Football’s glittering antiquity dates back to an undefined time period between 300 to 200 BC where the Chinese invented a game which was known as cuju. Later the Europeans that encompassed the Greeks and the Romans concocted several games of their own that involved a ball and the feet and yet the one that came closest to football was a Greek team game known as harpastum.
As time whizzed by and history started ruffling its pages in a flashback, it was in 1633 that the first mention of what would come close to proper football came down the pike. A teacher called David Wedderburn mentioned the passing of the ball and keeping goal. The man who gave it a further touch of refinement was Francis Willughby who made things a lot more precise and made the game sound like the one which is being played by humans and not some Atlas from the panoply of ancient gods.
Like the way football kept on evolving slowly and steadily across the ever-changing face of history that witnessed countless revolutions and renaissance, similarly, there were a few rivalries that started taking flight. The iconic list of this football rivalries span from the Mostar Derby and rolls onto a few glittering and yet fierce names like the Belgrade Derby, the Eternal Derby, the Dutch Derby, Derby of the Eternal Enemies and El Clasico. However, in this story, we will not be raving about a derby. We will be talking about a football classic that has now grown a million times bigger in stature than what you would call a derby. It is the rivalry between two of England’s oldest clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool.
Sharing a bitter history amongst themselves that saw the fans reaching an acrimonious stage of hatred to an extent where they will not even refuse to barge for the slaughter of their counterparts, this rivalry has seen countless windings in its glorious advancement along the century. However, today, we will talk about the three best matches between these two superpowers that have not only ruled England but have established themselves as paragons of Europe with an ever-evolving brand of football that has kept the chauvinists hooked to the game despite all the bloodshed and vitriol.
This piece is however a perspective-based article and may not be the same as what you think to be an iconic clash between the two sides. Hence, your opinions are always welcome and please do let us know that which clash would you like to see in the list that will follow from hereon.
1. Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool, 1995
This was one of the most remarkable clashes in the antiquity of Manchester and Liverpool’s chequered rivalry as it marked the return of the King to the Theatre of Dreams and also the bitter jibber-jabber that ensued between the King and Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock.
Returning from his suspension for doing a kung-fu kick against a racist fan who entailed Cantona’s mother and sister in his hurl of slurs against the Frenchman, this game was a massive outing for him. In an attempt to absolve himself from all the hatred and divided opinions that has been passed against him, he shined early in the game as he teed up an advancing Nicky Butt at the edge of the box after dazzling past a phalanx of Liverpool defenders. Butt’s finish wasn’t really royal but was more than enough to send the Manchester fans into an ineffable frenzy.
However, given the intimidating form that Liverpool was in at that point in time, they were not willing to couch under the cosh. In fact, the goal spurred them into a mesmerizing brand of passing football and six minutes from then, Redknapp’s 25-yard screamer blazed past Schmeichel’s extended left hand.
Liverpool, once again came within inches of restoring parity when Redknapp drilled a picture-perfect pass in the stride of an onrushing Fowler whose clumsy tenacity made him reach the ball in the last moment thereby taking out half the sting that could have been imposed in a much more menacing fashion. Fowler still managed to send a gorgeous flick through Schmeichel and Phil Neville but Rush’s rush was too haywire and he managed to drag the effort wide from just three yards of the net.
Despite disseminating an ineffable dominion over the Devils, it was a sudden surge from Ryan Giggs who was known for conjuring the magic out of the blue that almost created a sitter for a bombing Sharpe only for the latter to squander it away from 10 yards. However, this was United’s last enterprise in that half before Liverpool belted out a decimating performance that was about to turn the King’s return to Old Trafford sour.
As United was still basking in their late adventure in the Liverpool half, McManaman squeezed past a brilliant through for the scampering Fowler, who received the ball with a sublime touch and hammered it into the net past the United custodian who was a mere onlooker.
Liverpool’s heroics in the game was spearheaded by the man known as Robbie Fowler who sent an impudent spinning pass to a darting Mcmanaman only for him to take a tumble hoping for a penalty that was snubbed by Elleray.
Liverpool and Fowler’s second goal was an underline of his majestic brilliance that he was brewing at the time of his coronation into the fabric of English football. It was Michael Thomas who crafted a stellar pass into the path of a famished Fowler who caught the whiff of an advancing Schmeichel and kept his composure until the very end to muscle his way past Neville and dinked the ball over the United goalie in a show of arrogance and magnificence, sending Liverpool into a deserved lead in front of the United home crowd.
No matter how dominant you are, if you writing a team off that is known as the Comeback Kings before the last whistle is blown, that will be nothing but a show of sheer tomfoolery. As expected, Manchester United came back to life within the last 20 minutes and the man who led the resurgence was none other than the king, Eric Cantona.
It was Phil Neville who started the move by robbing Thomas from the half-line to set up Ryan Giggs. Giggs dillied and dallied around the centre-line and then blasted his way past a hapless Redknapp and then Cantona who flicked the ball back in the Welsh’s path to fire home after that scorching run. Redknapp bamboozled by that fiery canter of Giggs made a desperate attempt to stop him by pulling his t-shirt and ended up bringing him down in the box. Quite obviously, the Liverpool fanatics had claimed it dodgy and threw countless invectives at Giggsy but he hardly donned them on. The King stepped up for the spot-kick and Old Trafford chimed in with the chant “Ooh, Aah, Cantona!”
Who would have known that what was about to come? Cantona stepped up and took his slow run and pegged the ball into the back of the net and burst into a pole dance behind the goal, leaving the English football roster and the world divided over the opinion that he doesn’t care.
As soon as United got their equalizer, Fergie brought on Scholes to secure a victory and the latter didn’t disappoint as he blazed a couple of efforts past the Liverpool post. Cantona also squared off Coles with a delectable chip and the latter slammed his over-head kick just inches wide off the post.
