Dennis Wimann, American Red
8 European Cups, 36 league titles, 18 FA Cups, 11 League Cups. The two most decorated teams in England meet again on Sunday at the Theater of Dreams. Liverpool pulled the double on United last year, and look to duplicate the feat to try to stay in the hunt for the fourth Champions League spot. United look to gain revenge for the 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool last year, and gain three valuable points in their hunt to capture an unprecedented fourth straight league title. Chelsea and Arsenal will be hoping for a Liverpool victory to prevent United from gaining precious points in the title race, while Spurs, Villa, and Citeh will be supporting United to prevent Liverpool from gaining points in the race for the last Champions League spot.
Since the two best teams in the North West are also the most successful in England, they have an incredible history with each other. But they have never been dominant at the same time. United owned the the late 60’s and all of the 90’s and most of the 2000’s, while Liverpool was a dominant force in the late 70’s and 80’s. The closest they came to being twin powers was a four year span between 1963 and 1967. The teams went back and forth with the title and were forces in Europe at the same time. In 1965, Liverpool lost a dubious match against Inter Milan at the San Siro 3-0 after winning the first leg 3-1. This match made the Chelsea/Barcelona game last year look like it was refereed perfectly. The referee was bribed by Inter and was actually seen drinking champagne with Inter officials after the game, and the rest is history. Liverpool was denied a chance to be the first English team to a) make the European Cup final and b) win the European Cup. Three years later, at Wembley Stadium, their North West rival Manchester United became the first English team to win the European Cup. Ten years after Munich, the Busby Babes grew up and won the European Cup 4-1 over Benfica in extra time.
This brings me to my main point, how would a derby match between the best of both teams shake out, who would pick the squads, and who would make the squad. I took a stab at it, and this is what I came up with.
Phil Thompson, Alan Kennedy
John Barnes, Ian Callaghan
Robbie Fowler, Kevin Keegan
Edwin van der Sar
Duncan Edwards, Denis Irwin
Roy Keane, Paul Scholes
George Best, Wayne Rooney
The first thing most people will notice is the lack of Sir Alex Ferguson. He is their most successful manager, but he hasn’t really overcame what Matt Busby did. Busby rebuilt his team after eight of his first team players, including the almost legendary Duncan Edwards, died in Munich in 1958. Ten years later, his team is European Champions. Advantage Busby. And while Bill Shankly may not have the European pedigree of Bob Paisley, or the league success of Kenny Dalglish, he was responsible for turning the team from a middle of the table second division team, to one that would eventually conquer England and Europe. Besides, if you asked 20 Liverpool fans who the best manager in Liverpool history would be, I’d say 17 of the would choose Shankly. Both of the squads are reflective of the teams’ glory years. Liverpool is full of players from 70’s and 80’s, while United is heavy in players from the 90’s and 2000’s
The goalkeeper choice came down to two men, who each won European Cups. Ray Clemence was the first choice goalkeeper under Shankly and for Paisley’s first half of time at the club. Clemence’s list of honours is one to marvel at. He won three European Cups, five league titles, one FA Cup, one league cup, and two UEFA Cups. He played for eleven years at the club until he was sold to Tottenham Hotspur in 1981. The sale of Clemence was due in part to the emergence of young Bruce Grobbelaar. Grobbelaar took over big shoes, but managed to fill them. He was the goalkeeper in the famous Rome final in 1984, where his spaghetti-legs psyched out Roma just enough to win the match. Grobbelaar won six league medals, as well as three FA Cup medals and three League Cup medals. In the end, Clemence’s list of honours, along with being a Shankly favorite and England international good enough to keep Peter Shilton from starting, gives Clemence the nod.
The Liverpool back four all played not just at a high-level, but also for long periods of time. Everyone of these players won European Cups and played valuable roles in the finals. Jamie Carragher came to prominance for being an important part of the FA Youth Cup winning team of 1996 alongside Michael Owen. A man who could play all over the back four, he marked Kaka as well as anyone could have during the second half of the 2005 Final in Istanbul. A one-club man, born and raised in Liverpool, Carragher is a throwback to the old days of English football. Tommy Smith, also a homegrown talent like Carragher, made over 600 hundred appearances for Liverpool. He was a key cog in the 1965 FA Cup winning squad, and would score the winning goal in the 1977 European Cup Final against Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome. Alan Hansen joined the club the same summer as Kenny Dalglish and made over 430 appearances for the club. The always reliable Hansen also replaced Emlyn Hughes as the first choice center-back and was a part of eight league titles. Phil Neal is the only Liverpool player to play in the clubs’ first five European Cups, winning four of them. Neal was Liverpools primary penalty-taker, allowing him to rack up an impressive amount of goals for a defender.
