Manchester United and Liverpool. At Old Trafford. A fixture that does not need selling from either perspective. There is no getting away from it: this is the big one from a Manchester United fan’s point of view. In spite of what Manchester City have achieved in the last ten years, this is the one that gets the hairs on the back of my neck standing more than any other fixture. When the fixtures are announced, this is the one I look for: Manchester United and Liverpool. This is the one that means the most. This is the one that brings a buzz like no other. It’s bigger than 3 points.
For the majority of my lifetime, Manchester United have been the ones challenging for the crown of the best team in English football. It has always been Liverpool who were hell-bent on derailing our title charge. However, the shoe is now on the other foot. Liverpool are on the rise and I dread to think what winning the Premier League could do for the club. It could act as a spring board for more success; it doesn’t bare thinking about from a Manchester United point of few. A United win tomorrow at Old Trafford could potentially be very damaging to their quest to win their first Championship since 1990. Lets keep them down for another while.
Of course, it was this fixture that ended the tenure of Jose Mourinho as Manchester United manager in December. Liverpool brushed Utd aside and in truth, we never even got off the bus that day. Two days later, Ed Woodward and co. told Jose to pack his bags. Tchau, Jose. Ironically, this fixture could also go a long way in determining the future of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United boss. The Norweigan has breathed new life into the club, the shackles are off and the players have been given freedom to express themselves in a manner which United fans have cried out for in the post-Ferguson era. Should Solskjaer lead the Reds to victory tomorrow afternoon, the clamour for him to be appointed on a full-time basis will grow even further. As it stands, it seems difficult to not offer the job to Ole, but we know how quick things can change in football. For now, we are just enjoying the ride; it’s great to look forward to match-day rather than dread it.
This is a defining game in Liverpool’s campaign. Win, and they head into the final part of the season as strong favourites. Their fate is firmly in their own hands and it would be difficult to stop them with the momentum that a victory at Old Trafford would surely bring them. Lose, and suddenly they are not in control of their own destiny. Manchester City with their superior goal difference will fancy their chances of defending their crown. I’m not sure which is worse, to be honest.
Conversely, aside of the great pleasure that denting Liverpool’s title charge would bring, this is a game that gives United a chance to solidify their position in the Champions League places. Two months ago, few would have said Manchester United would be in the top 4 after a dismal first half of the campaign. Yet, now, Utd have a real chance of Champions League football next season. I know what you are thinking: it’s not good enough. While you are correct, I think most would be content with it after the soap opera that Jose Mourinho played out in public for what felt like an eternity. Thank fuck that is over.
It is difficult to predict how this game will play out. In spite of United’s excellent form and rejuvenation, Liverpool will offer a different type of test tomorrow afternoon. They are strong all over the pitch and will quietly fancy their chances of leaving Manchester with a positive result. Their own rejuvenation has not happened over night, they have been creeping up along quietly for a number of years. That is the benefit of a club who has a clear plan and direction. What is Manchester United’s plan? Is there one? Who knows. That is for another day. That said, a home win tomorrow will surely ensure that Ole Gunnar is part of the plan for the foreseeable. A prospect that certainly excites United fans as he has illustrated he has done more than just make the players smile and give them cuddles. He has proven himself to be a tactically competent and forward thinking coach. There is a clear idea about what he is attempting to do at Old Trafford and he has re-instilled an identity that has been non-existent in the last number of years.
As much as Manchester United will be keen to stop their rivals’ drive for the Championship, Klopp and Liverpool will be eager to bring United back down to earth. There is so much riding on this fixture; for both teams. There is no getting away from it: this is the big one.