However, the debatable footballer that Cantona was, he was not in there only for the sheer pleasure of football. When muscled away by Razor Ruddock towards the end of the game, he started gesticulating to the stickler in an attempt to articulate the fact that Ruddock was fat and he had multiple chins and a D-shaped stomach.
It seemed that Liverpool was not done yet and when Beckham plugged out of his actual attacking midfielder role, couldn’t really attune himself to the role of the wingback that was assigned to him with the preamble of Scholes. Just a fraction outside the box, he ended up clipping the toes of McManaman and the resultant free-kick was tipped away brilliantly by a fully-stretched Schmeichel.
An explosive game of football finally met its fate, with the scores tied, Cantona wrecking the pole with his exotic brand of pole dance and a sharp Razor Ruddock, bringing the collar of the King down.
2. Manchester United 0-1 Liverpool, 2000
This Premier League clash was of symbolic importance to the Reds given the fact that they finally managed to snuff out an excruciating 10-years wait to finally secure a victory at Old Trafford.
Since 1990, Liverpool failed to produce a victory at the Theatre of Dreams and was desperate to break free from this infamous streak. It was Manchester United who started the game on a dictating note and Fergie’s wards kept Liverpool confined to their own half in the first ten minutes.
When it came to the defensive enterprise, the back-four of Liverpool and the midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Igor Biscan were extremely impressive to weather the United storm.
Things were already going downhill for Manchester United as the strikers failed to carve open an infringement and it struck rock-bottom when Luke Chadwick was given marching orders for hurling himself into Vladimir Slicer in the most unprofessional rather brutish fashion.
United seemed well in control of the ball possession but that was the only thing which they could manage throughout the game. Despite all the possession in the world, their pressing got limited and that gave pockets of freedom to the advancing Reds that started hurting the Devils.
Despite, Alex Ferguson making a few tactical changes, two of which were popular ones during that era and it entailed the deployment of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in a much more belligerent role, it was Liverpool that took on the offensive and started pegging United back.
It was Danny Murphy who drummed the first beat of Liverpool’s ascendancy in the game when he snapped a fierce piledriver that was parried away by the robust palms of Barthez. However, that was just the beginning of Manchester’s end as the resultant corner was powerfully noggined towards the goal by Heskey only to be refused in the last moment as Paul Scholes stuck his foot out and returned the effort from the goal-line.
A screaming effort from the visitors came to an abrupt end as Gary Neville for some weird reason was wildly flailing his arms and that awarded a free-kick to Liverpool from 20 yards away which seemed extremely menacing as Gerard Houllier’s lot had a lot of incumbents who were very well capable of drilling that effort into the net directly.
In the set-piece, it was Barmby who ran over the ball to spark confusions and Danny Murphy curled in a glorious screamer to leave an extraordinary sequence of Manchester United’s dominance at Old Trafford for the last two years at jeopardy.
Right after the re-start, even before Manchester could realize that what had hit them, Markus Babbel was already on a sprint and his screeching run culminated into a wondrous ball for Michael Owen whose effort beat Barthez for sure but rattled against the woodwork before fizzling out for a goal-kick.
Manchester United’s response was swift and telling that saw Scholes bombing down the plank and setting up the baby-faced assassin for the finish. Solskjaer did manage to connect well but Westerveld came up with an equally scintillating save to deny United the equalizer.
Just as the game continued with both the teams playing an impressive brand of attacking and counter-attacking football, an unfortunate incident marred the beauty of this game as Luke Chadwick latched on to Smicer and in the process brought him rattling down to the ground with the stickler producing the marching orders for the former.
As the final whistle blew, ten years of lopsided dominance at the Theatre of Dreams finally met its conclusion with a glorious Danny Murphy curler that placed Gerard Houllier on a pedestal like no other.
3. Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool, 1999
This year was the holy age of Manchester United that saw them dominating England and Europe like none other. This stoush between Liverpool and United was an enigmatic rehearsal of what was to unfold in Barcelona against Bayern Munich on an even greater magnitude.
Instead of a complete contest, this was more of a battle between the partnership of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke pitted against the remarkable duo of Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. The United duo had already plundered 31 goals between them while the Liverpool duo has managed 30.
However, all the calculations flipped over when Michael Owen shattered countless United hearts with a thumping header in the very second minute, sending 8000 travelling supporters into an inexplicable frenzy.
Despite drawing first blood, Liverpool wasn’t convincing enough to make the visiting supporters believe. It was Manchester’s profligacy that helped the visitors stay afloat in the game.
Roy Keane was at his scintillating best that saw him blazing the woodwork twice and dragging an effort just inches away from the post.
However, with all said and done, it was Manchester United’s leading goal-scorer who smashed home the equalizer and restored world order for Ferguson and the crowd to erupt into unprecedented exhilaration.
From the set-piece, David Beckham clinically picked up Cole who teed up a lurking Yorke at the back-post and the latter made no mistake in flipping the effort home.
The telling blow was struck by none other than the one who would later go on to become the hero of a magical night at Barcelona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Despite being introduced before the last ten minutes of the regulation time to come to an end, he couldn’t even manage one touch of the ball.
Yet the most imperative touch of the game for Manchester United came from the Norwegian’s feet as he managed to take the ball from Scholes, set himself up and drill the effort through Carragher’s legs into the back of the net.
Call it a daylight robbery, but Liverpool was just left stunned after what happened in the last two minutes of the game that sent them crashing out of the FA Cup in that year. Well, they would very well understand it later in that year that Manchester United seemed absolutely irrepressible in that season that saw them lifting the Premier League, the FA Cup and most importantly the Champions’ League.