Old Trafford play host to arch rivals from Anfield.
The rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool, who meet on Sunday, is the fiercest in English football, but the two clubs’ periods of success have coincided only rarely.
For all the bitterness that underpins their relationship, United and Liverpool have often displayed remarkable courtesy by stepping aside after gorging on silverware to hand the other club an opportunity to join the feast.
Thus, just as United’s recent dominance has coincided with fallow times at Anfield, so the Manchester club spent years in the shadows as Liverpool greedily accumulated trophies in the 1970s and 1980s.
“The dreadful feeling I had as I watched Liverpool winning all those titles is a strong childhood memory,” says Gary Neville, a life-long United fan who went on to play for the club for 19 years.
Between them, the two clubs have won 37 English league titles — with United eclipsing Liverpool’s record of 18 in 2011 — but only five times have they both finished in the top two.
United have reached 18 FA Cup finals and Liverpool 14, and yet they have contested the final just twice, with United prevailing on both occasions, in 1977 and 1996.
The only sustained period of sporting rivalry occurred in the mid-1960s, when Liverpool and United succeeded each other as champions for four years in a row — Liverpool in 1964 and 1966, United in 1965 and 1967.
That era saw the emergence of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool coincide with the blossoming of Matt Busby’s all-conquering United, but while Liverpool went on to dominate the next two decades, United had to wait until 1993 for Alex Ferguson to bring the English crown back to Old Trafford.
Ferguson once famously claimed that his finest achievement was “knocking Liverpool off their perch”, but by the time United triumphed in the inaugural season of the Premier League, Liverpool were already on the way down.
George Graham’s Arsenal had succeeded them as champions in 1991 and it was Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United who had the honour of lifting the old First Division trophy for the final time in 1992.
Second in 1991, Liverpool could only finish sixth in both the following seasons.
For young fans raised on the wall-to-wall hyperbole of the Premier League, the 2008-09 season has provided the only example of England’s most successful clubs going head-to-head in the title race.
Rafael Benitez’s side enjoyed back-to-back wins over their old foes, including a memorable 4-1 success at Old Trafford in mid-March, but they were pipped to the title by a United team who won 19 of their last 22 games.
Liverpool finished the season just four points off the pace, but four years later, the gap has widened again.
United go into Sunday’s game 21 points above Brendan Rodgers’ side and Liverpool fan group Spirit of Shankly illustrated the gulf between the teams earlier this week when they branded themselves “a mid-table club” during a protest over ticket prices.
The peculiar synchronicity in the ebb and flow of the two clubs’ periods of dominance lies at the root of the rivalry’s ferocity.
Where most sporting rivalries thrive on the give and take of even-handed competition, fans of United and Liverpool have each spent decades accumulating enmity while their rivals bathed in glory.
The malice in the rivalry is occasionally heard in the vile songs about the Hillsborough disaster sung by United fans, or the taunts about the 1958 Munich air crash sent in the opposite direction.
The recent feud between Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and United defender Patrice Evra has also provided a focal point for ill-feeling, but in terms of one-on-one battles for silverware, the two clubs have seldom been rivals at all.
Venue Old Trafford, Sunday 1.30pm
Last season Man Utd 2 Liverpool 1
Referee Howard Webb
This season’s matches 16 Y57, R2, 3.69 cards per game
Odds Man Utd 5-6 Liverpool 3-1 Draw 14-5
Subs from Johnstone, Lindegaard, Jones, Ferdinand, Anderson, Giggs, Smalling, Hernández, Welbeck, Scholes, Powell, Fletcher, Macheda, Buttner, Nani
Doubtful Jones (knock)
Injured Rooney (knee, 19 Jan)
Form guide WWWDWW
Disciplinary record Y35 R0
Leading scorer Van Persie 16
Subs from Doni, Jones, Assaidi, Coates, Pacheco, Henderson, Sturridge, Carragher, Allen, Borini, Suso, Flanagan, Robinson
Doubtful Borini (ankle)
Injured José Enrique (hamstring Feb), Kelly (knee, Mar)
Form guide WWLWLW
Disciplinary record Y27 R2
Leading scorer Suárez 15
Manchester United have won seven of the last eight league meetings at Old Trafford – the exception was Liverpool’s 4-1 win in March 2009.
Only two of the last 24 league clashes between the sides have ended in a draw. The last league draw at Old Trafford was back in March 2000.
Manchester United are looking to complete the Premier League double over Liverpool for the first time since 2007-08.
United have won eight of their last nine league games (W8, D1).
They have already conceded 28 goals in the league in 2012-13. But their 4-0 win against Wigan last time out meant they have kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in this campaign.
Robin van Persie has scored 64 goals in 76 Premier League appearances since January 2011. He has scored 16 goals in 18 league starts for United.
Ryan Giggs could make his 650th league appearance for Manchester United.
United are unbeaten in their last 21 home league matches in the month of January, winning the last 16. The last time they lost at home in the league in January was against Liverpool on 22 January, 2002, when Danny Murphy scored the only goal.
Nemanja Vidic has been sent off three times in this league fixture, more than any other player in any fixture in
Premier League history.
Liverpool have won five of their last seven Premier League games (W5, L2).
Since the beginning of December, the Reds have picked up 15 points – only Manchester United (19) and Tottenham (16) have earned more points.
But the Reds have not won any of their 10 previous matches against a top-half club this season (D5, L5).
Liverpool have scored 11 goals in their last four league matches, with Luis Suarez scoring five of them. The Uruguayan
now has 15 league goals in 2012-13, the highest total by a Liverpool player in a single season since Fernando Torres
scored 18 in 2009-10.
Steven Gerrard’s total of eight league assists this season is only one short of his personal best in a Premier League season (nine in 2008-09). It is also more than he has managed in the previous two seasons put together.
Gerrard has scored five goals in his last seven league matches against Manchester United.
Liverpool’s Stewart Downing is on 299 career league appearances, while Martin Skrtel could play his 200th game for Liverpool.
SOURCE: BBC Sport
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