A much-awaited game that fails to take off


 

MANCHESTER United vs Liverpool, it’s England’s El Clasico. The game that the world wants to watch. It’s one of football’s greatest rivalries; two clubs with illustrious histories, era-defining teams, and global fan bases.

Throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool were the kings of English football, the team to beat, and the country’s standard-bearers in European competitions. Then along came Sir Alex Ferguson (minus the knighthood then).

He overhauled just about every aspect of the club – the drinking culture that existed when he arrived didn’t last long – and built a squad that overhauled Liverpool and set the standards in the new Premier League era.

We Liverpool fans didn’t expect that our team would go 29 years (hopefully there won’t be a 30th) without winning a league title. Patience isn’t a conspicuous virtue among football supporters.

Nor is sympathy for rivals. Manchester United fans have found considerable amusement in Liverpool’s title drought. This season though, the laughs are a little more hesitant since Juergen Klopp has turned Liverpool into genuine title contenders.

Jose Mourinho meanwhile was on track to making a trip to Old Trafford a cure for insomnia, before the club hierarchy woke up to just how bad things had become.

The old order in English football has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, especially with the influx of new money into the game. Investment from overseas has propelled Chelsea and Manchester City to league titles and international acclaim.

Manchester United and Liverpool both now have American owners as the Premier League has attracted wealth like Monaco during Grand Prix weekend.

It is true that the clubs have become global brands but they remain rooted in local communities, culture and cohesive identities. For all that’s different, nothing has been diluted in this rivalry. It’s a game that brings the sweetest victories and the bitterest defeats.

Of course both clubs have their own city derbies, and neither the Manchester nor Merseyside versions lack intensity. They are big, big games, but they’re still not on the scale of Manchester United- Liverpool.

Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs can also all stake claims to raw rivalries, high profile fixtures, and dramatic derbies. London has a network of rivalries as complex and comprehensive as its Tube map, but it doesn’t have a match that the world will stop for.

This weekend’s version of Manchester United-Liverpool never got going. The first half was dominated by the fourth official who held his board up for substitutions on four occasions. All of the changes were forced by injury, three for United and one for Liverpool.

The game could generously be described as tame. Liverpool were all possession and no penetration (to the extent that I could have comfortably played in goal for the home team while reading the newspaper).

Creativity in Liverpool’s midfield is like gym attendance in February: scarce. The Coutinho money has been well spent but the lack of a playmaker is a major issue for Liverpool.

Klopp seems to think that Roberto Firmino can fulfil that brief but it’s an unrealistic expectation of the Brazilian. Liverpool once again showed that they struggle against teams that sit back and are defensively disciplined.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves a lot of credit for how disciplined his injury-ravaged side were. The parking of the bus would have drawn the approval of Mourinho. It’s not Solskjaer’s style but he demonstrated that he can do it when needs must.

In the end, the winners were Manchester City.

Liverpool got a point but it wasn’t exactly a point proved. And it wasn’t exactly a classic either.

Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ciwilkie

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