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Mar 3, 2011

A rivalry in deepest red

Ahead of Manchester United's visit to Liverpool on Sunday, we put together a selection of some of the greatest contests between the sides.

Manchester United 3-4 Liverpool (Division One, 1910)

The newspapers had raved about Old Trafford ahead of its grand opening in 1910. The attendance figure for the game was estimated at up to 50,000, with trams struggling to cope with the numbers and around 5,000 forcing their way in without paying amid the crush. Inside the ground, a band played to mark a grand occasion.

United started the game in fine form and were two goals to the good inside half an hour but, on a quick surface that seemed to suit Liverpool the better, the visitors ultimately proved superior and - with the game tied at 3-3 - James Stewart scored his second of the game to give the visitors a 4-3 win. "Fancy lettin' Liverpool lick 'em at 'ome," The Guardian reported one disgruntled supporter as saying.

Manchester United 6-1 Liverpool (First Division, 1928)

In an incredibly tight First Division season, United had gone into the final day of the season sitting bottom of the table with the worst goal average in the division. Only a victory over Liverpool could make certain their survival and, having taken a solitary point in their five meetings with the Reds since their return to the top flight in 1925, many had been sceptical over their chances.

It had been suggested a new-look side would be necessary going forwards, and United released seven players on free transfers in the days leading up to the game, including Frank Barson, the legendary hardman and inspirational captain who had steered them to promotion three years previously.

Remarkably, United recorded their biggest victory of the season, and were 4-1 up by half-time. Liverpool, assured of their top-flight status but having endured a difficult season, had fought hard throughout the first half and were unfortunate to have scored only goal. A goal in the 49th minute, though, ended the contest, and United moved up four places in the table, level on points with Liverpool.

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United (Division One, 1970)

George Best devoted much space to Bill Shankly and his mind-games in his 1994 book The Best of Times: My Favourite Football Stories and, though factual inaccuracies can make Best's tales appear apocryphal, one story of a team talk has also been recounted by Ian St John and Shankly himself.

"I was chatting to Liverpool's Ray Clemence, who revealed to me another piece of Shankly kidology," Best wrote. "Prior to the game, Shankly had received the United team sheet and he incorporated it into his team talk. His intention was to run us down and, in so doing, boost the confidence of his own players."

Best's account sees Shankly run through the United side dismissing player after player - "Paddy Crerand. Slower than steam rising off a dog turd. You'll bypass him easily" - before he is interrupted by one of his players.

"Emlyn Hughes raised his hand. 'That's all very well, boss,' he said, 'but you haven't mentioned George Best, Denis Law or Bobby Charlton.' Shanks turned on him. 'You mean to tell me we can't beat a team that has only three players in it?' he said, glowering."

Best claims the talk took place ahead of a 2-0 defeat for his side at Anfield in October 1968, but the fact both he and Law were absent that day suggests his memory failed him, and the full team sheet as described in the anecdote cannot be matched to another game of the era.

A more likely match - given that Best, Law and Charlton all featured and the game was played, as Best claimed, at Anfield - was the 1-1 draw in the 1970-71 season. Brian Kidd had given United the lead on 20 minutes, but Alun Evans equalised two minutes later, prompting a flood of Liverpool chances and, late in the game, an impassioned penalty appeal for the hosts. "Surely Manchester United will never again this season endure such sustained pressure and come away with a point," the match report in The Guardian read.

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United (FA Cup final, 1977)

Liverpool, having just been crowned league champions, had the chance to complete a Treble as they prepared to face United in the FA Cup final and Borussia Monchengladbach in the European Cup final within the space of five days.

Emlyn Hughes, the Liverpool captain, had warned that the players would struggle to recover from a defeat in the FA Cup final: "If we beat United to add the cup to the league title, then we'll go on to complete the treble, but defeat will make it very difficult for us to beat Monchengladbach. We're playing at Wembley for two trophies."

Liverpool were defeated at Wembley. In a dramatic five-minute spell that brought three goals, Liverpool scored a fine goal through Jimmy Case in between two defensive errors that allowed United to clinch a 2-1 win.

