It says everything you need to know about the ferocity of the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool that even though the two sides have very rarely been on an even keel, it has never lost its edge.
There is usually a clear favourite – whether it’s Shankly’s Liverpool or Ferguson’s United – but whenever the two sides meet, there is a level of bitterness in the air that usually supersedes the surrounding circumstances.
When Liverpool face Manchester United, the derby takes precedence to everything else, and here are six historic clashes which best summarise English football’s crown jewel.
A while ago now, isn’t it?
No one will directly remember the first meeting between newly-formed Liverpool and the club who would later become Manchester United, but it was a significant moment in the history of English football. Liverpool had just won the second division, and with it the right to face the first division’s bottom side with a place in the top flight at stake.
The Merseysiders – managed by William Barclay and John McKenna – recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory, unknowingly kicking off one of the most famous rivalries in world football.
The M62 Derby is characterised by an ever-changing game of cat and mouse. For the majority of its 128-year history, there has been a favourite; but for a brief period in the mid 1960s, there was absolutely nothing between them.
Bill Shankly’s Reds and Matt Busby’s United traded the title back and forth between the 1963/64 season and Manchester City’s coronation as champions in 1968, and this meeting between the sides on a cold December evening at Old Trafford perfectly summarised why the two teams were so dominant.
An exhilarating first half saw the prolific Ian St John fire Liverpool in front after just 15 minutes, but after a George Best double dramatically turned things round, St John would strike again to square things up.
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The 1970s and 80s were very much English football’s ‘ Liverpool years’ as the great sides of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and later Kenny Dalglish won an astonishing 11 titles across an 18-year stretch.
They say form goes out the window in derby games, however, and that’s exactly what happened in the 1977 FA Cup final.
Tommy Docherty’s United were just beginning to re-establish themselves as a top flight team following their catastrophic relegation, but weren’t given much chance heading into a final against a Liverpool team who had just defended the league title for a second successive season.
They would go on to win the European Cup just four days later, but they were left stunned at Wembley, when Stuart Pearson and James Greenhoff struck either side of a James Case equaliser to clinch a memorable United victory.
By 1988, Liverpool’s dominance of the English game was still some way from waning – an 11-point lead over second-placed United in April attested to that – but Alex Ferguson’s side, now almost two year’s into their Scot’s tenure, were beginning to hint at an impressive run of their own.
They went to Merseyside with an impressive recent record against the Reds in the bag, armed with the steely intent of delaying the title party a little longer.
They did just that, but in true United style, they did it in the most difficult way imaginable. The atmosphere at Anfield was as hostile and explosive as it has ever been, and it looked as if the home fans were going to have something to celebrate when Peter Beardsley, Gary Gillespie and Steve McMahon overturned Bryan Robson’s opener to open up a commanding lead.
That lead looked even more secure when Colin Gibson earned himself a red card for a frustrated foul on McMahon, but there was delirium in the away end when Robson and Gordon Strachan dragged United back into the game. Scenes. Alex Ferguson lit an imaginary cigar; the reaction to that was just what you’d expect.
The defining moment for a younger generation of Liverpool fans.
United would go on to win the 2008/09 Premier League with relative ease, but Rafa Benitez’s side gave them a real scare at points; never moreso than when they rocked up at Old Trafford and did what no one in the 21st century had really done up to that point.
They took United to pieces.
The iconic images of Fernando Torres ragdolling Nemanja Vidic, Steven Gerrard kissing the badge and Andrea Dossena sealing the win with an audacious lob over Edwin van der Sar; if you could bottle up the emotions they stir up for Liverpool fans, you would be a billionaire.
Dimitar Berbatov at his very, very, very best.
The Bulgarian thought his brain-melting overhead kick to double United’s lead had been undone by the industry of Steven Gerrard, but up against a mentally fragile Liverpool side, the savvy marksman was in no mood to give up the points.
A towering header capped off one of the most wonderful hattricks the modern era of English football has seen to seal the win for the Red Devils.
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