Five Manchester United-Liverpool games where the build-up was bigger than the match

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© Getty

Five Manchester United-Liverpool games where the build-up was bigger than the match

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Faizan Qadiri


It is that time of the year again when England's biggest clubs have a go at each other for 90 minutes to claim the bragging rights for the next six months. A mix of nerves and excitement is something you can feel by just entering a room filled with reds of slightly different shades.

In football, you hate losing. But losing to your greatest rivals is just unacceptable in the eyes of the fans.

With a combined total of 38 league titles and 8 European Cups, the hatred stems from the fact that the two clubs are more alike than most rivals. They share a similar philosophy and their contribution to English Football cannot be matched by any other club. It is the first game most look for when the fixtures come out at the start of the season.

This season Liverpool fans believe that they, finally, have a team that can bring back the glory days of the 70's and 80's under the leadership of Jurgen Klopp. United fans, on the other hand, are filled with optimism following the signing of Paul Pogba from Juventus to go along with the Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho in a bid to mount their first title challenge in three years.

That makes this game an intriguing one as both teams look to better their respective league finishes from last season. We turn back the clock and take a look at five Liverpool-Manchester United games that had such significance attached to it in the pre-match build up.

Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool (Premier League, 1995)

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Our younger readers would have heard of stories about this game often referred to as "The Return of the King". The summer of 1995 was all about Eric "the King" Cantona whose infamous flying kick on a Crystal Palace supporter had ended with United surrendering the Premiership trophy to Blackburn. There were even talks about him returning to France but to the delight of United fans, the controversial Frenchman decided not to cross the English Channel.

What made things even more interesting was the fact that he would return to action, after the eight-month suspension, against Liverpool at Old Trafford. The build up was all Cantona with the Manchester club hoping to add him to the youthful team Alex Ferguson had started to build.

Cantona being Cantona took under a minute to bring the crowd to their feet when his cross was calmly finished off by Nicky Butt. However, Liverpool were unfazed by United's blistering start and found the equalizer just after the half-hour mark when Robbie "GOD" Fowler's unstoppable left-footed shot bulged the net.

The Liverpool fan favorite was at it again seven minutes after the interval. After chasing a simple ball played down the channel, Fowler out-muscled Gary Neville to get a run at Peter Schmeichel. The Great Dane lost his footing while coming off his line and Fowler easily placed the ball into the far corner.

But Eric was in no mood to let Liverpool, out of all the teams, to ruin his big day when he stepped up to take a penalty that Ryan Giggs had won. Cantona, who had a knack of sending keepers the wrong way during penalties, did the same as United equalized in the 71st minute.

The game ended at 2-2 but it will live on forever as one of the most famous games in United's folklore.

Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool (Premier League, 2009)

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Before the famous 6-1 defeat to cross-town rivals Manchester City, this was the game that gave United fans sleepless nights. For the first time in almost a decade, Liverpool looked like they were seriously going to contest for the title, given that United could equal their long-standing record of 18 league titles.

However, a draw against Manchester City – not the title-winning machine they are today – followed by a defeat to Middlesbrough had threatened to derail their title challenge. Heading to Old Trafford, they knew that a loss would mean the end of their season and the stakes were really high.

United, on the other hand, were on an 11-game winning streak in the league, and it looked like they were on their way to win their third league title in a row.

The game started as expected with United, high on confidence, controlling the game and pinning Liverpool back. It took them 23 minutes to break down a stubborn Liverpool side through a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, which was awarded when Pepe Reina brought down Park Ji-sung in the 18-yard-box.

The Merseyside club showed the resilience that had been missing in the previous weeks when Fernando Torres rode a Nemanja Vidic tackle to put the ball past an onrushing Edwin van der Sar.

Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool the lead by dispatching a penalty that he won following a mistimed tackle by Patrice Evra. After the interval, Vidic's struggle continued as he rugby tackled the Liverpool captain to the ground and was handed his marching orders by the referee.

The resulting free-kick trebled the trouble for United. Fabio Aurelio curled a sumptuous free-kick past van der Sar, who had expected the right-footed Gerrard to take the shot and was found rooted to his spot.

With 13 minutes left on the clock, Liverpool voices were the only ones that could be heard in the stadium and when Andrea Dossena's sublime lob over van der Sar ended up in the back of the net, United fans had already started to clear the Theatre of dreams.

Even though the title did end up at Old Trafford, the game is still remembered fondly by the Anfield faithful.

Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool (FA Cup 1996)

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Going back to the 1995-96 season, United had already secured the Premier League title "with the kids"(and Eric Cantona) but were still seen as the underdogs for the FA Cup final. Liverpool were full of confidence showing up in cream-colored Armani suits (they were lucky the Twitter wasn't around then).

United had made it to their third consecutive final by just scraping through against Chelsea, Manchester City, and Southampton, scoring just 11 goals in five games. Liverpool had scored 19 and having won 2-0 in the league, the press had named them as heavy favorites for the game.

The match, despite the rivalry between the two teams, was a fairly unmemorable game, rarely sparking into life, with both the playmakers Eric Cantona and Steve McManaman being marked and closed out by Jamie Redknapp-John Barnes and Roy Keane-Nicky Butt respectively. Keane went on to stop virtually every attack the Liverpool midfield threw at United. He covered - as the commentator Peter Brackley described - "every blade of grass" and went on to win the man of the match award.

Even though the game is remembered for the Cantona volley late into the second half, it was a lackluster game where both keepers did not have to make too many saves. The game started at a quick pace with Manchester United coming out with a more positive game plan by creating a few half-chances. Liverpool fought their way back into the game but were not able to test Peter Schmeichel.

With just five minutes left in regulation time, David James punched a David Beckham corner out of his box only to see the ball fly back past him in the next couple of seconds.

As Martin Tyler aptly put it: "One couldn't write this script". Cantona helped his side complete a memorable double in his comeback season.

Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United (FA Cup 2012)

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In 2012, the Premier League was caught up in a major scandal because of an incident involving Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Earlier in the season, during a Premier League game at Anfield, Evra had claimed that the Uruguayan had racially abused him on the pitch.

An independent committee decided to take Evra's side, and Suarez was banned for eight games by the Football Association. Suarez, who was Liverpool's best player at that time, was supported by Liverpool players and fans alike.

So when the FA Cup draw pitted the two giants together, there was hardly any doubt that it would be a hotly contested match. Both the clubs had advised caution ahead of the game that was scheduled at Anfield with the managers asking for mutual respect between both the sets of fans.

Despite pleas for calm, Evra was booed by the Liverpool faithful every time he touched the ball.

As far as the match was concerned, the big match lived up to its billing. Daniel Agger opened the scoring when David de Gea failed to clear a corner. The Spaniard's inability to clear the ball, along with the extra pressure Liverpool had put on him during set pieces, was proving to be a problem for United.

Jose Enrique returned the favor when he was unable to clear a rather straight forward ball that ended up at Rafael's feet. The Brazillian was more than happy to cross the ball in for Park, who put the ball beyond the reach of Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina to level the score.

A replay at Old Trafford looked to be on the cards before Dirk Kuyt managed to get in behind the United backline and drill a powerful shot past de Gea. Ironically it was Evra who should have been marking Kuyt in the build-up to the goal.

The Kop's celebration for the goal was only bettered by Luis Suarez who looked on from the stands. The celebration is still remembered fondly by Liverpool fans, who still love Suarez even though the player has now moved to Barcelona.

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool, FA Cup 1999

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Almost every premier league fan knows about the 1999 season when United completed a treble of League, Cup and Champions League trophies. But not all know that Liverpool had their own chance of a treble way back in 1984. They ended up with a double after losing to United in the FA Cup final.

In 1999, Liverpool headed to Old Trafford to play their bitter rivals in a fourth round FA Cup tie. United, at that point were not favorites for any trophy. Arsenal's rise under a certain Arsene Wenger had made the league interesting again and United's struggles in Europe were well documented so at that time comparing it to the 84 season would have been daft. But we now know what United achieved that season, a feat unlikely to be equaled by any other English side.

Liverpool got off to a flier as a young Michael Owen who broke the deadlock with a glancing header into the far corner. United were struggling to hold onto the ball and Peter Schmeichel turned out to be the first half hero saving a couple great shots from Berger.

However, United came out for the second half with renewed confidence as Liverpool retreated to soak up the pressure and try to hit the home team on the counter. Roy Keane hit the post twice and it looked like Liverpool would end up knocking their rivals out of the Cup as the clock hit 88 minutes.

But two goals in as many minutes courtesy of Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunner Solskjaer turned the game on its head as United won the game and ended the season with everything.

Gary Neville has gone on record saying that the Liverpool game was the turning point of the Treble season.

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