Picking an Ultimate Liverpool-Manchester United XI of the Past 15 Years
Manchester United and Liverpool face off at Anfield on Sunday, with the two teams in just about as sorry a state as they have been in the last 15 years. Rarely has this game been a clash between the sixth- and ninth-placed sides in the Premier League.
During that time, both teams have had some superb players in their midst. Naturally, given United have been considerably more successful during this period, their players dominate the lineup here, featuring in seven of the 11 starting spots.
In truth, it would have been easy for it to be more than that, and a couple of spots have gone to Liverpool players for the sake of balance rather than necessarily on merit.
In general, players are picked representing themselves at the peak of their powers during those 15 years, and consistency has, for the most part, been weighted less heavily than peak ability. There are countless players unlucky to miss out.
The players here are lined up in an attacking 4-3-3 with one holding midfielder, two more advanced midfielders and a front three with two wide attackers rather than out-and-out wingers.
GK: Edwin van der Sar
This was a straight fight between two Manchester United 'keepers. Pepe Reina did a fine job for Liverpool for much of his time at Anfield, but it is David De Gea whom Edwin van der Sar pips for the top spot.
De Gea is an exceptional goalie and perhaps by the end of his career will be considered among the all-time greats. Van der Sar is already one of those. Incredibly composed, completely dominant in his area and a giant of a man at 6'5", Van der Sar brought United to a new level when he arrived in 2005.
He was a key piece of the puzzle in 2008, when United won their second Champions League trophy under Sir Alex Ferguson, and he was in goal as United won four Premier League titles. His presence was tangible, and he formed an awesome triumvirate with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in front of him.
RB: Gary Neville
Gary Neville always seemed to feel the rivalry with Liverpool keenly. He got himself in trouble by celebrating in front of rival fans in 2006 and was beloved by United's fans for doing so. He was their avatar on the pitch, a local lad proving he knew just what beating Liverpool meant to the Red Devils.
However, he is not in this lineup through passion alone. He is also the best right-back either side has possessed in the past 15 years. It was during this period he improved himself, becoming an accomplished crosser of the ball to augment the superb positional sense he had long possessed.
Liverpool have had issues at full-back, with Glen Johnson's long run in the side ample evidence of this.
United have also had struggles in that spot since Neville's decline set in. Rafael da Silva won hearts if not minds with his tigerish enthusiasm and Matteo Darmian showed early promise, but Neville is an easy choice here.
CB: Jamie Carragher
This is the first spot wherein a Liverpool player can probably count themselves a little lucky to pip a United player to this lineup. Vidic's partnership with Rio Ferdinand was the rock upon which Sir Alex built so much.
However, this is a combined XI, so Liverpool players have to feature, and with Neville selected for United, it only seems fair to include his archrival-turned-colleague Jamie Carragher.
Carragher is one of those players for whom consistency and longevity are significant factors in their inclusion, but he was also a pretty dominant force at his peak. What he lacked in pace, he made up for with a ferocious football intelligence and—as especially evidenced against United—a passionate commitment to the Liverpool cause.
CB: Rio Ferdinand
Ferdinand was among the first names on this teamsheet. Perhaps it is a matter of personal preference to include him over Vidic—the uber-stylish, seemingly never-ruffled approach to defending he had was a joy to watch.
However, in more objective terms, he is here because he would work well as a partner for Carragher, with the Liverpool player taking the more aggressive, Vidic role. Ferdinand's ability to make whomever he was playing alongside look better was seen at international and domestic level, with Jonny Evans in particular benefitting from the Londoner's presence.
It is the ultimate cliche when describing Ferdinand but one of those occasions when the cliche becomes such because it is such an apt description.
He really was a Rolls-Royce of a central defender.
LB: Patrice Evra
Leaving aside any controversy—as we will do again when including the antagonist of the saga in this XI—Patrice Evra takes the spot ahead of John Arne Riise.
Both players were big advocates of their clubs' respective causes, as well as key players, but Evra's performance during United's three consecutive Premier League title wins and Champions League triumph between 2007 and 2009 was absolutely crucial.
Tireless on the left flank, ever up and down, contributing as much to attack as defence, he may lack the explosive shot of Riise but more than made up for it with defensive ability and the power and consistency of his engine. A shoo-in for the left-back berth.
DM: Roy Keane
Roy Keane might have nudged over the peak of his powers by January 2001, but he was still a player important enough for United during his last four years at the club to earn a spot here.
After all, if you have the opportunity to put Keane in any XI, he is usually worthy of a place.
Keane is famous as a competitor, a fierce, driven warrior of a footballer. However, during a recent interview with Graham Hunter, one of Keane's former midfield colleagues Darren Fletcher waxed lyrical about Keane's technical ability, particularly in terms of his short passing, which Fletcher compared favourably with any other player he played with.
He was a superb footballer, a superb leader of men and one of Manchester United's most important players. Javier Mascherano would be an alternative choice here, but while the now-Barcelona man is a fine defensive midfielder, Keane is among the shortlist of the all-time greats in this position.
CAM: Steven Gerrard
One of the two Liverpool players who would get into this side without any adjustment for balance.
Loathed by United fans and the target of countless angry chants over the years, whether they would admit it or not, Liverpool's iconic captain for most of this period was so loathed because of his excellence.
A superb range of passing, a ferocious shot and a fulsome commitment to the cause, few United fans would have complained had Steven Gerrard been one of their own rather than one of Liverpool's. As an attack-minded central midfielder, United only had one player to match Gerrard during the latter's time at Anfield...
CAM: Paul Scholes
And that player is, of course, Paul Scholes.
Waxing lyrical about Paul Scholes is redundant as so many people have spent so much time doing so. So just watch these goals and enjoy what a spectacular player United had in their midst for so long.
LW: Luis Suarez
The other of the two Liverpool players to get into the side with no adjustment for balance, Luis Suarez was a devastating force during his time at Anfield. He would play on the left up top in our 4-3-3, as he has done plenty of times. Indeed, even when playing at centre-forward, many of his most penetrating moments came as he cut in from a wide starting point.
He is now tearing it up as part of the most feared front three in world football alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, and it is a testament to his exceptional talent that he obviously belongs at that level.
CF: Fernando Torres
There are plenty of players who could have played in this position. Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy would both be in with a shout, as would Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler.
Torres pips Owen and Fowler because both of their best work came slightly earlier than the 15-year period covered here. In truth, he only pips Rooney and Van Nistelrooy to get another Liverpool player in the mix.
However, in spite of his precipitous drop in form, there is an argument to suggest that at his best, Torres was as good as any of those others. A rare combination of grace and power, he would be a good line-leader for this front three, helping to create space and more than capable of finishing chances.
Maybe a tad fortunate to get into the side, Torres at his peak could nonetheless make a significant contribution to it.
RW: Cristiano Ronaldo
One of the world's best players for almost all of his career and a Ballon d'Or winner during his time at United, Cristiano Ronaldo was always going to make it into this XI.
Perhaps the best player to play at either club during the past 15 years, Ronaldo began his sharp rise from promising teenager to world superstar while wearing United red. He scored goal after goal as the Red Devils smashed their way to three league titles in succession and a Champions League win between 2007 and 2009.
One of the best players ever and, of course, part of this XI.
Let us know your XI in the comments section!