Whilst the glow from Nemanja Matic’s stunning half-volley at Selhurst Park on Monday night should last a few more days, at least, there’s the small matter of the visit of Liverpool looming on Manchester United’s horizon. Admittedly, the Serbian’s stoppage time winner against Crystal Palace has certainly given Jose Mourinho’s side a much-needed boost ahead of the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s men, given that the Premier League’s third-placed team have bagged 18 goals in their last six games and are showing something vaguely and worryingly resembling consistency. This fixture is typically no fun at all, and given the form of the visitors, a tight, tense affair is expected.
For many United fans, pardon the phrase, but this is the one. City may be nearer and meetings with Leeds still retain a remarkable bite to them, despite their fall from grace, but the mutual animosity between England’s two most successful clubs remains comfortingly eternal. Whilst both sides have been left in the shade by the blue half of Manchester’s unstoppable football this season, a chance to get one over on each other, even if the prize is second place for one weekend, is more than enough incentive to get the job done on Saturday.
The three derbies that Mourinho has presided over since becoming United manager in 2016 have been, for want of a better term, rubbish. The two stalemates at Anfield and a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford a year ago were tough to watch, even if the subsequent accusations of anti-football and Klopp’s visible frustration at being unable to break United down were rather entertaining to behold. As such, grasping for highlights from this fixture in the Jose era is an impossible task, so why not take a trip down memory lane and recall some wonderful memories from meetings past at Old Trafford instead?
5 – Rio’s last-minute header – United 1-0 Liverpool – 2006
Talk about games being defined by goals. This league meeting back in the bad old days of Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich-led dominance will live long in the memory for little other than Rio Ferdinand’s last-gasp header. Ryan Giggs’ free kick was expertly whipped into the box, and Ferdinand leapt highest to power home a header that Pepe Reina could only get a fingertip to. A stoppage time winner in front of the Stretford End against the Scousers; if you were going to craft your ideal United goal scenario, then this would likely be pretty close to what you’d want.
…Unless you’re Rio Ferdinand, and you score with a ludicrous touch and blast into the top corner at the same end in the same fixture the following season, of course.
4 – Cantona’s return – United 2-2 Liverpool 1995
Plenty of former players are beloved by the Old Trafford crowd, and some have confirmed their names in the club’s folklore with their actions in this fixture; just ask John O’Shea, Juan Mata and Diego Forlan. But few figures are revered in the way that Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona is, even 20 years on from his retirement. He was catalytic for United in the early-to-mid 90s, a rallying point that helped the club win a first league title in decades and set them on their way to an unparalleled period of success under Sir Alex Ferguson. Back in early 1995, however, one particular act with his feet that didn’t involve a ball threatened to derail that.
An infamous kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons saw Cantona banned by the club and the FA for eight months in total, with plenty of calls for a lifetime ban or even deportation for the act. The Frenchman was disillusioned, and came close to leaving the club, but eventually returned to first team duties in October of the same year, against Liverpool, naturally. He helped set up Nicky Butt for an early lead, then after a brace from Robbie Fowler, stepped up to deliver a memorable penalty. In a word (or two), lovely stuff.
3 – Introducing…Anthony Martial – United 3-1 Liverpool 2015
It’s fair to say that Anthony Martial arrived from AS Monaco in 2015 as something of an unknown quantity. The deadline day signing rocked up at Old Trafford with zero fanfare, and instead provoked searching questions from all quarters of the English press; why were United paying upwards of £30m and numerous bonuses for a 19-year old Frenchman?
Turns out, this. This is what we bought him for:
It takes something, and indeed someone special to create a goal like this, to take the ball from so far outside the area and score with no assistance. Martin Skrtel was turned inside out several times, dazzled by Martial’s close control, and having waltzed his way between three defenders, the only worry was if he could deliver the knockout blow. Again, we needn’t have worried; Martial found the bottom corner with ease, with Simon Mignolet little more than a spectator. Old Trafford was enraptured, and United fans have been deeply enamoured with one of football’s most exciting young talents ever since.
2 – Berbatov’s delicious hat-trick – United 3-2 Liverpool 2010
For his faults, Dimitar Berbatov still provided United fans with a chunk of good memories during his time at Old Trafford. This meeting in 2010 was an example of how brilliant the Bulgarian could be when the elements aligned; a hat-trick in a United shirt in this fixture is no mean feat, given that it last happened 70+ years ago.
It was a pretty busy derby, all told; Berbatov’s initial brace had set United up for a comfortable 2-0 win before Steven Gerrard’s brace had dragged Liverpool back to parity. An excellent header from a John O’Shea cross late on sealed the win, but it was the former Spurs striker’s second that will live longest in the memory, taking Nani’s cross on his chest before delivering an exquisite overhead kick in off the crossbar and over the line. Reina stood rooted to his goal line, seemingly resigned to the fact that he’d been beaten by a touch of genius. To be fair to him, he had.
1 – The Treble Season’s Other Late Comeback – United 2-1 Liverpool 1999
It’s easily forgotten amongst the majesty of that ten day period in May 1999, when United beat Spurs, Newcastle and Bayern Munich to lift the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, and the Treble almost fell apart numerous times in the months leading up to that famous night at Camp Nou. But this FA Cup 4th round fixture was just a bit too close for comfort.
Michael Owen had stunned United with a goal in the first two minutes, and Liverpool held onto that lead for 86 more. Ferguson’s side pressed, harried and banged on the door in search of an equaliser, but, as time ticked on, United couldn’t find a way through.
It’s funny. Even after watching this club for years, you’ll see a scoreline or situation like Monday night against Palace, where United find themselves 2-0 down and you wonder what could possibly happen to turn things around. I recall a similar feeling watching this game play out; where was the goal coming from? How the hell were we getting out of this one?
More fool me for worrying, really.
It took until the 88th minute, but United finally levelled. A David Beckham free kick was headed back across goal by Andy Cole, and, as was so often the case in that fabled season, his strike partner Dwight Yorke was on hand to finish the job. Bedlam duly ensued, the away end was silenced and finally, honours were even again. But United weren’t done.
Liverpool, having led for so long didn’t respond to a deep cross from Jaap Stam, allowing Paul Scholes to waltz into the penalty area. The Ginger Prince wisely left the ball for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the Norwegian sent David James the wrong way for a most remarkable conclusion. Even now, it seems crazy to think about, United nabbing two late goals to overturn a deficit against a hated rival, but you know what they say; you spend 86 minutes waiting for a goal, then two come along at once and you’ve just knocked the Scousers out of the cup.
As memories go against Liverpool, this is almost unbeatable. Course, if Mourinho’s current crop fancied challenging it this Saturday lunchtime, I’m not sure you’d hear many complaints…