It’s hard to say who was under more pressure in last night’s match, as Liverpool faced off with Manchester United on home turf for a goalless North West Derby.
First, you have Liverpool: the defending champions of the league with millions of hopeful fans holding on to a prayer that they could come out on top for a consecutive year of victory. And, perhaps, prove it’s more than just one good season after a 30-year drought.
Then there’s Manchester United, who last season were too far behind to even contemplate being where they are today — at the top of the table. United finished 33 points behind the reds last year. Today, they’re 3 points clear of Liverpool.
Last time United faced off with Liverpool at Anfield, they lost 2-0, which marked the first time that Liverpool had beaten United at home in consecutive games since 2008-2011, when they had done it thrice in a row. United had also lost nine of their last 16 away games (won only three, drew four) at the time, and failed to score in eight of those games.
Fair to say it wasn’t a good moment for United in the press, who were in a shoddy place overall in 2020.
United is doing just fine for themselves right now. Yes, this could have been their chance to prove they’re worthy by providing a firm lashing to Liverpool on their own turf, both to assure fans that United is back in form and give themselves a boost of confidence going forward.
Instead, United fans watched a team that is, perhaps, not in their most brilliant, polished form, especially if we’re comparing them to the United who won the League in 2012-13, cinching the title with four games to spare, 11 points clear of derby rivals Manchester City.
Maybe fans would have liked to see less defensive play and more of an attacking strategy, or at least more than a third of possession.
But if we look at more recent history and remember how far United have come from last season…well, that’s a different story.
When Liverpool and United draw, everybody else wins…
United are now a couple points clear of City, who demolished Crystal Palace last evening with a 4-0 win, and have a game in hand.
Leicester City are not too far behind — 2 points away from United and 1 point ahead of Liverpool.
Meanwhile, the Tottenham Hotspurs — whose fairly consistent performances have had Fantasy Premier League fans scrambling to secure both Son Heung-min and Harry Kane for their FPL squads — hold 33 points, only 4 points behind United and 1 behind Liverpool.
The picture becomes much wider and more comprehensive, when you zoom out from last night’s match (January 18) to look at the other players in this race to the top. No longer are these matches simply between two teams — everyone has a stake in whether someone wins, loses or draws.
And in this case, Man City, Leicester and the Spurs should all be elated by the fact that Liverpool and Manchester United walked away with only 1 point each after a no-goal result. The game resulted in no immediate winners, but it did help some other teams in their inch towards the top.
The next time Liverpool and United face off is not too far off, with their FA Cup match set to take place on January 24.
“The worst thing you can face in the world”: What the coaches had to say
In a post-match interview, Ole Gunner Solksjaer said he was disappointed in his team who were playing against a weakened Liverpool, who were missing world class defender Virgil Van Dijk.
“I’ve got to be honest and say I’m disappointed at the moment,” said the United manager. “With the injuries they have had lately, you want to come here and get a result. A point might be okay if we win the next one.”
As for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, he was quite unhappy with how defensively United was playing and seemed to hit out ever-so-slightly at their tactics.
“We played football, tried to do it, force them back into their own box,” he told BBC Sport after the fixture.
“The worst thing you can face in the world, in football, is you play against a side with world-class players and they all defend with all they have, deep in the box and only counter-attack. It’s really difficult — that’s the biggest challenge.”
United were indeed on the defence, touting a mere 34 per cent possession of the ball.
But, Klopp as always defended his players and praised their performances.
“You cannot deny Man United for 90 minutes — we never could, it’s probably not possible for anybody, especially when they are in a good moment. But with all the things which were said before the game — they are flying, we are struggling — the boys played a really good game tonight, my boys, against a good, organised side,” said the ever-supportive German manager.
History of the North West Derby: How did it start?
While Liverpool v Everton and Manchester United v Manchester City matches are often touted as two of the most-anticipated derby face-offs, the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester Untied has often been considered more intense than either of those confrontations.
The rivalry is historically rooted in geographic proximity of the relevant cities as well as economic and industrial rivalry. Liverpool and Manchester United first faced off in 1894, when United was still known as Newton Heath. Liverpool won 2-0.
Now Liverpool and Manchester United are the two most successful English teams domestically and internationally, as well as in Europe specifically.
United currently hold the record for most league wins, with 20 EPL titles to their name, beating Liverpool’s 19.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have been European champions six times, compared to United’s three.
United, however, hold more trophies than Liverpool altogether.