With just one change, though, the Reds secured a 3-1 victory to take the European Cup in Rome.

Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United (League Cup final, 1983)

Liverpool and Manchester United were considered the crème de la crème of English football ahead of this final, with United manager Ron Atkinson saying that, while he felt it "impossible to think of exposing a weakness in their team", there would "not be a hair's breadth between the two teams at Wembley".

Making his 12th Wembley appearance in nine seasons at Anfield, Bob Paisley knew he was taking charge of his last major final: Liverpool had exited the FA Cup to Brighton and the European Cup to Widzew Lodz in the weeks prior to the game.

It appeared the disappointment was set to continue as United, having started nervously, went ahead through Norman Whiteside in the 12th minute. "The little breaks have not been going our way lately and, when their goal went in and we put a good chance over the bar, I had the feeling that this is where we came in," Paisley later said.

Liverpool, though, dominated the second half and forced extra-time through Alan Kennedy 's long-distance strike. United, having suffered a number of injuries and with two strikers at centre back, were on their last legs as Ronnie Whelan netted the winner in the 98th minute.

"When we scored the equaliser, it was a question of taking the game into extra time before we killed them off," Paisley said. "I felt like a bullfighter going for the last stab after the bull had 40 arrows in its back."

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (FA Cup semi-final, 1985)

The 1985 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and United at Goodison Park was marred by violence: two fans were stabbed and two policeman injured, while a flare was fired at United supporters and Jesper Olsen was struck by a missile while taking a corner. The game itself, though, brought stunning drama as, having forced extra-time with four minutes to spare through Ronnie Whelan, Paul Walsh then scored the Reds' second equaliser to make it 2-2 in the 120th minute.

Liverpool boss Joe Fagan called for more "devil" from his European Cup-winning side for the replay at Maine Road and his side had the lead at half-time as Paul McGrath - hailed by both managers ahead of the game - headed into his own net. However, in a replay that brought equal excitement and greater quality, United were again the stronger team, and they were back on level terms two minutes after the break: Bryan Robson strode into the Liverpool half and unleashed a 25-yard shot into the top corner.

Mark Hughes then decided the game as he fired home from the edge of the penalty area in the 57th minute, although replays showed he was offside. Ron Atkinson described the decision as "marginal", although a disgruntled Alan Hansen felt it was rather more clear-cut: "The second goal was ten yards offside."

At the final whistle, exultant fans mobbed Robson as the following day's Daily Express hailed "a soccer spectacular that was a raw embodiment of the best British football has to offer".

Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United (Division One, 1992)

United, with their best chance of winning the title for a quarter of a century, appeared to be doing all in their power to throw it away as the 1991-92 season approached its climax. Having lost their previous two games and with two still to play, United trailed Leeds by a single point ahead of a trip to Anfield.

Ian Rush scored the opener - his first ever goal against United - before Mark Walters sealed the win three minutes from time. The result denied United and confirmed Leeds, another of their bitter rivals, as the champions. "You lost the league on Merseyside," the Reds fans chanted. "You'll never win the title."

Liverpool 3-3 Manchester United (Premiership, 1994)

United, comfortable at the top of the table having suffered only one defeat in the first half of the season, ran up an early three-goal lead at Anfield before Liverpool produced one of the finest comebacks English football has seen.

Steve Bruce opened the scoring on nine minutes, Ryan Giggs extended the advantage with a stupendous effort, and Denis Irwin looked to have made sure of victory with just 23 minutes on the clock as he expertly fired in a free-kick. By half-time, though, the Reds were back in it courtesy of Nigel Clough, who hit a stunning goal from 35 yards before adding his second on 38 minutes.

With his side trailing 3-2, Graeme Souness was asked at half-time whether his side could recover. He responded merely by pointing to the sign that marks the tunnel: "This is Anfield."

On 79 minutes, the comeback was complete as Neil Ruddock headed home. Even Alex Ferguson, deeply frustrated at his side's collapse, said: "That was incredible stuff. The excitement, the pace of it. The crowd had them at fever pitch."

Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool (Premiership, 1995)

Eric Cantona, having served an eight-month ban for attacking a supporter the previous season, made his return to first-team action against United's arch-rivals in October 1995.

There were fears over the reception he would receive from opposing players and supporters ahead of his comeback - "Security at away matches is something we have had to think about," Alex Ferguson said - and a North-West derby was to provide a stern test of his temper.

Liverpool defender Neil Ruddock had successfully provoked Cantona during the teams' meeting the previous season when he turned down the striker's trademark upturned collar and elbowed him in the face, and there were concerns of a repeat.

"He's had a tough time, so let's hope the other players and fans give him the sort of reaction that will make him want to stay in the English game," United skipper Steve Bruce said, somewhat naively. "Let's enjoy him."

The game against Liverpool, though, took place in unusual circumstances: restricted capacity at Old Trafford while building work was carried out meant an absence of away supporters. There was also no sign of provocation from the opposition players during the match.

Cantona excelled. He provided an assist for Nicky Butt to score the opener after just 67 seconds and, although Robbie Fowler then threatened to take the headlines as two fine goals turned the match on its head, the Frenchman would have the last word.

With 20 minutes to play, Cantona played in Ryan Giggs, who was brought down in the area. Cantona placed the ball on the spot - "Who was going to take it off him?" Ferguson asked - and slotted home the penalty to secure a point for his side.

Liverpool 2-2 Manchester United (Premiership, 1999)

On May 5, just three weeks before United completed their famous Treble, Paul Ince looked to have delivered a serious blow to his former side's title hopes as his 89th-minute equaliser kept the Red Devils three points behind Arsenal in second. With a game in hand, and three games left to play, it was far from a terminal blow, but there was a sense that their challenge had been derailed.

Gerard Houllier, whose Liverpool side had been in need of a victory to maintain hopes of European qualification, said: "It's a bloody good result for our supporters."

United had been two goals to the good in the game when referee David Elleray took centre stage. First awarding a dubious penalty as Jesper Blomqvist was adjudged to have fouled Oyvind Leonhardsen, he then harshly handed Denis Irwin a second yellow card in the 75th minute for kicking the ball away. The decision, which ruled Irwin out of the FA Cup final, came despite apparent uncertainty over whether the ball was out of play at the time he kicked it.

Liverpool, who had looked toothless in the absence of both Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, then clinched an unlikely point when Ince slid in.

Alex Ferguson, having been on the wrong end of a number of Elleray's decisions over the years, was furious: "The referee has handed it to them and that's very disappointing. It also doesn't do our game much good. That is the kind of man we have had here, but we're not going to let him deny us winning the title."

United chairman Martin Edwards, speaking three days after the game, was less certain: "If Arsenal or Chelsea win the Premiership this season by either one or two points, I trust they will strike a special commemorative medal for Mr Elleray because he will have done it for them."

United, of course, went on to take the league, FA Cup and Champions League, while Edwards escaped censure for his remarks.

Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United (League Cup final, 2003)

Liverpool, in the midst of a disappointing season, managed to turn the pressure onto United in the 2002-03 season as they came out triumphant at the Millennium Stadium.

United, while unbeaten in the league since Boxing Day, had exited the FA Cup with defeat to Arsenal in February and, ahead of the Worthington Cup final, trailed the Gunners by eight points in the league. A defeat to Liverpool meant Sir Alex Ferguson faced the prospect of a second successive season without a trophy.

Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen scored the goals in the final, but 'keeper Jerzy Dudek - derided after a pair of blunders in a 2-1 United win at Anfield three months earlier - proved the hero on the day as his saves kept United at bay.

"To lose a final against Liverpool is always bad," Ruud van Nistelrooy said. "I've got a miserable feeling throughout my body about last Sunday's final. I know you have to look forward, but it's so difficult. All I think about is the final. It's difficult to stay positive."

Nonetheless, Ferguson - whom Houllier described as "a great manager and a great man" after he congratulated the Liverpool players at the end of the game - had been defiant: "People can either accept defeat and go away or they can fight back."

United remained unbeaten in the league for the rest of the season before finishing five points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table.

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