Liverpool's place 'back on the perch' ahead of Man Utd never clearer

Liverpool’s place ‘back on the perch’ ahead of Manchester United has never looked clearer after the Anfield thrashing of their rivals – who in 10 years have gone from a feared force under Sir Alex Ferguson to little more than an ‘adult Disneyworld’

  • Manchester United were humiliated on Tuesday with a 4-0 defeat at Liverpool
  • The Reds have arguably never looked stronger than their Old Trafford rivals
  • England’s biggest clubs have seen a rapid reversal of fortunes in the last 10 years
  • Jurgen Klopp’s side are arguably one of the best teams ever seen at Anfield
  • But United look a rudderless ship under an interim boss and a chaotic set-up 

Football has a habit of starting and ending cycles when you least expect it.

For instance, who would have thought that when Liverpool picked up a then record 18th league championship in 1990 – and having only finished outside the top two just once in the previous 17 seasons – that they wouldn’t lift a top flight title again for another three decades.

Or that Manchester United, without a league title since 1967 and having been on the brink of sacking Alex Ferguson, would then go on to dominate the 1990s and much of the 2000s under the Scotsman, collecting 13 league crowns and never finishing outside of the top three of the Premier League before his retirement in 2013. 

Mohamed Salah celebrates during Liverpool’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United at Anfield

United’s Bruno Fernandes looks on following his side’s humbling at their bitter rivals

While it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that United would continue their Ferguson-inspired success after his retirement, it would have taken an extremely brave individual to believe that the Red Devils would take at least a decade to add to their English record of 20 league titles.

Furthermore, Liverpool were hardly in a position to capitalise having gone four seasons without a single top five finish for the first time in 50 years.

Yet, that unexpected switch has happened again between England’s two biggest clubs, and some would argue it took place overnight, which we will get into shortly.

Whatever route you take though from 2013 to Tuesday night’s mauling at Anfield that saw Liverpool rip into a hapless Manchester United side by thrashing them 4-0 with utterly embarrassing ease, United are at their lowest ebb since 1990 when they finished 13th and only an FA Cup win kept Ferguson in the hotseat at Old Trafford.

United may now have confirmed Erik ten Hag as their new permanent boss for next season to try and lift some of the gloom around Old Trafford, but as Gary Neville has suggested, it may take a couple of seasons before they are challenging for trophies again.

Liverpool by huge contrast have arguably never looked so good – even compared against the great teams of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Liverpool declined sharply after winning their then record 18th top flight title in 1990

In a way it’s been a rather intriguing aspect of the English top flight that while Liverpool and Manchester United are the biggest teams, they very rarely get the chance to battle for the league title while both are strong. There was the memorable 2008-09 season of course when United ate into and eventually saw off the Reds’ credible title bid – but aside from that it’s rarely gone head-to-head between the two teams who have 49 league championships between them.

Only one can sit on the perch it seems, and that ‘P’ word has proven to be a 21st century prompt to begin a war of words between fans and potentially managers seeing as its notion was created by United’s greatest ever boss.

While his side has just endured a rare off season in 2002 as they trailed a distant third behind Arsenal and Liverpool (kids, you will have to believe me when I say that was a disaster for United back then), Fergie still couldn’t resist a dig at the Reds when questioned if he was facing the biggest challenge of his career.

‘My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch. And you can print that,’ Ferguson said… before going on to bounce back and win the title the following summer, of course.

The blue touch paper had been lit though and for years United supporters dined off it like it was an endless gourmet, with banners constantly seen at grounds making reference to that perch.

Liverpool supporters in the last decade have bit back more than once especially as they soon started challenging for Premier League titles again by referring to ‘getting back on the perch’.

United supporters reveled in ‘knocking Liverpool off their perch’ under Alex Ferguson’s tenure

When winning their 19th championship in 2011, they surpassed Liverpool’s record of 18 

Liverpool have hit back in recent years and fans are claiming their side are back on the perch

Season at a glance

Now you can argue that United are still on the ‘perch’ with their 20 league titles unmatched but it’s never been easier to identify who the greater side are now or even in the last decade.

Tuesday night’s stroll made for some incredible numbers to cap that debate (if there was one).

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games against Manchester United (W5 D3) – no team has ever had a longer run without defeat against them in the competition, matching Chelsea between 2013 and 2016.

This season alone it’s been a humiliating 9-0 on aggregate having also pulled off a stunning 5-0 Old Trafford humbling in the reverse fixture.

In fact, you have to go back four years for the last time United defeated Liverpool in the Premier League when Marcus Rashford struck twice for Jose Mourinho’s side in a 2-1 victory. Curiously, at the time Liverpool hadn’t beaten United in the league for four years themselves.

United looked in excellent shape when Ferguson retired after winning the league in 2013

Liverpool meanwhile were on their worst domestic run for 50 years in the top flight

And yet it was the 2013-14 season when Ferguson’s empire started to crumble quicker than a tea-soaked biscuit and the Reds came marching in from nowhere under Brendan Rodgers. 

Liverpool were 28 points worse off when David Moyes replaced Ferguson in the summer of 2013. One year later the ‘chosen one’ was the ‘wrong one’ and had already been sacked with United slumping to seventh in the league.

The Reds, meanwhile, inspired by the goal scoring trio of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, as well as influential skipper Steven Gerrard, went on a remarkable second half of the season charge, but despite picking up 84 points were pipped on the last day by Manchester City to the title.

The scant consolation in the moment was that they had instantly become big players for the league title again and had finished a huge 20 points clear of a United side in a state of transition (as it seemed at the time).

