It’s that time of the year again. Liverpool at Anfield – it does not come much bigger than that, for Manchester United in the Premier League.
The media love it, the fans dread it but look forward to it at the same time, it’s a fixture that is steeped in history and a fierce rivalry that has almost defined two of the most culturally significant cities in the North of England. With that comes a suspicion, that has always existed between both sets of supporters no matter where they are in the league.
That said, there is a rather strange build up to Saturday’s encounter, the 199th meeting between the two sides in all competitions – in fact there has been very little of it, going against the general trend. Social media, surprisingly, is not filled with special hashtags and Sky montages with endless reels of goals from the vault, dramatic sending offs, failed handshakes and pre-match soundbites and in recent years, the Neville and Carragher show.
It almost begs the question as to whether Liverpool and Manchester United are playing each other – too early (again) to have any kind of lasting impact on the Premier League’s top end? Probably they are.
However, that does little to take away the fact that Manchester United going to Liverpool is one of the great stories in the Premier League; not just loved by the media for the drama it can produce, but also arguably the neutral’s favourite – with the two most successful football clubs going head-on against each other and usually it’s just two very good football teams playing against each other with a bit of bite.
But for many years, the allure of Liverpool versus Man United has been the strange idea that they never really enjoyed success quite at the same time; bar the heady days of Benitez’s Liverpool spearheaded by Fernando Torres threatening to usurp the throne – the Reds from Merseyside never really came close enough to sufficiently rattle Manchester United’s grip on the Premier League crown they would three times on the bounce between 2006 and 2009 – even as much Chelsea did in the same period, or Arsenal, going further back.
Before 1992, funnily enough football did exist and the shoes were firmly on Liverpool’s feet. It was a time when Liverpool as a city danced to the beat of the Beatles, taking the whole wide world by storm.
And their football teams were no less influential as they wiped the floor with everyone else on the pitch. Liverpool were the team to beat, alongside Everton, as Merseyside dominated much of the domestic football in the 80’s as the Reds racked up the trophies – year after year, leaving Manchester United, certainly the most popular football club in the land even then, if not the biggest, in their wake.
But the times are changing now. Liverpool and Manchester United are at last on a par – there is a strange parity between the two sides which, given its rarity after all these years, should be enjoyed in my opinion. Both sides look capable of posing a strong challenge for the league title as much as they do of collapsing into abject mediocrity – with Man United slightly ahead in their development, as they set to step into Anfield in their best form in recent months.
For Manchester United, a setback against the first team they face in the top half of the table, would raise doubts again as to how far they can go – which is the last thing they need at this stage of the season, when confidence and momentum comfortably win the race of the buzzwords.
While Liverpool find themselves wounded, still trying to find their feet at the back, quite literally – their pride hurt after being handed a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Manchester City, now looking to avenge that result by getting one over their biggest rivals from Manchester.
For the home side, a loss would further damage their hopes of ending a title drought that has stretched across three generations of fans.
They are meeting each other at a strange time in the Premier League indeed.