The North West Derby has brought us some phenomenal matches over the years and most of us are familiar with the more famous matches between these two great rivals, such as Liverpool’s epic comeback in the 3-3 draw with Manchester United in 1994 or the white Armani suits at the FA Cup final of 1996.
But aside from providing us with some memorable individual moments, this fixture is also regularly the centre-piece of an unfolding narrative. From ending title hopes to marking the beginning of a new era, Liverpool versus United has often been a season-defining contest in the Premier League.
This weekend’s clash could be equally important, with United facing their first major challenge of 2017/18 and Liverpool in desperate need of a psychological boost following their rocky start.
Here are five matches in which the result had a huge psychological impact on their respective campaigns:
Liverpool 2-0 Man Utd (March 19, 1995)
One day after Blackburn Rovers beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge to extend their lead to six points at the top of the Premier League, Manchester United visited Anfield knowing that defeat would hand Rovers a decisive advantage. What followed was United’s final defeat of the season, and surely their most significant as Blackburn hobbled over the line to lift the title two months later.
Two goals from Robbie Fowler either side of half-time sealed the win for the hosts, and although United finished the season strongly they ultimately fell short by just one point. It was the defeat at Anfield - more than any other result - that lost them the title.
Man Utd 0-1 Liverpool (December 17 2000)
Liverpool fans must have feared the worst when they travelled to Old Trafford in the 2000/01 season after losing four of their previous six league matches – and having failed to beat their rivals in any of their last ten attempts. But a famous win for Gerard Houillier’s side triggered a dramatic upturn in form that saw Liverpool end the campaign with three major trophies.
Symbolically, then, Danny Murphy’s freekick was a huge moment for Liverpool, beginning a sequence of five consecutive wins against Alex Ferguson’s side and filling the players with renewed optimism. It is quite possible that the heroics against Alaves or Michael Owen’s late double in the FA Cup final would not have happened without this season-defining result in December.
Manchester United 4-0 Liverpool (April 5 2003)
United’s biggest victory over Liverpool since 1953 came at the perfect time for Ferguson’s side, and although momentum had already swung in their favour following a run of nine wins and two draws from their previous 11 league matches this was a crucial result.
United moved one point above Arsenal in the table with an emphatic 4-0 victory at Old Trafford just hours before Arsenal slipped up at Villa Park, making April 5 a pendulum day in the battle for the title. Two penalties from Ruud van Nistlerooy set United on their way before Ryan Giggs scored his first league goal in two years and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer capped it all off.
Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool (March 14 2009)
Although Rafa Benitez’s side ultimately finished four points behind their rivals in the league, the 2009/10 season was the first time in ten years that Liverpool meaningfully challenged for honours. It was highly significant, then, when they thumped United 4-1 at Old Trafford in March to move within four points of the hosts.
It was a truly embarrassing day for Ferguson, particularly given Cristiano Ronaldo had given his side the lead. But goals from Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard turned the game around before the visitors added two more in the second half.
Manchester United 0-3 Liverpool (March 16 2014)
This was a season-defining game in both dugouts. Liverpool’s sudden emergence as title contenders was emphatically confirmed with a dominant win at Old Trafford – their fifth in an 11-match winning sequence – while the result was the final nail in the coffin for David Moyes.
Steven Gerrard scored two penalties and missed a third as Liverpool climbed to within four points of Chelsea at the top of the table on a day that symbolised United’s dramatic decline. Liverpool ended the day 14 points above their rivals, having trailed them by 29 points exactly one year before.