Lou Verga runs down the five classic fixtures between the old rivals from the Premier League era in anticipation of the showdown on Saturday
By Lou Verga
Two of the oldest and fiercest foes in the English game take up their swords yet again for another scintillating duel. No matter what the circumstances, this is a fixture where a priceless sense of pride can be acquired, the first fixtures that the fans gleefully search for when the schedule is released. Why? Look no further than five of their best battles since the Premier League’s inception.
We begin then in January 1994, the year after the Red Devils had ended their 26 year title drought by winning the inaugural Premier League trophy. The following season, United travelled to Anfield, again sitting clear at the top of the table. After just nine minutes, new signing Eric Cantona teed up captain Steve Bruce for the opener. Further stunning strikes from a fresh faced Ryan Giggs and Dennis Irwin put the visitors 3-0 up after just 24 minutes. Liverpool seemed to be surrendering with a whimper, but they found hope no more than a minute later when Nigel Clough lashed in a long distance strike. Clough then doubled his tally when he pounced on a loose ball to give the Kop cause for celebration before half time. And with eleven minutes remaining, Neil Ruddock personified the Reds’ fighting character by rising highest to head home, completing a sensational comeback to end the match 3-3.
Five years later in the May of 1999, Liverpool again attempted and failed to stop their nemesis from title glory with another eventful draw at Anfield. United were engaged in a close contest with Arsenal for the championship. They went ahead 2-0 once again on Liverpool’s home turf and were seemingly on their way to a precious victory. Jamie Redknapp then gave his side hope when he converted a penalty, before Dennis Irwin turned from hero to villain getting sent-off in the second half. It was fitting for Reds fans that former Mancunian Paul Ince scored the equaliser two minutes from time to break United hearts and dent their title ambitions, with wild scenes erupting from the Kop as the Reds fought back again to steal it 2-2. United did however pick themselves up from this result to immortalise themselves by doing the treble.
Fast forward ten years to March 2009, when despite Liverpool’s best efforts, their rivals were slowly taking away their glorious mantelpiece of 18 league trophies. Rafa Benitez’s men needed a win there to really prove a threat to the Red Devils in the title race. Liverpool’s efforts looked to be in vain when Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring, but two goals before half time from Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard gave Pool the lead. In the second period, Fabio Aurelio dispatched a pinpoint free-kick and Andrea Dossena unleashed an audacious lob to give his side an unbelievable 4-1 victory and the fans genuine hope that they could overcome the enemy for the first time in years. Unfortunately for the Reds, they fell short by just four points to the all-conquering United.
In September 2010, it was a superb hat-trick from golden boot winner Dimitar Berbatov that gave his team an exhilirating 3-2 win and heaped the misery on Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool who were struggling desperately in the bottom half of the table. Berbatov’s second, a breathtaking overhead kick, put United two goals to the good before an inspired Steven Gerrard scored two of his own to level things up. However Manchester United were not to be denied when the Bulgarian striker headed home his third to set Sir Alex’s team on their way to finally smashing Liverpool’s famous record of 18 titles
The return fixture at Anfield in March 2011 saw another hat-trick this time in favour of Liverpool, who had just welcomed back their messiah, the last chief to give his club league glory in 1990. If Berbatov’s treble was ingenious, Dirk Kuyt’s was opportunistic, the Dutchman racking up his goals from a combined distance of seven yards. New boy Luis Suarez was unstoppable, and a 3-1 victory on a sun-bathed Anfield pitch sparked a hope that perhaps the return of King Kenny could maybe see the return of Liverpool to the throne of England.
This brings us to 2012, when on Saturday, history will once again be written before our eyes. Can Liverpool successfully help put a stop to the United juggernaut this time, whilst catapulting themselves back into the top four? Or will the Red Devils continue to reign supreme?