What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the greatest rivalry in English football? Well it’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s Manchester United vs Liverpool!
It is considered to be one of the biggest rivalries in the footballing world. Players, fans and the media alike often consider games between the two clubs to be their biggest rivalry, even above their own local derby matches with Manchester City and Everton, respectively.
Yes, it is true that you cannot deny the derby tension when United face City or when Liverpool encounter Everton. However, the Reds have to go to work on a Monday morning and look Blues-supporting colleagues in the eye – when they get back from the match. It does mellow down the rivalry to some extent and takes the sheen of the pre-match aggressive bragging and banters. But that’s not just the case when the red side of Manchester meets the red side of Merseyside.
Let us dwell into the origins of this great rivalry – history has it that the merchants in Manchester were displeased with their trade import and export fees. This led to the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in the late 19th century, 1894 to be precise. Unfortunately though, the newly-built facility bypassed Liverpool’s port. Now anyone with a basic sense of economics would understand the impact it would have on Merseyside. Naturally, there was a downfall in the economy of the region, and consequently, huge job losses.
Just 3 months after the canal opened, the two clubs faced off in a play-off match that saw the Manchester club relegated to the second tier. The circumstances gave rise to a loathing that would never wane.
This rivalry has been fuelled by the significant periods of domestic footballing dominance that these two have enjoyed. These two clubs are the most successful English teams in both domestic and European competitions; and between them they have won 38 league titles, 8 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups, 4 UEFA Super Cups, 19 FA Cups, 12 League Cups, 1 FIFA Club World Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 36 FA Community Shields.
Both clubs have gone through different periods in possession of the North-West bragging rights. During the period between 1972/73-1989/90 seasons, Liverpool won 11 league titles, 3 FA cups, 3 League cups, 4 European cups and 2 UEFA cups. Such sheer dominance led them to assume the mantle of the biggest club in the country. United did win 4 cups during this period, more silverware than many other teams, but the gap between the two remained overwhelming
However, all that was about to change when a certain Alex Chapman Ferguson was handed over the reins at Old Trafford in November 1986. After initial years of struggle, he handed the club its first silverware during his tenure as manager, when Manchester United won the FA cup in 1990, courtesy a victory over Crystal Palace. 3 seasons later, he ended 25 years of Red Devils’ wait by finally bossing United to their 9th league triumph in 1994.
Many did laugh the Scot off when he emphatically stated in an interview, ‘My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch. And you can print that.’ However 26 years into his reign, the league’s longest serving manager had led Manchester United to 12 Premier League titles and in the process overtaken Liverpool’s tally of 18 domestic league titles. Sir Alex had achieved what he had wished for. After clinching the 19th of United’s 20 titles and going one past their rivals’ haul in the process, Fergie famously declared his joy at ‘knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch.’
Of course, witnessing the Sir Alex era would have been sweet for any fan of any team, but for those Red Devils who had lived through Liverpool’s glory days, it was like manna from heaven. Because not only did United sweep all before them, they did so at Liverpool’s expense: 1990 was the last time Liverpool had won the league.
Such impressive statistics only point to one fact – it is Manchester United who have held the bragging rights over Liverpool for the past two decades, despite Manchester United’s recent struggle for trophies following Fergie’s retirement. Liverpool loyalists, though, would most definitely point out to their 5 European Cups- 2 more than United have won.
Despite Manchester United’s dominance over the past 2 decades, there is a slight hint of shift in paradigm. Following Sir Alex’s retirement, United have failed to replicate the form that made them the most fearful team in England. Liverpool on the other hand are showing immense potential and have an extremely charismatic manager in the form of Juergen Klopp. Although it is too early to say, 14 matches into the season, Liverpool are looking like possible title contenders whereas Manchester United look far from so and are languishing at the 6th spot in the table.
A domestic league title could hand over the bragging rights back to the Liverpool loyalists. Until then, it is the Old Trafford faithful that will continue to hold the bragging rights over their counterparts at Anfield. The Liverpool-United rivalry is the rivalry of two clubs who look at each other and see a kind of mirror image of themselves. The balance of power has shifted over time, but the rivalry has never diminished. It is too deep-rooted. It might change over the coming decades, but for now Manchester United vs Liverpool continues to be the biggest fixture in England’s footballing calendar.
Photo by stella_gonzales2003