Proximity and success render Liverpool and Manchester United intense rivals. Ahead of their latest engagement in battle, FIFA.com reflects on five of their most memorable editions of one of the biggest fixtures in English football.
Liverpool 4-4 Manchester United
August 1953, First Division, Anfield
Three pence was the entrance fee for a clash between Don Welsh’s ageing side and Matt Busby’s emerging one, and the 47,000 who paid it were treated to an intoxicating encounter. Busby had been the catalyst in Liverpool contracting a teenage Billy Liddell in 1938, urging the club he then served as a midfielder to sign his fellow Scot, and the United manager must have regretted that wheedling as the now 31-year-old winger thumped home one goal and set up two Louis Bimpson efforts to help the hosts establish a 4-2 lead. David Pegg, 17, then created a chance for 18-year-old Eddie Lewis to reduce the deficit on the hour, before United forced – quite literally – an equaliser with seven minutes remaining. As goalkeeper Charlie Ashcroft went to make a routine catch, indeed, he and the ball were bulldozed over the line by 21-year-old Tommy Taylor. It was a challenge that would have been more appropriate ten miles away at Naughton Park, the home of rugby league outfit St Helen’s, but to the joy of the Mancunians the goal stood. Five years later United were nevertheless given a dose of their own medicine as Herculean striker Nat Lofthouse famously bundled Harry Gregg and the ball over the line to clinch Bolton Wanderers victory in the FA Cup final.
Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool (a.e.t)
April 1985, FA Cup semi-final, Goodison Park
Liverpool were in the midst of chasing Everton and what would have been an incredible eighth top-flight title in ten years when they took a league recess to battle their other arch-enemies in football’s oldest existing knockout competition. Joe Fagan’s charges were just moments from having their FA Cup hopes ended, though – not once, but twice. First, Ronnie Whelan’s gorgeous 88th-minute curler cancelled out Bryan Robson’s opener and took the contest to extra time. Then, after another deflected strike, this time from Frank Stapleton, had left Manchester United less than 90 seconds away from the final, Kenny Dalglish thundered through the challenge of his Scotland team-mate Gordon Strachan and hung the ball up to the back post. Ian Rush produced a leap a gymnast would have been proud of to win the header, which was acrobatically repelled by the fingertips of Gary Bailey into the path of substitute Paul Walsh, who tapped home to earn Liverpool a replay and cap what would prove to be one of multiple memorable performances against United. Ultimately, though, it was the Red Devils who rallied from behind to win the replay 2-1, and Ron Atkinson’s troops went on to edge Everton in the final.
Liverpool 4-0 Manchester United
September 1990, First Division, Anfield
In an intoxicating game which swung from end to end, both teams had numerous chances. United failed to seize any of theirs, however, with Grobbelaar making save after save, the crossbar denying Neil Webb, and David Burrows making a goal-line clearance. Beforehand, many felt Ian Rush scoring for the first time against United, at the 19th attempt, would be central to Liverpool emerging victorious, and though he drew a blank, the hosts achieved not just a win, but an emphatic one. It was one indebted to a Peter Beardsley hat-trick. His first was an atypical tap-in from three yards; his second an early finish which caught Les Sealey off-guard following a terrific pass from John Barnes, who made it 3-0 with a rare header; and his third a crafty lob which earned Liverpool their biggest victory over United in 65 years. United sent Beardsley to Canadian outfit Vancouver Whitecaps on a free transfer in 1983, with Ron Atkinson attributing the decision to the fact the club had a 19-year-old by the name of Mark Hughes waiting in the wings. On an afternoon during which the Welshman’s finishing deserted him and the crafty England forward scored thrice, Sir Alex Ferguson must have lamented that judgement.
Liverpool 3-3 Manchester United
January 1994, Anfield, Premier League
There was considerable gloom among Kopites as 1994 commenced. Liverpool, unequivocally the dominant team of the 1970s and ‘80s, had fallen firmly into the intimidating shadow of Manchester United. The defending champions were chasing an 18th league game without defeat, while Graeme Souness’s men had, in their previous two home games, failed to beat Wimbledon and a Swindon Town side that would ultimate average 0.71 points per game en route to relegation. If the hosts’ chances were slim before kick-off, they were slim-to-none on eight minutes, when Steve Bruce’s firm, downward header from a gorgeous Eric Cantona cross snapped the deadlock, and seemingly none when the clock hit 24, by which time Ryan Giggs had sumptuously chipped home a second and Denis Irwin had masterfully combined clout and curve on a free-kick to make it 3-0. Liverpool required a miracle, and though figures suggested their No7 was incapable of inspiring it, family hinted that he was. For while Nigel Clough had failed to score in the Reds’ last 19 outings, he was the son of a man renowned for masterminding improbable comebacks. The youngest of Old Big ‘Ead’s three children threw his team a lifeline with a wicked, low shot from 25 yards, before reducing the deficit further with another unerring strike from the edge of the box on 38 minutes. Within 11 minutes remaining, Stig Inge Bjornebye crossed from the left and Neil Ruddock courageously hurled his head at a ball Gary Pallister was the firm favourite to win. Seconds later one of the Liverpool centre-back’s arms was nursing a dizzying blow to the head; the other was celebrating a dramatic leveller. Souness resigned at the end of the month. Clough lasted another two years. The big-money buy nonetheless failed to register another goal within that time, and left Anfield as an overwhelming flop. Still, those Kopites will always remember with affection his heroics of that winter’s day on Merseyside.
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool
January 1999, FA Cup fourth round, Old Trafford
Manchester United are losing 1-0 in a cup tie in 1999. Just minutes remain. Somehow they snatch a 2-1 victory from the jaws of defeat. Substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer completes mission inconceivable with an injury-time winner. The tale is familiar to football followers the world over, but this one did not unravel at Camp Nou, in the European Cup final or against Bayern Munich. Liverpool, by contrast, were the victims of United’s first great escape of their treble-winning annus mirabilis. A teenage Michael Owen, who went on to represent the Red Devils, headed the guests into an early lead which they carried into the 88th minute, leaving them on the cusp of beating United for the first time in 78 years in the FA Cup. That was when David Beckham shaped to shoot from a set-piece, but conned the Liverpool players with a cross, which Andy Cole headed back across goal and Dwight Yorke pounced on to equalise. Moments later Solskjaer bundled home a goal that raised the roof at the Theatre of Dreams, while four months after that, within four paradisiacal days, United lifted the FA Cup trophy and produced a Xerox of the aforementioned script to which the German giants became casualties.