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Serie A heavyweights head-to-head

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Mar 13, 2009

Rosenthal helps Liverpool to the title

In March 1990, a player arrived at Anfield who would change the course of 1989-90 title race - an Israeli international signed on-loan by the name of Ronny Rosenthal.

Aston Villa were breathing down the necks of Kenny Dalglish's men and it would take a masterful piece of transfer business from the manager to seal Liverpool's 18th league title.

•  "ESPN Classic (Sky Channel 442) are showing a weekend of unforgettable Manchester United v Liverpool matches Exclusively NOT Live on March 14 & 15. For details visit: www.espnclassic.com"

Rosenthal arrived in England from Belgian side Standard Liege, initially joining up with Luton Town. But when the Hatters couldn't agree a deal with Liege, Dalglish swooped and offered the midfielder a trial with Liverpool.

The Israeli's first game for the Reds' reserves came against rivals Manchester United - a side which the first team would beat 2-1 on March 18 at Old Trafford to cement their title charge - and Rosenthal's eyes were focused on establishing himself at the club.

''I don't remember all the details about the game, but I remember scoring against United for the reserves,'' he told ESPN Soccernet. ''I was really hoping for a chance to play, and everytime you come to a club like Liverpool who have been winning titles, it is really difficult to get a place.

''The difficulty was to break into the side and to get the chance. I managed to take it with both hands and am happy I was able to do what I needed to do to establish myself in England.''

Alex Ferguson's team were far from the force they are today, but the reserves' clash played a significant part in Rosenthal's early career in England as he scored in the 2-1 win, impressing the Liverpool management so much that they signed him on loan until the end of the season. It would be a decision that would win them the title. With Villa close behind, Rosenthal's impact was immediate.

His first game for Liverpool was as a 70th minute substitute at home against Southampton on March 31, when he came on with the Reds 2-1 down after a goal from former Anfield player Jimmy Case. He won win the corner from which Liverpool equalised; the Reds then went on to win the vital game 3-2, cementing his place in the fans' hearts.

His full debut saw him score a hat-trick against Charlton two weeks later and his goalscoring form - netting seven times in the final eight matches of the 1989-90 season - took the club to the title by nine points.

''At that time there was a great combination of different players, with a lot of different qualities,'' he said. ''The football was fantastic and we were able to compete more as athletes than the other teams in the league.

''When you are used to winning titles, the balance comes. You can do it once, but if you do it on a regular basis then you know the quality is there. I was just pleased I was able to be a part of it.''

Favoured over Peter Beardsley alongside Ian Rush up front for the climax to the campaign, Rosenthal never hit the heights of his opening run in the subsequent seasons; but gave the Liverpool side the kick-start they needed to claim their 18th championship in 1990. He did not receive a medal for his contribution as he had played too few games, but still looks back on his success with fondness.

''For me it was not a problem,'' he said. ''I was involved in the title win and I was part of it. Of course I would have liked to play every game that season, but I am just grateful for the chance that I was given.''

Liverpool face Manchester United in a make-or-break game for their next title ambitions at Old Trafford on Saturday, although they have not had the best success in recent meetings - winning just four of their last 26 games at the home of their fierce rivals, with the last coming in April 2004 - and even if they beat the Red Devils Rosenthal is unsure if the current Liverpool side can win their first title since he picked up the trophy 19 years ago.

''I think it is too late now [for Liverpool], but of course in football anything can happen,'' he said. ''They really have to win the game there to get closer to United. Only if they win, can Liverpool mount a title charge. United didn't start well but have now got back to their best form and it looks as if they are going to win it now.

''There are only two ways for Liverpool to succeed. The first is to play safe and to hope for an unforeseen goal, a defensive mistake, or a free-kick from 25 yards. But the chances of that are not great.

''Otherwise you have to open the game and play more in an offensive way, to really put United under pressure and one goal could be enough. I don't think Rafa Benitez will choose the second option in this game, as he is more of a defensive style manager and will be hoping to score, then play safe. Liverpool have to win though. A draw is not enough.''

Having featured in several Liverpool-United meetings Rosenthal during his four years at Anfield he understands the importance of such occasions.

''When you are playing for a big club you cannot play in every game,'' he said. ''But you know that you are playing against top players when you play in a derby. There is so much competition and, unless the game is really open, you do not see a lot of chances. When I played against United I would always know that it would be difficult, but I only have good memories from those clashes.''

For the sake of their dwindling title challenge this season, Liverpool will hope they come away from Old Trafford with happy memories; but history is against them at the 'Theatre of Dreams', especially with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge on the other side of the dugout.

Ferguson's first major triumph over Liverpool came in January 1989 when his side made a late comeback to beat the country's most successful team 3-1. It was the beginning of the 'Fergie's Fledglings' era and United tore Liverpool to pieces for 70 minutes, only to fall behind to a John Barnes goal. 20-year-old midfielder Russell Beardsmore then took over, setting up goals for Brian McClair and Mark Hughes before calmly netting the third himself to start to change the perception of United as 'underdogs'.

United suffered their first defeat at Liverpool's hands at Old Trafford for eight years in March 1990, just before Rosenthal's arrival, and Liverpool claimed the league trophy at the end of the season; but it would be their last of a glittering era.

Honours were even for a few years and Liverpool ended United's title dream in 1992 [Leeds United claimed the prize] with a 2-0 win at Anfield thanks to goals from Ian Rush and Mark Walters. Graeme Souness' side would go on to win the FA Cup and the Reds were buoyed by the result but failed to capitalise and were beaten at home the following season, and then had to deal with eight campaigns of United domination during the rest of the 90s. United would win six titles with some imposing home form against their rivals.

Indeed, at Old Trafford, United were not beaten by Liverpool again until December 2000, when Danny Murphy struck in the 43rd minute - although they would still win the league by 18 points. Murphy would return to haunt United for the next few seasons and turned the tables slightly as he led the club to three wins out of four in Manchester. Netting late in January 2002, he continued his run of goalscoring form against Fergie's men in April 2004 when he scored a solitary penalty to stun the Red Devils, who had already lost their title to the unbeaten 'Invincibles' of Arsenal.

With Murphy's departure from Anfield in the summer of 2004, Liverpool's hopes of continuing their run faded and the following campaign, a double strike from an unlikely source - Mikel Silvestre - sealed a 2-1 win for United in a season where Chelsea announced themselves on the scene with intent. It would also be the last time Liverpool would score at Old Trafford (and even that was a John O'Shea own goal).

Liverpool's success in Europe held no fear for Fergie's men and they celebrated their return to championship glory, after a three year absence, with the wins home and away over the Reds in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Cagey 1-0 away wins didn't tell the story of their dominance and at home they netted five goals without reply - a total of seven goals over four games.

This season Liverpool's title surge began well, notching a 2-1 win over United at Anfield thanks to a late, deflected strike from substitute Ryan Babel; but they have yet to purge the demons of Old Trafford in the past four seasons and must now win this weekend to get back on track. Since 1983, their league record at United reads: W4, D10, L12. And that says everything when you consider Murphy can take much of the credit for three of the wins.

Still, the signs may not be good for their title tilt with such an important game next on the list, but if the club can find a new United-slayer and invoke the spirit of Rosenthal and the 1990 title winning squad, then as the Israeli says himself: ''Anything can happen.''

•  "ESPN Classic (Sky Channel 442) are showing a weekend of unforgettable Manchester United v Liverpool matches Exclusively NOT Live on March 14 and 15. For details visit: www.espnclassic.com"

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