The Northwest Derby, the rivalry match between Liverpool and Manchester United, is one of those storied rivalries that transcends coaches, players, and owners. No matter where you are in the table, no matter what you have been playing like, no matter what competition it is in, these two teams always want to beat each other. The two most successful teams in England have played each other 193 times over the course of over a century. The first time these two teams met in a league game was 1894, when Manchester United were still known as Newton Heath. The history of the rivalry behind these clubs is long and filled with drama, but it is the status that the two clubs find themselves at today that we are looking at.
What has always fascinated me about both teams is how one team always seem to mirror the other. Liverpool always seems to be on top when Manchester United is having a hard spell, and vice versa. It’s very rare that we see both teams challenging for the title in the same season. The sole exception to this is the 2008/09 season, where Manchester United won by 4 points and Liverpool lead the league for most of the season.
This Sunday, when the teams meet again, we will see both teams in very different but very similar situations to each other. Both teams have young teams with European managers with a great pedigree. Both teams are targeting top four this season, but falling behind. They are both capable of good results, but terrible performances as well. This is ignoring the geographical and historical similarities between the clubs. This is part of the reason the two teams hate each other, while respecting their great enemies at the same time. They see themselves in their rival.
Nothing represents the mirroring of these two clubs as strongly as the results from their last game. Both teams drew 3-3 thanks to a late equalizer in the 90th minute. It is the context around the scoreline that is so telling, however. Manchester United drew to Newcastle, currently relegation favorites, and had been ahead before the equalizer from an unlikely source, defender Paul Dummet. Liverpool drew Arsenal, currently title favorites, and had been behind before the equalizer from an unlikely source, late sub Joe Allen. That is all you need to know about the atmosphere pervading the two clubs right now. Manchester United there is a genuine sense of underperforming and pessimism, that things are going in the wrong direction. They have completely turned on their manager, rightly or wrongly, and have lost faith with many of their new signings. At Liverpool, we are seeing a sense of underperforming, but there is optimism because the fans feel things are going in the right direction. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and a win this weekend could bring them level on points with Manchester United.
Expect an absolute scrap this weekend, as Manchester United look to reclaim their spot in the Top Four and Liverpool look to hopscotch the Red Devils. With Louis van Gaal looking to save his job and Jurgen Klopp looking to get his kick started, this could be a classic.