have faced, barring Burnley. They destroyed both Chelsea and Arsenal at their home grounds. There is a feeling around Liverpool that something special is happening. That feeling isn’t necessarily mirrored over at Manchester United.
When Jose Mourinho was appointed at Old Trafford, sections of the United faithful voiced disapproval. Many didn’t want his defensive approach at the club, whilst others were concerned at his arrogance. He brought in some exciting players, getting Paul Pogba for a record fee and signing the legendary Zlata Ibrahimović, but neither have been able to set United’s season alight.
The club seems in turmoil with some bizarre results in the cup and league. There is also constant debate about their captain Wayne Rooney; it seems no one knows where he should play and if indeed he should play at all.
There is no real direction at Old Trafford. After Sir Alex, they tried to paper over the deep cracks that had appeared with the below standard side he had left. Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho have tried the quick fix of buying players, but so far nothing has gelled. Only Marcus Rashford has given any light relief to United fans, one of their own bursting onto the scene as a new hero.
It’s been a stop-start beginning to this season for United, much like the past few seasons. For Liverpool, from day one, they’ve hit the ground running. Monday night is just a game, but there’s the sense it means way more than the points on offer.
Should Liverpool convincingly brush United aside, it could represent the end of Red Devils’ dominance. Defeat won’t just mean a few points lost for United, it will mean they potentially face watching on the sidelines as Liverpool’s new era of success begins.