Forget Spurs v Arsenal, forget City v United and forget Liverpool v Everton, THE greatest rivalry in English football is between Manchester United and Liverpool. It has very little to do with their success laden heritage and emanates from ONE football match when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. The Capital One Cup Round 3 game is just the latest in a long line when the two giants of the domestic game lock horns.
Without question the greatest ever game between Manchester United and Liverpool took place at Anfield on January 4th 1994. It was a Premier League fixture and United were streets ahead at the top while Liverpool were fast climbing the table. But league position NEVER matters when these two clash.
United shocked Anfield by racing into a 3-0 lead before the halfway point of the first half. Goals from Steve Bruce, Ryan Giggs and Dennis Irwin seemed to put the visitors into an unassailable position. Fortunately for Liverpool, Nigel Clough netted within two minutes of Irwin scoring and Clough added his second before the interval.
Liverpool trailed until 11 minutes from time when Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock rampaged forward into the United penalty area to power a header, from a Bjorneby cross, past Schmeichel to cap one of the greatest ever Premier League games.
Few people know that after the game Peter Schmeichel was sacked by Alex Ferguson. The great Dane remembers how Fergie lambasted his ‘keeper for sending all his goal kicks to Liverpool’s Neil Ruddock, when he was called into the manager’s office the next day. Schmeichel responded with a volley of abuse, Ferguson told him he was sacked and Peter said ‘fine, I don’t want to stay here anyway’.
In 1908 the First Division game at Anfield finished in the highest aggregate score ever between the teams, 7-4. Bill McPherson scored a hat trick, Joe Hewitt and Bob Robinson netted a brace each for Liverpool. It was quite a shock to United as they went on to claim the Football League title, Liverpool finished eighth.
It took until 1983 for the two to meet in the League Cup when Wembley was the venue for that season’s final. Norman Whiteside opened the scoring for United with a spectacular goal and they were 15 minutes from claiming to trophy until Alan Kennedy popped up with the equaliser to send the game into extra time. Ronnie Whelan, with his third League Cup Final goal in two successive finals, scrambled home the winner in the 98th minute for the holders to retain their trophy.
It was de ja vu, after a fashion when the two met again in the competition, November 1985 at Anfield. United lead 1-0 at half-time through Paul McGrath but the game is renowned for one of the most famous goals ever seen at Anfield, though those fans NOT present on the night NEVER saw it. Jan Molby robbed Norman Whiteside of the ball and set off on a mazy run into Liverpool folklore from deep inside his own half. After carrying the ball for 50 yards the Dane hit a ferocious shot from the edge of the penalty area to equalise. A minute later Molby’s penalty settled the tie, 2-1. Oh the goal, because there was a television strike the game was not televised and the goal was not broadcast. But United manager Ron Atkinson used to have all the games videoed and apparently gave Jan a copy of the tape afterwards.
It was on Halloween 1990 when United ended Liverpool’s involvement in the League Cup with a 3-1 win at Old Trafford. Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and Lee Sharpe were United’s scorers, while a late Ray Houghton penalty was Liverpool’s consolation. United reached the final but were beaten 1-0 by Sheffield Wednesday
In 2003, the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff was the venue for the League Cup Final between United and Liverpool and it was the Reds from Merseyside who opened the scoring when Steven Gerrard’s 39th minute shot deflected off David Beckham past Fabian Barthez. United bombarded Liverpool for most of the second half, a fact borne out by Jerzy Dudek winning the Man of the Match award, and four minutes from time Michael Owen waltzed through the United defence to slide home Liverpool’s second. After the game Sir Alex Ferguson said “Jerzy Dudek was the deciding factor – he was magnificent”.
United and Liverpool were contesting the Premier League title for most of the 1995-96 season before the trophy went to Old Trafford, Liverpool finished third, 11 points behind United. So there was much anticipation when the teams met in the FA Cup Final. Oh dear, never have so many been so bored, so much by two of the top three teams in English football serving up dross. The game was scoreless until five minutes from the end of 90 minutes- please, no extra-time the assembled throng murmured. David Beckham swung in a corner, David James punched poorly and the ball ended up at the feet of Eric Cantona, via the shoulder of Ian Rush. The Frenchman swung a boot at the ball and fired past a couple of Liverpool defenders on the line to clinch the cup and United`s second`Double` in five years.
There have been some eye-watering results between United and Liverpool since the 1890s and quite a few high-scoring games. On 5th April 2003 the sides met at Old Trafford in the Premier League and the hosts were gifted some of the type of ‘home’ decisions that always lead to accusations of bias.
Four minutes in and Sami Hyypia was penalised for felling Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The defender was sent off and the Dutchman converted the spot kick. Liverpool were down to 10 men with 84 minutes left but it took an hour for United to make their advantage pay and it was almost de ja vu. Igor Biscan, Hyypia’s replacement, was harshly penalised for fouling Paul Scholes and Van Nistelrooy scored his second penalty. They all wanted to get in on the act and on 78 minutes Ryan Giggs scored his first home goal for two years, then on 90 minutes Solskjaer completed the route.
With both team chasing the Premier League title in 2008-09 there was the usual anticipation of the league clash at Old Trafford on 14th March. Liverpool proceeded to arrest United’s march to the trophy with a shattering 4-1 victory. The home side took the lead through a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty but shortly afterwards Torres bullied Vidic into a mistake before racing on to slot home the equaliser. A minute before the interval Steven Gerrard converted a penalty after he had been felled by Evra. Liverpool rubbed home their advantage 15 minutes from time when Vidic was sent off for fouling Gerrard and Aurelio scored a superb 25 yard free kick as a result. Deep in stoppage time Reina’s long kick was allowed to reach the other end of the pitch for substitute Andrea Dossena to lob calmly over Van der Sar to complete a night of misery for those at the Theatre of Dreams.
The rivalry between Liverpool and United is arguably the most intense in English football. It goes back beyond the success laden history of the clubs and came as a result of a single football match, after Industrial Revolution rivalry made the two cities fierce commercial competitors. In 1894 Liverpool won the Football League Division Two title at a canter while United, Newton Heath then, finished bottom of the First Division. In those days promotion was not automatic and the bottom team of Division One had to play the top team from Division Two for membership of the top tier. The game took place at Ewood Park on April 28th 1894 and goals from Tom Bradshaw and Patrick Gordon gave Liverpool their place in the top tier just two years after their formation. THAT is why the bitter rivalry has last so long.