Boring, lackluster, frustrating, indecisive, slow, lacking excitement, lacking goals etc are some of the words that have been used to describe Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United so far this season. Lacking depth, inexperienced, weak defensively, inconsistent and so on are some of the adjectives used for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Match day 21 saw both the teams fail to win against Newcastle United and Arsenal, respectively. Were the matches boring? Not even a little bit.
United drew 3-3 with Newcastle, a side in the relegation zone, and the Red Devils themselves were bouncing back from one of the worst runs in their history. The pre-match buildup and previews were focused on the rivalry that was; two teams battling it out for the league in the mid-90s with goals aplenty. There was no boredom then. On Tuesday night, United took a two-goal lead only to squander it. They led again at 3-2 but failed to hold the lead, conceding late. Another two points dropped against a team that they are expected to beat, but for a team that had been labelled ‘boring’ by their own manager, there was not a dull moment in the match from a game that not many expected to see any goals.
The same was said of Liverpool. Once a part of the ‘traditional top-four’, the Merseysiders have struggled to make their way back to the glory days that were, and against Arsenal on Wednesday night, it was a case of when, not if, they would lose. The match stood at 2-2 at half-time. When Arsenal did take the lead in the second half, the match seemed destined to go as expected, only for another late goal. Klopp’s reaction to the goal typified what the fixture meant. Here were the Gunners, top of the table, being held by a team whose fans are forced to sing chants of glory days from decades back. The only thing driving the injury-hit (missing five regular players) team was the determination to not get beaten by their rivals.
In both cases, two teams that have struggled to entertain all season showcased some of their best football when put up against their rivals. They showed their mettle. It is on days like these when no matter the form, no matter the starting XI, the players know that beyond the three points, beyond the position on the league table, it is the bragging rights that matter. One case like this was back in 2010, when Leeds United beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup third round. Forty-two places separated the Whites from their high-flying Red rivals that day.
On Sunday when the two crimson sides meet then, the stakes will be much higher owing not only to the long, often violent (looking at you, Steven Gerrard) on-field rivalry between the pair but also one of the most famous rivalries in football history. The league position won’t matter, nor will the names on the back of the jerseys, maybe even the team tactics will be thrown into the crowd. The only thing in focus, will be the two team crests, and the over 100 years of rivalry (the two first met in 1894) they represent.