Thursday 27 April 2017

Comment: So much of the joy of victory would come from getting one over on a hated rival

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Chris Smalling of Manchester United in action with Lucas of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on September 12, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Chris Smalling of Manchester United in action with Lucas of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on September 12, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images)

Scott Patterson, @R_o_M

Manchester United face Liverpool at Old Trafford in what is the biggest game between the two clubs since March 2009.

Back then, both teams were challenging for the title and the humiliating 4-1 defeat that United suffered dented their hopes. Liverpool closed the gap to four points and the following week United lost away to Fulham, taking the gap to one. That thrashing could and should have been key to defining Liverpool’s season but in the end United won the league, equalling their rival’s record of 18 titles.

United have lost just one game against Liverpool at Old Trafford since, when David Moyes’ side suffered a 3-0 drubbing, United have won 10 of their last 12 in this fixture. This bodes well for United although, to knock out an old cliché, form and history mean very little in games where so much passion is involved.

Liverpool know that if they win this game they are cementing their title chances. They still have Chelsea to play in the next few weeks, meaning this period could be huge for them. They’ve come close to tasting glory during their 26 year barren period, when they appeared favourites to win the league in 2014, so will be keen not to throw away their chances again.

Of course, as much as Steven Gerrard would love to see Liverpool win the league, particularly as it was his error which lead to their downfall in 2013-14, he would surely have regrets over choosing to leave the club when he did.

While not their priority, Liverpool know that a victory against United will not only boost their chances, but it will also end any hopes of a revival for Jose Mourinho’s men. United threw away too many points last year when picking up draws in games they should have won. While the title might have been an aspiration at the start of the season, their aims shifted to just finishing within the top four.

After the first weekend in December, United found themselves sixth in the table, nine points away from fourth placed Manchester City and six points away from Tottenham in fifth. There were suggestions that maybe even top four was beyond them. The idea that they would be able to go on a winning run at the same time as the teams above them dropped points was fantasy, yet that is exactly what has happened.

If United beat Liverpool on Saturday it will be their 10th victory in a row in all competitions. It will also put them just two points behind Liverpool and firmly back in the title race. Chelsea not only have to play Liverpool over the next few weeks, but Arsenal too. Whatever the scoreline in these games, United can benefit, as teams above them will be dropping more points.

In terms of the title race, this match is massive, but it’s not the only big game the two teams may play each other in.

Six weeks after this fixture, the pair may face a re-match at Wembley if both sides reach the League Cup final. United beat Hull 2-0 at Old Trafford this week while Liverpool lost 1-0 away to Southampton. Despite last week’s disappointment against League 2’s Plymouth Argle in the FA Cup at Anfield, you would still fancy Jurgen Klopp to get a result in the return leg.

For the fans though, as much as their eye will be on the long-term goal of success, hoping to claim another trophy to add to the collection, there’s no denying that so much of the joy of victory would come from getting one over on their hated rival.

There’s clearly no love lost between these two teams and whether this match defined a title race, won a trophy, or was a meaningless mid-table clash, both sets of supporters would be desperate for a win. Obviously everyone wants to see their team pick up three points, but denying your rivals in the process adds extra elation to the result.

Despite recent poor results from Liverpool, they will fancy their chances of claiming a rare Old Trafford win. Their position in the league table tells them all they need to know about their capabilities this season.

Likewise, while United fans aren’t paying much attention to their position, the string of wins and belief that Jose Mourinho has finally worked out how to make his team tick gives the supporters plenty of hope for a win.

There aren’t many games like this in world football and when there’s actually something huge to be gained from the result the anticipation is even bigger. Liverpool want to reclaim their perch and close the gap between themselves and United for league titles won, while United want to give themselves more breathing room. It currently stands at 20-18 but will that have changed by the end of this season? And will this game have an impact on that? Roll on Sunday!

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