Amid one of the darkest episodes of David Moyes’ nightmare eleven months in charge of United, the Reds ran riot at Old Trafford last season as they honed in on the Premier League title, the goals provided via Steven Gerrard’s penalty brace and a late Luis Suarez strike.
Not that the visitors found themselves at the end of a parallel thrashing last weekend; in many ways, the three goals and the clean sheet flattered United, who proved considerably more proficient in both penalty boxes through the superfluous form of goalkeeper David De Gea and the quality of their forward cast. Compare that to Liverpool’s starting Xi, featuring hap-hazard Aussie Brad Jones between the sticks and Raheem Sterling out of position as the lone striker.
Even so, what a difference just nine months has made to both north-west clubs. Ironically, it’s now the Red Devils emerging from the darkness to spice up the Premier League title race, in direct parody of Liverpool’s role last season. But what’s been the catalyst for this remarkable transformation?
Many will point to the change in the Manchester United dugout as the most significant factor and that certainly felt the case on Sunday; the much-maligned Moyes won just four out of a possible 22 Merseyside derbies during his decade as Everton boss and hadn’t recorded a victory over the Reds since 2010. That 0-3 result at Old Trafford last season, combined with many other factors, including the £28million capture of former Toffee Marouane Fellaini, contributed to a pejorative narrative of the Scot somehow ‘Evertonising’ the 13-time Premier League champions.
Louis van Gaal, in comparison, boasts one of the most impressive CVs in world football, including La Liga, Bundesliga, Eredivise and Champions League titles, and most recently an unexpected third-place finish at the World Cup with the Netherlands. In terms of prior credentials and experience in such historic fixtures, Moyes and his successor are poles apart; one could easily pinpoint that sparseness as the root cause behind the symmetrically contrasting fortunes of both fixtures – especially when combined with Liverpool’s poor start to the campaign, resulting in a plummet to eleventh in the Premier League.
Even if you doubt van Gaal as a managerial heavyweight when compared to Moyes, the positive influence he’s had on United this season in terms of confidence is undeniable. That rediscovered sense of self-assurance at Old Trafford is the stem of the Red Devils’ ruthless efficiency going forward, turning six shots into three goals against Liverpool.
In my opinion however, it’s the transfer activity of both clubs that’s lead to the dramatic reverse in results and roles in such a short space of time. United and Liverpool both enjoyed record-breaking summers in terms of cumulative transfer fees, the former’s £150million spend only bettered in the history of the sport by Real Madrid in 2009 and the latter not far behind with £117million, an all-time high for the Anfield club.
Yet, one only need take a look at the league table, or indeed, mull over the highlights of Sunday’s 3-0 affair, to realise which club put their financial firepower to better use. The Reds faced a tougher task in replacing £65million striker Suarez whilst also strengthening their squad to handle the added rigors of the Champions League, but regardless, the effectiveness of their recruitment strategy is incomparable to United’s.
Whilst the Red Devils were prepared to pay top dollar for top quality, breaking British transfer records with a £59million scoop for Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria, Liverpool’s summer was riddled with speculative compromises.
£25million signing Adam Lallana for instance, is a classic example of the Reds paying a premium fee for a non-premium player, as goal-shy £16million acquisition Mario Balotelli represents a risk in the market they didn’t need to take. Indeed, Liverpool gave the allure of a child in a toy shop with an unlimited credit card, too overawed by the exotic inventions suddenly within their grasp to consider the later consequences.
Admittedly, it could all be rather different for Liverpool right now if they’d signed priority target Alexis Sanchez, who has instead gone on to strengthen one of their direct divisional rivals, Arsenal. Rodgers is forever cursed by the absence of a marquee signing amongst the Anfield ranks but United find themselves exceptionally privileged in that regard – in addition to Di Maria, loan acquisition Radamel Falcao and £27million England prodigy Luke Shaw, they signed two-time Chelsea Player of the Year Juan Mata just six months prior.
Yet, whilst the summer transfer window has galvanised one club to new levels, or at least, moved them back towards former glories, it’s had the opposite effect on the other. The influx of new arrivals has created more questions than answers for Rodgers and he’s still yet to decide upon his strongest Xi. That really told on Sunday as the Anfield boss tested a 3-4-3 formation for the first time this season, featuring just three summer signings out of a possible seven and Sterling in an unfamiliar capacity.
Indeed, philosophies, managers and other superficialities are often debated in the beautiful game, but in truth, it always comes down to the quality at your disposal. Liverpool had a fantastic chance to add to theirs during the summer, boasting a record-breaking transfer budget and the added incentive of Champions League football, but it’s their north-west rivals that capitalised upon the right opportunities.
Liverpool’s summer failings have left the club in a mess, whilst Manchester United’s boldness in the market is already paying off dividends.