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Liverpool V Manchester United – Has The Regal North-West Derby Lost Its Verve?


Liverpool V Manchester United

Anfield on Sunday afternoon will see the latest fixture between the two most successful heavyweights in English football over the last few decades: Liverpool and Manchester United. Cast your mind back through this period of time – what sticks out the most? Suarez vs. Evra… Shelvey vs. Fergie… Neville vs. the fans… Fowler vs. Keane… Dudek howlers… even Cantona’s last minute FA Cup winner. The list is endless.

Whatever sprang to mind, the point is clear. This match-up generates serious talking points that remain fresh in the mind of any football fan even to the present day. But are these past exchanges (some not even relevant to the actual pitch action) enough to keep the hype going? Ten or fifteen years ago, this match was the pinnacle of English football, one that everyone earmarked on the day the fixtures were released. The lack of real coverage after the League Cup draw in midweek pairing the two together set minds racing. Now, is Liverpool vs. Manchester United just becoming another fixture on the calendar?

Once upon a time, the line-ups used to feature gargantuan, colossal figures in the game. Liverpool had the likes of Clemence, Neal, Hansen, Hyypia, Barnes, Dalglish, Owen and Rush to name but a few. United had Schmeichel, Neville, Irwin, Robson, Keane, Scholes, Cantona and van Nistelrooy, to do similar. Some of the best players in the world used to contest these games, and we loved it. The eyes of the globe were on these world class players in the heyday of a fixture that has seemingly decreased in genuine and outright quality.

Now these are two elevens that may well grace the pitch on Sunday, plucked from the sky but with a little common sense:

Mignolet, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Aspas, Coutinho, Sturridge.

de Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Cleverley, Giggs, Welbeck, Rooney, van Persie.

Both teams are full of good players. But very few ‘greats’ – those who really get the fans to stand up and out of their seats and are worth the inflated admission prices alone. Of course, in Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs, you have two undisputed legends of the game who epitomise their football clubs. In Robin van Persie you have arguably the only ‘world class’ name on the pitch. Perhaps he could be joined by Nemanja Vidic, and who knows about David de Gea, Phillipe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge or Danny Welbeck in five years’ time. But that’s it.

The same can be said of the dugout. Dalglish, Souness, Houllier. Ferguson. All used to pace their technical areas with ferocity and scare the living daylights out of the players involved. Now, in their lengthy and successful shadows, stand two men: a baby-faced Northern Irish named Brendan Rodgers and a Scottish lad called David Moyes who has just been thrust into the biggest job in world football. Both have potential, but both are finding their feet in the early(ish) stages of managerial careers.

This is not mean to begrudge any of those twenty-two players or their navigators. Given time, they may well prove to become household names in England, Europe and beyond. For sure, there are a few stand-out individuals for whom stardom is not unrealistic to predict. But for now, I am talking the here and now of what we see before us. Liverpool vs. Manchester United is not what it was.

Who am I to say this fixture will never recover its past grandeur and top billing as the pinnacle of English domestic football, however. It is foolish to predict the future, and if Liverpool rise to the top – like the ‘good old days’ – alongside current champions United, they may both attract better players, command yet more attention and become the hottest ticket in town once more. I am sure I am not alone in wishing this to be the case.

As for who will win on this occasion? I have no idea. Both clubs have made strong starts to the season and sit amongst the league’s top four, behind Chelsea who have played a game more than everyone else due to today (Friday)’s Super Cup. For Liverpool, Kolo Toure is seriously doubtful after leaving Anfield on crutches after Wednesday’s League Cup tie against Notts County. Aly Cissokho is facing a similar problem, but Martin Skrtel should return in Toure’s place at centre back. United have an increasingly fit and committed Wayne Rooney to call upon, whilst Rafael, Nani and Hernandez are still out but Ashley Young’s return on Monday night provides more wide options.

Of course, a bad result will not make or break either season but getting one up on rivals is never a bad thing – plus, as it stands, the winner may well finish top of the table come the end of the weekend depending on the respective goal differences. What with an increasingly vibrant Daniel Sturridge adding end product to his pace and flair, as well as the effervescent Robin van Persie leading the United line, there are goals to be had on the pitch. It will still be a spectacle of sorts.

As previously mentioned, predictions are often misguided and irrational – but at least this one will have some substance and some form. It will probably be 2-1: just as the last four Liverpool-Manchester United games have finished. Same old, same old, then?

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