Liverpool’s trips to Old Trafford are always both looked forward to and dreaded in equal measure. But as the Reds prepare to head along the M62 on Sunday, they will be doing so in good heart off the back of three straight victories on either side of the turn of the year.
Good form alone isn’t enough to beat Manchester United on their own ground, of course, so the Reds will have to look for inspiration as they face one of their toughest challenges of the season.
For the neutral fan, all that can be hoped for is an entertaining contest—the kind of which we’ve seen from the pair before.
Here are five memorable meetings between the old rivals in Manchester.
Almost 55,000 fans packed into Old Trafford on Boxing Day as Liverpool―then the back-to-back European Champions―took apart United to exact some revenge for an FA Cup Final defeat the previous May, which shattered their dreams of achieving the treble.
Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness all starred, as goals from Ray Kennedy, Jimmy Case and David Fairclough established Liverpool’s dominance over Dave Sexton’s side. Bob Paisley’s men would go on to clinch their 11th league title by eight points from second placed Nottingham Forest.
There was only one name on everyone’s lips before kickoff at Old Trafford, where United legend Eric Cantona was returning to football following his eight-month ban for assaulting Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons in a match at Selhurst Park.
He was to have an immediate impact.
The Frenchman could only play because the match had been moved to Sunday for live television coverage, and star of the show Cantona took just two minutes before drifting in a cross for Nicky Butt to open the scoring.
However, on a day when Liverpool fans were barred from Old Trafford due to building work, Robbie Fowler soon took over and struck two typically opportunistic goals either side of halftime to give the visitors the lead. Cantona himself would slot home a penalty following Jamie Redknapp’s foul on Ryan Giggs to ensure a share of the spoils.
United would play in a rather more famous match in which they came from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at the end of this season, but the template for their dramatic Champions League Final win over Bayern Munich was set in this fourth round FA Cup tie against Liverpool.
Michael Owen headed the Reds in front in just the third minute at a stunned Old Trafford, and Gerard Houllier’s men proceeded to look to control the contest and earn a place in the fifth round.
Liverpool maintained their lead with just two minutes remaining until Dwight Yorke popped up with a late equaliser, which appeared set to take the tie to a replay.
But then substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer―just as he would do on "that night in Barcelona"―found the net deep into stoppage time to break Liverpool hearts.
Rafael Benitez’s Reds had been all but ruled out of the title race following a series of disappointing home draws, but they ensured that United would have to fight all the way to pick up their record-equaling 18th league title with a stunning victory at Old Trafford.
Pepe Reina tripped Park Ji-Sung to allow Cristiano Ronaldo to give the hosts the lead from the penalty spot midway through the first half, but Liverpool leveled five minutes later when Fernando Torres nipped in ahead of Nemanja Vidic and coolly slipped a finish beyond Edwin van der Sar.
The game then really turned just before halftime when Patrice Evra brought down Steven Gerrard in the penalty area, and the Liverpool skipper slotted the visitors into the lead.
Vidic was then sent off 15 minutes from time―the second of three consecutive red cards he’d pick up against Liverpool―for hauling down Gerrard, and Fabio Aurelio curled home the resultant free kick to make it 3-1.
Italian misfit Andrea Dossena lobbed home Liverpool’s fourth just four days after he’d scored the fourth in a 4-0 Champions League win over Real Madrid. They were his only two Liverpool goals.
This third round FA Cup tie wasn’t so much memorable for the action on the pitch but more for the whirlwind of events that preceded it.
Roy Hodgson’s unhappy six-month tenure at Liverpool had been brought to an end the day before, with the Reds turning to club legend Dalglish―who was away on a cruise―to steer their ship until the end of the season.
The Scot headed straight for the dugout at Old Trafford but was unable to deliver a fairytale victory, with referee Howard Webb awarding United a penalty in just the first minute when Dimitar Berbatov went to ground following the slightest hint of contact with Daniel Agger.
Giggs scored the resultant spot kick, with Liverpool’s challenge effectively ending in just the 32nd minute when Gerrard was sent off for a lunge on Michael Carrick.