“I grew up an Everton fan, my whole family are Everton fans, and I grew up hating Liverpool. And that hasn’t changed.”
Wayne Rooney, England’s all-time record goalscorer, was born and brought up in Croxteth in Liverpool, played for Everton as a youth, and was signed by current club Manchester United as a 19-year-old prodigy. The club captain probably embodies the pronounced rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool better than any player.
The rivalry and dislike is not just on the football pitch – since the 1800s, the two great north-western cities of England have competed with each other for trade and business interests. The games between the two most successful clubs in England are often grudge matches, enveloped in a deeply tribalistic fervour — many fans even consider Liverpool-United, separated by almost 60 kilometres, a more important “derby” than the actual Merseyside derby with neighbouring Everton FC.
Over the last decade, while Liverpool’s stock fell in the league, United, like a lumbering roadroller, smashed everything on its path — 19th and 20th titles came in 2011 and 2013 to make it the most successful club in the country. Liverpool, meanwhile, lurched from one disaster to another under previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, winning the League Cup in 2011-12, their only silverware in the last decade. But even as Liverpool were stranded on the sixth-eighth places on the table, the rivalry with the club down the M62 did not lose any of its sheen.
Ahead of their visit to Anfield on Monday night, United are five points behind leaders and bitter rivals Manchester City, and will be aiming to close that gap. Jose Mourinho has had a frustrating start to the season and United’s last six games in the league and Europe — two losses, three wins and a draw — have given him an early headache. After the 1-1 draw with Stoke, Mourinho said, “It’s frustrating because we don’t have a game in three or four days to play again. It’s frustrating because we don’t have the players to work with…”
For Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, it has been a different start. Apart from the disappointing loss to Burnley, the Reds have played out five wins and a draw. All the wins have come after fast-paced, slick, entertaining football, which United fans have often demanded from their team, the world’s most expensive.
The match comes after the international break and both managers will be hoping not to lose more players to injury. While Klopp is sweating on the fitness of three key players — Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren (both groin injuries) and Nathaniel Clyne (knee), Mourinho will also be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw. Klopp has another selection headache in the goalkeeping stakes – starting the young Loris Karius, who fumbled and looked jittery against Swansea, or putting back Simon Mignolet, who makes excellent saves but is prone to committing howlers.
After Mourinho benched Rooney for two successive games, United have looked more cohesive and fluid in midfield. But the manager might choose to start the Liverpudlian for the biggest match of the season so far — Rooney’s aggressive and confrontational attitude is well known although his record against Liverpool in the league is the worst among all other clubs. But he’s the only native player in either squad, after the departure of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, and may be able to motivate the squad.
Liverpool will need to fly out of the blocks and maintain sustained pressure on United if they want all three points. United narrowly triumphed in Klopp’s first meeting with them in January at Anfield. But having already beaten the likes of champions Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea in the first six games of the season, Klopp will now have the chance to add another positive result under his belt.