Louis van Gaal stopped the rot after taking over at United, but couldn’t return the club to former glories with just a fourth and a fifth place to his name despite big name transfers coming in such as Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao.

Liverpool, meanwhile, meandered just beneath their rivals first under Rodgers and then under Klopp once he arrived soon after the 2015-16 season began following Rodgers’ sacking as they dropped back down to eighth in the table.

Liverpool’s change of fortunes started to accelerate once Jurgen Klopp took charge in 2015 

There was potential shown by Klopp’s outfit. They had after all knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League before losing the final to Sevilla. 

But by now Suarez had been sold to Barcelona, Sturridge’s career was already being ruined by injuries, Sterling was lured by Manchester City’s project and Gerrard had retired. Back to square one and the summer of 2013.

When Van Gaal was sacked and Mourinho was appointed at Old Trafford in the same 2016 off season, it once again looked like becoming a return to glory for United while Liverpool were looking more likely to settle for mid-table following that one-off title charge in 2013-14. 

United had remained a respectable if not quite as feared side prior to Mourinho’s arrival but once the Portuguese rolled into Old Trafford it appeared to be the moment the circus arrived and it seems now it never really left.

It wasn’t all negative. A poor sixth place in his first season where Paul Pogba was signed for a record £89million was saved by a Europa League and League Cup win, and while the trophies dried up the following term – a post-Fergie high of second place was achieved in 2018, albeit a distant one behind rivals Manchester City.

Jose Mourinho brought European success to United with the Europa League but he was unable to return the Red Devils back to domestic glories during his turbulent reign

Liverpool in that same period recorded back-to-back top four finishes, and only an inspired Gareth Bale (and some suspect keeping from unfortunate Reds stopper Loris Karius) denied the Reds the Champions League crown following Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the 2018 final.

Questions still lingered over United by this point but Liverpool were about to put their final jigsaw piece in place to see them soar past their rivals.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk had already been added to the squad with great effect under Klopp and finally ahead of the 2018-19 season goalkeeper Alisson had also been signed. The centre-back and the Brazilian were the most recent additions as funded partly by the £140million sale of influential playmaker Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. Even in his absence, Liverpool looked a real force once again. 

December of 2018 was arguably the symbolic moment when Liverpool had pulled clear of United as a club, as their title bid saw them easily beat their rivals 3-1 and it led to the sacking of Mourinho, with United tumbling out of top four contention following the implosion in relations between the Portuguese and his playing staff.

Liverpool spent wisely on key recruitments following the £140million sale of playmaker Philippe Coutinho (second right)

United barely recovered in comparison to their rivals, who were once again pipped by City to the title despite recording 97 points and one defeat managed to end the season on a high after winning the Champions League for a British record sixth time after strolling 2-0 past Tottenham Hotspur in the final.

The good news for United was that in 2020 they finished third and looked like making a slow recovery under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The catastrophic news for them though was that Liverpool were still accelerating away, winning the Covid-hit season with embarrassing ease after recording 99 points.

It didn’t take long for that ‘p’ word to resurface again, courtesy of former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann.

‘When I was a player, the club everyone wanted to join was Manchester United. You knew that signing for United guaranteed you winners’ medals,’ he said after Liverpool’s title win.

‘They were the biggest club, the club that everyone inside and outside England spoke about.

‘Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United have suffered on the pitch. And with perfect timing, Jurgen Klopp has come in and made Liverpool the club everyone wants to join. In that respect, he has knocked United off their perch.’

Klopp’s Liverpool built up before dominating to win the Premier League with 99 points in 2020

But Liverpool’s horrific injury-hit campaign last term severely impacted their hopes of retaining the title as they secured a top four finish on the final day while Solskjaer’s side slowly improved again to finish runners-up.

But Liverpool still looked an overall stronger group and team under Klopp’s smart transfer purchases – even when Solskjaer splashed the £73million in cash to bring in England international Jadon Sancho and to much fanfare, Cristiano Ronaldo back to Manchester. 

Despite the excitement all around over Ronaldo’s return to the club, there were concerns United were still conducting a post-Fergie transfer policy that placed commercial success over the team’s on-pitch needs.

Klopp had already seen the warning signs for the direction United were heading in back when he was linked to replace Moyes in 2014, which left him with doubts over taking the Old Trafford job. 

Manchester United had been pitched as an ‘adult Disneyworld’ by United’s new executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to the German manager, according to the Klopp biography, Bring The Noise, by Raphael Honigstein. So it’s perhaps not that surprising to understand how United have resembled a rollercoaster in a theme park in recent times.

With a fully fit squad again, Liverpool have pulled well clear of United this season and have defeated their rivals 9-0 on aggregate having also won 5-0 at Old Trafford (above)

As expected Liverpool have kicked on again with a largely healthy squad to challenge for the league title, but United have disintegrated leading to Solskjaer’s dismissal and a rudderless ship under interim boss Ralf Rangnick as they struggle to even compete for a Champions League spot and a fifth season without a trophy.

The gap has never seemed so big and if Liverpool do go on to match United’s 20 title record in the next month, then the Reds on collective history and current day form combined really strengthens their claim to being ‘back on their perch’.

How long for? It doesn’t look like changing anytime soon even with current Ajax boss ten Hag joining United this summer to try and sort out a club in pandemonium.

For now though the last 10 years has been all about the slow rise of Liverpool and the continuing decline of United. There is no reason why that should change anytime soon but then when was it ever easy to predict when one football cycle starts and another ends? 

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