With Liverpool v Manchester United on the horizon, Dave Tindall reminisces about games gone by, the emotions the game stirs and the team Jurgen Klopp should play.
As a kid who grew up in the north and went to a school where everyone was either Liverpool or Man Utd, Monday night’s fixture at Anfield has a special resonance.
My school days were spent in Cumbria and the lack of a local team (even Carlisle was an hour away) meant that age-old routine of latching onto the biggest or the best. United were the biggest but LFC were the best and my class were predominantly Liverpool.
Many of us carried the same LFC Adidas bag to school, one side displaying the logo, the other adorned with the team photo (if anyone has one, get in touch. I’ll pay top prices!).
Very quickly, it became clear the Mancs were our biggest rivals and, despite the contrasting fortunes since then, that idea remains firmly planted in my mind. Perhaps for local Liverpool fans, the dream scenario for a trophy win would be beating Everton in the final. For me, it would be putting one over Manchester United.
This fixture has given me much joy and heartache down the years. As a very young kid it produced tears when we lost. As a grown up, I’ve not resorted to blubbing but the pain has been just as intense.
In fact, it’s probably been worse. That feeling of numbness after losing the 1996 FA Cup final to them was horrid. A worst-case scenario Wembley nightmare. Dreadful, dreadful game and they won it with a goal from Cantona. I must have stared vacantly at a wall for 48 hours solid afterwards.
But the highs have made it all worthwhile so after thinking long and hard I’ve come up with these as my best three memories….
Premier League, March 2009: Man Utd 1-4 Liverpool
The line pedalled in the media was that Fergie had won the psychological war after, earlier that season, Rafa Benitez coldly read out a list of objections about the United boss and his club. “Rafa’s cracking up” sang their fans gleefully ahead of the Old Trafford clash which would see them kick 10 points clear. Except he wasn’t and they didn’t. We absolutely tore them a new one, Fernando Torres and a camera-kissing Steven Gerrard setting us off on the way to a joyous 4-1 win where left-back Andrea Dossena put a cherry on top of the take-the-p*ss-cake with a brilliant lob to round it off.
Worthington Cup final, March 2003: Liverpool 2 Man Utd 0
The stakes are so huge in any final but they’re doubled in cases like this. Win and you take the trophy and the scalp of your biggest rivals. Lose and the misery is compounded even further. Thankfully we got it very right on this March day in an electric atmosphere played with the roof closed in Cardiff. A screamer from Stevie G gave us that early ‘get in’ explosion before, after resisting a United fightback, Michael Owen was sent through late on by Didi Hamann to smash home the clincher. Joy. Sheer, blissful joy!
Europa League, March 2016: Liverpool 2 Man Utd 0
Amazingly, given all the history, this was the first ever European meeting between the two teams. Maybe not a Champions League final exactly (last 16 of the Europa League to be precise) but the atmosphere was electric at Anfield that night and this one really stands out to me because I was lucky to be part of it. Perhaps a writer would have introduced a few plot twists to intensify the thill at the end but the truth was we dominated from start to finish. Liverpool were slick, skilful, superb. United, embodied by the lumbering Marouane Fellaini were slow and cumbersome. The 2-0 win achieved by Daniel Sturridge’s penalty and Roberto Firmino’s cool second (scored in the corner of the ground where I was sitting) was the least we deserved.
That latter victory obviously gives me lots of hope that we’ll be too good for them again.
Of course, they now have Jose Mourinho in charge and the ex-Chelsea boss knows a thing or two about putting a spanner in our works. But that is surely extra motivation if any were needed to blast them away on Monday night.
The late kick off should help and it’ll be the first time we’ve played under the floodlights at the new, improved, bigger and louder Anfield.
We just seem to want it more than them at the moment. We run more, we train harder (Jurgen Klopp had those not on international duty in for drills/match practice this week while Mourinho gave his time off) and we have an intensity that they don’t. Klopp is vibrant; Mourinho looks subdued.
The Portuguese pragmatist will probably come to try and suck the life out of the game but I honestly think we’ll overpower them. Famous last words? We shall see.
Liverpool and Manchester are two special cities. I was reminded of that earlier this week when taking in a double bill at the cinema – the new Beatles film, ‘Eight Days A Week’, in the morning and the Oasis documentary, ‘Supersonic’, in the afternoon.
I love both bands. Oasis have the swagger and the recent history is theirs. But we all know that no-one can touch the Beatles.
Right now under Klopp it feels like our early exciting Cavern period. We’ve not hit No.1 yet but there’s a sense something very special is building. It can continue at Anfield on Monday night.
Liverpool team v Man Utd
Even Lionel Messi can be rubbish for Argentina so don’t get concerned at how poor Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge were against Slovenia. Back at club level with Klopp rather than Gareth Southgate organising them, they can kick on again.
I’d be keen to play Sturridge here. With Adam Lallana a doubt, I’d have Sturridge up top with Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane a three in behind.
The alternative is to have Sturridge flanked by Firmino and Mane and play Coutinho as one of a midfield three with Henderson and Emre Can/Georginio Wijnaldum (injury worry).
The back four picks itself with Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner the full-backs and Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren in the middle.
This will be a big test for young goalkeeper Loris Karius but you have to start somewhere and a first Premier League clean sheet in a huge fixture like this could really get him up and running.
Dave Tindall (@davetindallgolf)