This is arguably the most important North West Derby in recent memory. So much is at stake. The Premier League title? No, of course not. But there are other noteworthy achievements in England’s top flight aside from winning the league. This derby is certainly one of them.
Liverpool FC and Manchester United are the two most decorated clubs in English football history. The two sides have combined to win an impressive 126 trophies. This includes 38 domestic championships, 19 domestic cups, 13 league cups, four Europa League titles and eight Champions League victories. These clubs define the term: “football royalty.”
The upcoming match on Saturday will be one of the most important in terms of “top four” positioning within the league this season. Contradictory to belief, the Manchester derby will not be. While that match will certainly make the headlines and draw the attention of both clubs, no rivalry in England will ever supplant LFC-MUFC as the nation’s finest.
A Sudden Fall From Grace
There has not been a winner in league play between the two sides since January 17, 2016 (LFC did elimatate MUFC from the Europa League two months later). Having said that, the Klopp-Mourinho rivalry has yet to live up to the hype since the two managers joined Liverpool and Manchester United respectively. All three matches thus far have resulted in a draw. More alarming perhaps, there has been a total of two goals scored in those 270 minutes.
Overall, the past four years have been rather unkind by both club’s standards. Manchester United, the undisputed kings of English football so far in the 21st century, have not won the league since 2013. Before that, they had won four of the previous six league crowns. United have won the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League in that time span. Most would argue though, the league is what matters the most.
In comparison, Liverpool have not won silverware of any kind since 2012 (League Cup). The club narrowly missed out on winning the 2013-14 Premier League title, which would have been their first since the formation of the league in 1992. The Merseyside Reds finished as runners-up in the Europa League in Jürgen Klopp’s inaugural season (2015-16). Much like their rivals, Liverpool values winning the Premier League above all else.
From 2013-14 through 2016-17 Liverpool finished an average of fifth in the final league table (2, 6, 8, 4). Since their league championship in 2012-13, The Red Devils have actually fared worse with an average league finish of 5.50 during that time (7, 4, 5, 6). This season has been vastly different for both English powers.
Two Sleeping Giants Awaken
Liverpool are currently in top-form. After a shaky start to the 2017-18 campaign, especially as it pertains to their defending, the club has lost only once in the league since late October. They are the only side to have defeated Pep Guardiola’s record-setting Manchester City this season and as of last night, eliminated FC Porto from the Champions League with ease, advancing to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 2008-09.
Life is good in Merseyside at the moment. Jürgen Klopp has reshaped Liverpool FC into his vision and it is paying huge dividends. Only Manchester City has scored more goals than Klopp’s LFC in 2017-18. The defensive transformation has been even more impressive. Liverpool were leaking goals at an alarming pace against inferior competition for much of the season’s first half. This has since been stabilized and LFC’s defence has become a respectable unit. Klopp’s back four are now ranked sixth in the English top flight for fewest goals conceded.
Thanks to the meteoric rise of Mohamed Salah, the continued outstanding play of Roberto Firmino, and the return-to-form of Sadio Mané, Liverpool has cut what was once an almost double-digit deficit to Manchester United in the table, down to a mere two points. A win on Saturday would place them above United for the first time this season (following the completion of a match day).
Manchester United had a brilliant start to the current campaign and looked to be a legitimate Premier League title contender early on. It wasn’t until October 21st that United suffered their first league setback, a shocking defeat away to Huddersfield. Since match day 9, Jose Mourinho’s side has lost four additional league matches, two more than Manchester City and Liverpool combined. A once-cozy second place is now in serious jeopardy as we approach this weekend’s derby.
Mourinho has been criticized by his own fan base, as well as football pundits from around the world over the past few months. His tactics in particular have been called into question. Manchester United feature a world-class roster, yet, Mourinho habitually instructs his players to “park the bus,” even against lesser opponents. A near defeat at the hands of relegation candidates Crystal Palace still has many United supporters shaking their heads. In particular, Mourinho’s team selection for this match has come under harsh scrutiny.
History proves that Jose Mourinho will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest to ever walk the touch line. Unfortunately for the Portuguese manager, he inherited a Manchester United that is in the midst of it’s longest league title drought since 1991-92. In other words, patience at Old Trafford is wearing thin. The fact that City has distanced themselves entirely from MUFC, and Liverpool being within three points of overtaking them, has many supporters of the club understandably upset. “Bus parking” simply won’t do on Saturday. Mourinho’s side needs to be aggressive.
What to Expect on Saturday
A 0-0 draw will satisfy absolutely no one. This will also not be the result, so no need to worry. Instead, the Premier League’s Saturday afternoon showcase will feature what will be, in my opinion, the match we have all been waiting for between Klopp’s Liverpool and Mourinho’s Manchester United. It will be a chess match, no doubt, but one that differs from their previous three encounters.
At some point, especially with United as the hosts, Mourinho will instruct his players to go on the offensive. Yes, attack. I know that the word “attack” and the name “Mourinho” represents an oxymoron of epic proportion, but allow me to further explain. If there is one thing that is even larger than the United supporters’ desire to win, it is Mourinho’s ego. He wants to beat Klopp (Klopp’s record vs Mourinho: 3W-4D-1L) and put the rumours to bed once and for all that he can’t.
The winners in this latest installment of the North West Derby will gain a massive psychological advantage over the losers as the 2017-18 season approaches it’s final weeks. Sure, neither club can win the league, but at this point, its about beating each other. Both sides are still playing Champions League football and will almost certainly qualify for next year’s competition (barring a collapse of epic proportion).
After three disappointing draws in this rivalry it is time for Klopp’s “heavy metal football” to go head-to-head with Mourinho’s more conservative, yet effective approach. With an attack that features the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, and Anthony Martial, a defence that is consistently efficient, and perhaps the world’s greatest keeper, there is no need for Mourinho to play timid football. Likewise, based on LFC’s recent good form, I expect Klopp’s instructions to be quite simple: “attack, attack, attack”.
When it’s all Said and Done…
With second place on the line and a huge positive momentum swing to be gained from a victory, expect both sides to bring their best efforts onto the pitch this weekend. Winning a match of this magnitude this late in the season is precisely what inspires hope that next season, anything is possible.
Despite several disappointing campaigns in recent years for both, it would not surprise me if the winner of this derby goes on to hoist the Premier League trophy at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. A bold prediction for certain. For now though, lets simply enjoy what lies ahead in just a few short days: club football’s greatest rivalry – Manchester United vs Liverpool FC.