Billy Liddell was so good the team was nicknamed “Liddlepool” in the mid-50’s, add that to his goalscoring ability from the wing and upfront, he edges out John Barnes and Ian Callaghan. Graeme Souness and Emlyn Hughes are the two greatest post-Shankly captains in the club’s history and could score beautiful goals from outside the box and would provide the fight the team needs. Which is why Hughes gets the armband for this game. Steven Gerrard gets in for his playmaking ability and his history of late goals, long-range and important goals on European nights, as well as everyday regular games.
The combination of forwards was much tougher to pick than the midfield. When Liverpool is at their best, they have goalscoring combinations that grab goals and inspire the team. Combinations ranging from Roger Hunt and Ian St. John to Kevin Keegan and John Toshack to Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush to Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore to Michael Owen and whoever to Fernando Torres and no one have all usually resulted in trophies. King Kenny and Rush get the start because of their European record, and the way the two worked together. Rush could always be counted on to score goals when in mattered most, and for Everton fans, it seems he scored every game he played against them. King Kenny didn’t just replace a legend, he made the Kop forget about him. After arriving from Celtic in 1977 to replace Kevin Keegan, Dalgish became the most loved and adored player in Liverpool history. He won them the 1978 European Cup at Wembley, and became an emotional beacon for an entire city after Hillsborough.
The goalkeeper choice for Manchester United is much easier than Liverpool’s. The big Dane Peter Schmeichel was Sir Alex’s greatest bargain. During his seven years at United, they won five league titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup, as well as the European Cup. The easiest choice of the bunch.
Manchester born Gary Neville anchors the back four for United. His longevity, factored in with his attacking prowess and defending skill, make him a perfect full-back for a United team with plenty of attacking skill. A one-club man and FA Youth Cup winner (just like Jamie Carragher) has been a part of eight Premier League titles (unlike Jamie Carragher,) three FA Cups, two League Cups, and two European Cups. The current captain of United, is an easy pick. Fergie doesn’t usually admit to making mistakes, but he admits he made one by selling Jaap Stam to Lazio in 2001. Stam was the anchor of the Treble winning team in 1998-99. The Netherlands international only spent three years at United, but he made them count winning the Premier League every single season he spent at Old Trafford. When Rio Ferdinand showed up at Old Trafford in his white suit after being bought from rival Leeds for £33, many United fans feared the worst. But Ferdinand ended up being an anchor in defense for both England and United. An occasional captain for the club, Ferdinand has won plenty of honours, including lifting the European Cup in 2008. Ferdinand has also won four Premier League medals and two League Cup medals. Irish international, despite being born in Manchester, Shay Brennan was the starting right back for the 1968 European Cup winning squad. He won two league titles to go along with his European Cup.
The Manchester United midfield is one for the ages. Ryan Giggs arrived at the club with high expectations and he has fulfilled them. Giggs has scored in every single Premier League season ever played, showing his longevity and talent. With the most appearances ever for a Manchester United player, Ryan Giggs has won eleven Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, and two European Cups. His defining moment is perhaps his solo goal in the last ever FA Cup Semi-Final Replay versus Arsenal, which saved the Treble for United. His technique and creativity on the left-side would create plenty of goals for the forwards and center midfielders. The greatest player in Manchester United history and captain of this squad is Sir Bobby Charlton. One of only three players to win both the World Cup and European Cup, he scored important goals when it mattered most and could always be counted on. A survivor of Munich, Charlton has plenty of fight that United is known for. Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson was the greatest player for Manchester United during the 80’s, and is the longest serving captain in club history. His skill both attacking and defending, give United the midfield toughness it needs. Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent and creativity give him the nod on the right. His ability to move up top when they need a goal also factor into his starting spot. His skill at both penalty taking and when taking free kicks would be a much needed asset for United.
The United combination of forwards both have a great history against Manchester United, as well as for them. Eric Cantona, before playing for United, led rival Leeds United to the League title. The sale of Cantona to United, led to the resurgance of United, and in part, to the downfall of Leeds. King Eric, as known on the Stretford End, was another United forward with a knack for creating goals out of nothing, his creativity would mix perfectly with the other forward. Denis Law is known in Manchester for his goals while playing at United, along with his back-heeled goal while playing for Citeh that relegated United to the Second Division. Law won European Football of the Year in 1965, but due to a bad knee, missed the 1968 European Cup Final which would have been a crowning achievement for Law.
The subs are listed along with the starting XI, a two-legged match between the two would determine the winner. My prediction: 2-2 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford, then a 3-1 Liverpool victory at Anfield in the second leg. 2 goals from Dalglish and the winner from Gerrard. But your predictions in the comments.