Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Premier League Football: The Big Liverpool-Manchester United Rivalry

There is no greater rivalry in English football than Liverpool and Manchester United. The two most successful club side in England will meet each other this Sunday at Anfield. And so with Liverpool reeling from four successive defeats - their worst run since 1987, Man Utd cannot have hoped for a better time to avenge last season's results.

Having lost four times already in the EPL, Liverpool are facing a "backs-to-the-wall" type game. Though the Liverpool players are no strangers to adversary and have always thrived when written off, this meeting with Manchester United may be a match that they would not look forward to. Rafa Benitez could be staring at a fifth Premier League defeat, a loss that could potentially end Liverpool's chances of becoming Premiership champions this season.

The fragile defence is a worry for Liverpool and the midfield has been poor against stronger opposition. The continued presence of Lucas in centre midfield means that Liverpool will never offer any creative attacking thrust. Just why Benitez keep selecting him remains a mystery to all long-suffering Liverpool fans. To make matters worse, the potential absence of both Gerrard and Torres this Sunday would render Liverpool's frontline toothless. It is worrying times at Liverpool and Rafa will need to rally the troops in order to get something this Sunday.

With problems in all areas of the team, even a draw on Sunday would be seen as a positive result for Liverpool. Are we in for a classic? Hardly, but there have been some very entertaining matches which ended in draws between these two clubs.

Here are my top five classics of Liverpool-Manchester United draws:
1. Liverpool 3-3 Manchester United (4th January 1994)
This amazing match had everything. In the space of 24 minutes, United had raced into a three-goal lead. Nigel Clough was the inspiration for Liverpool in this match. Lashing home from 25 yards and then running onto a loose ball to score a second 13 minutes later, he kept Liverpool in the match. Neil Ruddock completed an unbelievable comeback with a powerful header 11 minutes from time and Anfield erupted, celebrating an unlikely stalemate.

2. Liverpool 3-3 Manchester United (4th April 1998)
United travelled to Anfield 11 points adrift of champions-elect Liverpool, but the Red Devils still harboured hopes of overhauling their rivals. These hopes received a boost when Bryan Robson put United in front. However, in a whirlwind spell either side of half-time, Peter Beardsley, Gary Gillespie and Steve McMahon netted for Liverpool. Robson dragged United back into the game with his second, only for the dismissal of Colin Gibson to deal them a potentially fatal blow. Gordon Strachan had other ideas though, grabbing an equaliser 12 minutes from time. The rivalry between Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish also grabbed headlines that day, with Dalglish claiming that his daughter Lauren made more sense than Fergie.

3. Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool (1st October 1995)
Eric Cantona's return to first team football after the infamous kung fu kick was the highlight before the game. His assist brought the first goal for Manchester United. Roy Evans' Liverpool played magnificiently against a United side which would go on to claim the double. Robbie Fowler took centre stage that afternoon, cancelling out Nicky Butt's early effort with a unstoppable shot. He then scored a second, brushing off Gary Neville and then beating Peter Schmeichel with an exquisite lob. The script could not have been better written as Cantona, inevitably hit home a 71st minute penalty equaliser before twirling around the goal stanchion in celebration. Liverpool, under Roy Evans, had a lot of talent but could not fulfil the promise shown during those "Spice Boys" period.

4. Liverpool 2-2 Manchester United (5th May 1999)
United were locked in a head-to-head battle with Arsenal for the Premier League title and traveled to Anfield to face a Liverpool side with little left to play for in the season other than denying the Red Devils success and avenging their earlier FA Cup defeat. United, though, appeared unflustered as a first half Yorke goal gave them the lead before Irwin doubled the advantage from the penalty spot on 56 minutes. Liverpool were handed a lifeline when Jamie Redknapp hit home a controversial penalty to start Anfield rocking and Irwin then received his marching orders in equally dubious style to give the Kop a scent of a point. Former United ace Paul Ince duly obliged as he fired an equaliser with one minute remaining. United, though, were to have the last laugh as they went on to pip Arsenal to the title by one point.

5. Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool (18th October 1992)
Mark Hughes was Manchester United's hero with two goals in the final 11 minutes as the Old Trafford side clawed back from a two-goal deficit with fierce rivals Liverpool. Hughes struck in the 79th and 89th minutes to stun Graeme Souness' Merseysiders, who looked to be cruising to a comfortable victory. There was some consolation though, as Ian Rush claimed the goalscoring record from Roger Hunt when he scored his 287th goal for Liverpool.

What are your thoughts on this Sunday's game? Can Liverpool get their defensive act together and start winning again? Should Rafa Benitez be held responsible for Liverpool's poor run due to questionable tactical formations and use of players?

Michael Owen will relish returning to Anfield and I am sure the Kop will give him a reception that he will not forget. Anfield comes alive in the big games and this Sunday should be no different.

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