There has been a rare moment of unity between Liverpool and Manchester United this week, but it won’t last for long
It takes something pretty out of the ordinary to end up with Liverpool and Manchester United on the same side in a spat, but somehow Gabby Agbonlahor managed to pull it off.
The former Aston Villa forward, now a pundit for talkSPORT, got a rise out of Jurgen Klopp this week after lambasting the Reds’ fierce rivals on-air following their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of unfashionable Brentford.
Whilst the majority of Liverpool supporters revelled in their adversary’s misfortune, new United boss Erik ten Hag was probably privately surprised to receive such public support from the manager of a club that is widely despised across Manchester and has been for several decades.
For as long as anyone can remember, Liverpool and Manchester United have hated each other with boundless enthusiasm. A new book soon to be published by BBC football journalist Phil McNulty and Telegraph columnist Jim White dates the true start of this fiercest of rivalries back to the 1970s.
A competitive nature between the two north west cities can be tracked much further back than that, but the pursuit of glory first ran into a showdown when Tommy Docherty’s United scored a goal best described as fortuitous to clinch the FA Cup and in doing so ruined Bob Paisley’s assault on a league, FA Cup and European Cup treble. Two out of three wasn’t bad mind.
Liverpool’s dominance in the 70s and 80s was of great annoyance to the Red Devils, who were often portrayed as the glamour side of English football without the league titles to back it up. But if the Merseyside Reds’ success was a thorn in the side of Old Trafford, the whole thing would be flipped in its head by Sir Alex Ferguson in the 1990s, just in time to ruin this writer’s secondary school childhood.
One of the key quirks of the Liverpool-United rivalry is that historically one team has been on the up when the other is struggling. This is born out by the separate periods of success in which neither club was able to puncture with a league title triumph of their own.
There are few examples down the years of the two clubs going toe-for-toe in nail-biting league campaigns that stretch to the final day. Not like Liverpool and Manchester City. This unintentional avoidance has made their rare cup final clashes all the more significant. United rule over their rivals in the FA Cup, winning both of their Wembley match-ups in 1977 and 1996 – the second of which was arguably one of the worst cup finals ever played – whereas Liverpool are the League Cup kings, beating United twice in 1983 and 2003.
But had a similar proposition been put to me back in 2007 it is almost certain that my answer would have been completely different. The thought of losing the European Cup final to Manchester United just doesn’t bare thinking about. Maybe AC Milan did Liverpool a favour.
When it comes to competing for major trophies, Liverpool have more modern rivals. A series of semi-final and final duels with Chelsea created a new era and the rollercoaster thrills of trying to keep up with cash-rich Manchester City – notably speared by the Reds’ first league title triumph in 30 years – has offered up a fresh narrative for the television broadcasters to tap in to.
But ask any Liverpool supporter of reasonable tenure who the club’s current biggest rival is and you won’t get many pointing to the soulless success of the Manchester club in Sky Blue.
Liverpool and United’s decades-long tug-of-war to be the best in the land still shows no sign of abating and that is a danger for whichever team is on top. Currently it is Jurgen Klopp and his mentality monsters who hold the upper hand, but history has taught us that the underdog in this contest all too often raises their game significantly when the two sides meet.
Young United supporters are having their childhoods tarnished by the success of Klopp just as mine was by Ferguson. But you can be sure that their time will come again.
By irking the German with his radio analysis, Agbonlahor – a man with no dog in this fight – managed to put Liverpool and United on the same side for a moment.
But what plays out in Old Trafford on Monday evening in will show that the clubs – in a sporting sense at least – are very much meant to be divided.