Why I'll Be Betting on a Goal in the Manchester United-Liverpool Match This Weekend
El Clasico, the Old Firm derby and the Milan rivalry in Italy are world-renowned local football encounters but perhaps the most famous, certainly since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, is the match-up between Liverpool and Manchester United.
The rivalry between two of England’s most prestigious football teams has been going on since Queen Victoria was on the throne and has spanned periods of decline and fortune for both teams as well as historic inter-city competition over topics such as industry and transport. The mutual antipathy extends off the pitch too; although a handful of players have represented both teams, no player has been directly transferred between them since 1964.
Manchester United have 20 titles and Liverpool 18 to place them as the two most decorated league champions in England. Incredibly, they have between them won almost a third of the 113 completed league seasons since their first meeting in a league playoff in 1894. That match would determine whether 2nd division Liverpool would replace their opponents, then called Newton Heath, in division 1. Liverpool won 2-0 and their rivals were relegated. It would be a further 12 years before they met with first division points at stake, a Christmas day meeting in 1906 that failed to warm the cockles of anyone’s heart, ending in a 0-0 stalemate.
Aside from a couple of fallow decades in the inter-war years, the clubs have habitually been at the pinnacle of England’s domestic football and have also claimed 16 major European trophies. However, for their next match up, in the English Premier League this Saturday, only three points are available. Should United emerge victorious it will be their 68th win compared to Liverpool’s 55 with 47 matches ending in a tie.
The game on Saturday requires no other incentive than victory over historical local rivals but it also holds the intrigue value of helping to decide which of the teams will finish closest to Manchester City, the champions-in-waiting. Furthermore, second and third place in the premiership achieves direct entry into the group stages of the Champions League, rather than the circuitous route of qualification offered to the fourth place team, and so much is at stake.
As we can see, it is an unusual season when neither of the teams is challenging for the title. A quick scan of these drought years reveals that:
In 2014-15 the teams finished 5th and 6th but United won both league fixtures.
In 2013-14 Liverpool finished 2nd ahead of United in 7th taking all six points.
In 2004-5 United finished a place above of their rivals in 2nd assisted by six points earned from the Merseysiders.
In 2001-02 Liverpool took all six points as they finished a place ahead of United in 2nd.
In the 1986-7 season, Liverpool finished 2nd behind Everton having dropped 6 points against Manchester United who finished in 11th. United would drop to 13th three seasons later, an astonishing reprieve for their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who of course went on to win a trophy or two.
But how does the rivalry match up when one of the teams looks to actually win the title?
When Liverpool won the league in 1947 they were hammered 5-0 at Maine Road by Manchester United who were playing their games at their city rival’s ground while Old Trafford was rebuilt after bomb damage. United were second in the table by a point but with a better goal average.
In the 2000-2001 season, United were champions but Liverpool won both league encounters.
Likewise, in the 2008-2009 season Liverpool finished second behind United despite winning both league games. These league doubles are quite rare. United have only achieved it 13 times and Liverpool just 8 times.
With such a close and tightly fought rivalry over a sustained period it is no wonder that league doubles are few and far between and even less rare that they cause an upset at the top end of the table. However, with Manchester City almost out of sight in this year’s race, the two historic North West heavyweights will have to make do with bragging rights and the quest for second place in the league to fulfil them this year.
One thing is almost certain - we should get a goal. In October the teams met at Anfield with Jose Mourinho accused of ‘parking the bus’ for his defence to emerge unscathed with a point. However, there has only been one season where both league games ended 0-0 this occurring in 1919-20 when the games were played at Old Trafford on Boxing Day with the reverse fixture just a week later on New Year’s day. I’m hoping for better at Old Trafford this weekend.
© 2018 Matt Dolan