In 1990, I was making the transition from day care to kindergarten. Everything was cheaper, and the technological age that defines the present day hadn’t yet begun in earnest.
In 1990, what’s now the Premier League was still the First Division, Alex Ferguson was just Alex Ferguson, and the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, and the Neville brothers were still very much boys, and Rafael and Fabio da Silva were just making their way into the world.
In 1990, Liverpool were the unquestioned kings of English football, and that year, they wrapped up their 18th First Division title, beating out Aston Villa by nine points.
At the time, to even come near that record no doubt appeared to be a tall order, not least because of Liverpool’s run of success over that last decade and a half. Next closest were Arsenal and Everton with nine, with United and Villa both on seven titles.
But while Liverpool were busy further distancing themselves from the chasing pack, United were busy adding a much-needed piece of silverware to their trophy case as well.
At the time, United were still more than two decades removed from their last First Division title, and that season, they finished 13th, 31 points behind Liverpool and only five ahead of relegated Sheffield Wednesday.
But little did anyone know that magical FA Cup run would only be the tip of the iceberg for a dramatic shift, not only for United, but for the top tier of English football.
Now, it’s United who are the hunted, on the verge of breaking Liverpool’s hallowed record, and Liverpool are the club in the midst of an attempt to rise from mediocrity to the top once again, step by step.
The fact that it’s taken United less time to win titles 9-18 than it did for them to win the eighth shouldn’t be lost on anyone, and the fact that our rise has coincided with Liverpool’s drop from being in the thick of the title race every season – they were either first or second 18 times in 19 seasons from 1972-91 – to barely having a sniff of the title certainly isn’t lost on supporters of either side.
And so, not only does today represent an opportunity for United to take another step towards that record, it also represents an opportunity for Liverpool to build their confidence…and more importantly, play spoiler in our quest.
United head into Anfield without being able to call on Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, our rocks in the heart of our defense, and that places a heavy burden on the shoulders of Chris Smalling
United come in off the heels off of a real missed opportunity at Chelsea, and as demoralizing as that defeat could appear, both because of the result and the manner in which it happened, it would be magnified if it’s followed up with a second consecutive one.
However, Tuesday’s setback at Stamford Bridge should result in United today coming out focused, inspired, determined not to let an opportunity similarly slip away, to not give the referee a chance to have a decisive hand in the outcome.
United should be buoyed by the fact that Martin Atkinson won’t be anywhere near the pitch today, and they should also be buoyed by Arsenal’s home draw against Sunderland, which puts United in position to take a six-point lead with a win at Anfield.
Of course, that only serves to further stoke the fire that’s already there, given the opponent, the atmosphere, and the situation.
Think, for a moment, the amount of joy it’d give Liverpool and their supporters to be able to have a hand in keeping United from their record. Think, for a moment, how that likely isn’t lost on anyone in the opposite dressing room or in the stands. Think, for a moment, how hard Liverpool will fight to keep United from claiming sole possession of what’s been theirs for so long.
As much as the thought of picking up a vital win at the expense of denying Liverpool any sort of small glory gets the blood running and the juices flowing for me, it should do the same for the team.
As for the footballing part of the equation, one real positive to take from the Chelsea match was how we weren’t nearly as tentative in attack as many might have expected us to be in that situation. It paid dividends with an early goal and should have led to more, and against a defense that, and no disrespect intended, is weaker than the one we just faced, the same approach could lead to a lot of chances to trouble and beat Pepe Reina.
Liverpool might be fancying their own chances to wreak a little havoc in attack, what with United’s issues with allowing goals away from home and from leading positions this season, and with not having to deal with either Ferdinand or Vidic today. Vidic could have done much better with his timing for getting a red, because even with one of the two back there, United are still better than most. But Chris Smalling, despite ‘surrendering’ the crucial penalty at Stamford Bridge, won’t be quaking in his boots today, even with Andy Carroll perhaps set to make his Liverpool debut, and both Wes Brown and John O’Shea have no shortage of experience in this situation.
And while we’ll be without our defensive leaders, Liverpool have been dealt an even more massive blow, due to the absence of their talisman, as the aggravation of a groin injury looks likely to have ruled Steven Gerrard out for today.
In the end, it matters only so much what side both managers send out there today, because of the emotion involved and because of what’s at stake for both sides. There’s no doubt that Dalglish, who had a hand in nine of Liverpool’s titles as a player and then a manager, will have his side up to the task, but this isn’t Fergie’s first rodeo, and it isn’t United’s either. And well, I know which bull I like in this fight.
Prediction: 2-1 United
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