The English El Clásico Looms Large
This week’s return of the Premier League features England‘s answer to El Clásico. A titanic clash between the country’s two most successful clubs, this rivalry includes many facets between two cities just 35 miles apart. Welcome to Liverpool versus Manchester United: a match so fierce that it consequently overshadows both clubs’ passionate hometown rivalries with Everton and Manchester City respectively. On Monday next, in the revamped Anfield, fans in the stadium and around the world will be emotionally kicking every ball and feeling every tackle.
The Historic Rivalry
Liverpool was once the dominant economic powerhouse in the North West of England (Lancashire) due to its great trading port. This dominance was challenged by Manchester after the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in the late 1800’s. This Canal bypassed the great Liverpool port and transferred employment and economic wealth to Manchester. Liverpool began to decline in economic and trade importance as Manchester rose. The seeds of rivalry between the two cities were sewn.
Beatlemania, the Swinging Sixties, and the Merseybeat musical genre launched a global music and pop culture phenomenon centred in Liverpool. Bands such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers and of course the Beatles focused the emerging world of rock and roll culture on Liverpool.
In Manchester circa the 1980’s a new musical sound named the Madchester sound launched popular fashion and musical trends via bands like the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. The see-saw battle between both cities over pop culture supremacy has continued to the present day.
Manchester United and Liverpool have dominated the English game for longer periods than any other clubs. The first great United era began in the 1950’s with the Busby Babes team. This great side, coached by former Liverpool player Matt Busby, tragically had many young players killed in the Munich air crash tragedy. Busby was to rebuild, and a United team with greats like Bobby Charlton and George Best won their first European Cup in 1968.
Liverpool’s Golden Era
Liverpool dominated from the 1970’s through 1990. This golden era saw the Reds amass 11 League titles, three FA Cups, four European Cups and two UEFA Cups. Legendary managers such as Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish coached swashbuckling sides that included marquee players such as John Barnes, Emlyn Hughes, Ray Clemence, Graeme Souness, Phil Neal and Ian Rush.This era also unfortunately included the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough.
Manchester United Golden Era
Manchester United in the 90’s and early 2000’s dominated the English scene. Occasional major challenges only regularly came from Arsenal. Recently Chelsea and Manchester City have ended that dominant era. Alex Ferguson, manager at Old Trafford in this golden era, cemented his place as currently the most successful manager in English football history.
United eclipsed Liverpool’s then record number of league title wins. Hugely successful Red Devil teams under Ferguson included terrific players such as Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney.
Ferguson’s stated mission was to surpass Liverpool and this created even more passionate rivalry around the matches between the clubs. The personification of this rivalry was the on-field battles between Liverpudlians Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and Mancunians Nicky Butt and Gary Neville.
Klopp v Mourinho
Jürgen Klopp and José Mourinho are no strangers to huge footballing rivalries. Mourinho has coached in two of the great derbies, Inter vs Milan and Real Madrid vs Barcelona (El Clásico). Klopp has managed Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich in Der Klassiker rivalry in Germany.
Both teams are in the upper reaches of the league standings. Liverpool are currently fourth with United three points behind in sixth. Mourinho and United fans will be determined not to concede a six points deficit at the top of the table this early in the campaign. Klopp and his Liverpool players have the opportunity to secure a victory and make a real statement to the rest of the country. Liverpool fans will demand attacking football from the start and this should make for a very pulsating encounter.
Injury rumours always accompany the end of international breaks and Liverpool may be looking at possible injury losses to Adam Lallana and Georgino Wijnaldum. United’s injuries include the young French forward Anthony Martial.
Expect Liverpool to replace Wijnaldum with Emre Can and Lallana with Daniel Sturridge in a reshuffled attack, while United will look to marquee signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for inspiration.
Klopp should stick with his favoured fluid three attackers in a 4-3-3 style. Philippe Coutinho should revert to the Lallana midfield role and Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané joining Sturridge up top. Mourinho may feel pressure to depart from his traditionally cautious big game approach, since United can’t afford a loss if they are to mount a serious title challenge.
Expect the Red Devils to test Liverpool in the air. Correspondingly, Marouane Fellaini should feature in another version of a 4-3-3 style. Both sides will know what points their top four rivals have secured over the weekend games and Klopp and Mourinho will sense a chance to climb or a need to stay in touch by the time of the Monday kick-off. A great rivalry game may prove pivotal for both club’s title aspirations this year.