Hello. Manchester United v Liverpool is a fixture so big it deserves its own Blackadder simile. And this one feels even bigger than usual. The context of today’s match can be summarised by a number and a football season.
The number is 18. If Liverpool win today, they will equal Manchester City’s English record of 18 consecutive league wins, and move three points closer to finally adding to their 18 league titles.
The season is 1989-90. That’s when Liverpool last won the title, and when United last had such a bad start to the season. A corollary of those is that it was also the last time Liverpool came to Old Trafford as such overwhelming favourites. In March 1990 they won 2-1 and scored three goals – two from John Barnes and an absurd own-goal from Ronnie Whelan.
That game was 16th vs 2nd in the table; today it’s 14th v 1st, and Liverpool are odds-on with every bookmaker we could find during an admittedly cursory internet search. They don’t win often at Old Trafford – eight times in the last 50 visits – but those victories are intrinsically memorable. There have been five in the Premier League era, three Danny Murphys from 2000-04 and two routs in 2008-09 and 2013-14. The last of those, a 3-0 humiliation that almost propelled Liverpool to the title, is a potential precedent for today.
An experienced United side threw the towel in that afternoon. If something similar happens here, the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may become unbearable. It’s unlikely, but not entirely beyond the realms, that Liverpool could get a United manager sacked for the second consecutive season.
But there are some precedents in United’s favour, football being a funny old game and all. Ten years ago this weekend, United went to Anfield with Liverpool in turmoil. The beach-ball goal at Sunderland made them a laughing stock, they were on a run of four straight defeats and it was open season on Rafael Benitez.
A cautious United missed the chance to put a nervous Liverpool away, and a rousing second-half performance gave Liverpool a 2-0 victory. And although Benitez left in the summer anyway, that win ultimately helped deny United a record fourth consecutive title.
United have already helped deny Liverpool one title, with that dogged 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in February, and would probably give up their entire roster of official partners for a statement victory today. Liverpool will be happy with any old record-equalling win, but they’d love to humiliate United if possible.
There’s just one more thing: it’ll be emotional.
Kick off is at 4.30pm.