The feud was initially ignited by squabbles over industry and transportation links in the northwest. In recent decades, it’s mostly been left to football to enrich and consequently dominate the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester.
But when Manchester City were playing local derbies with Macclesfield Town, and Everton seemed to alternate seasons of near-disaster with narrow misses for Champions League qualification, the spat on either end of a 70-kilometer stretch of M62 motorway was predominantly reserved for Liverpool and Manchester United. The northwest powerhouses took turns at the summit of the English game from the 1970s, and tensions were replicated and intensified in the stands and around the grounds.
Animosity at Liverpool and Manchester City games, meanwhile, felt contrived. It only existed because of geographical convenience, a smokestack history that is no longer relevant and, oddly, each settlement’s proud musical heritage. There had been little competitiveness between the teams in the years following the First Division title race of 1976-77, and there could even be a back-slapping admiration due to each fanbases’ shared hatred of Manchester United. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, as the saying goes.
Now, that may be changing. Raheem Sterling’s 2015 switch from red to sky blue, United’s dwindling power since Sir Alex Ferguson retired two years prior to that transfer and, most tellingly, the recent battles and apparent on-pitch parity between Liverpool and City could eventually contribute to the fiercest fracas in the region.
Liverpool are finally looking capable of capturing their first league title in 29 years, and City’s transformation from calamitous underdogs to profligate upstarts upon the takeover from the Abu Dhabi United Group eventually established them as one of Europe’s leading outfits.
Last season’s meetings lived up to their billing. Jurgen Klopp avenged defeat from four months earlier when Liverpool dealt City their first league loss of 2017-18 in January. Their doubleheader in the Champions League quarterfinals offered more ammunition to the argument that Klopp held the formula to trump Pep Guardiola’s feted strategy. However, it may have been the off-field events prior to the Champions League first leg that shifted the landscape of this rivalry for good.
The attack on City’s team bus wasn’t just aggressive – a replacement vehicle had to be sent for the club’s return to Manchester while Guardiola’s lot crumbled to a 3-0 defeat – but for plenty of Blues it also presented evidence of preferential treatment for Liverpool in the press. A popular argument is that West Ham United supporters were vilified for a similar welcome given to Manchester United’s team bus before the last-ever match at the Boleyn Ground in 2016. By comparison, the coverage of the events outside Anfield was perceived by sections of the City fanbase as being met with faux-displeasure by the media, akin to a grandfather trying to stifle laughter as his niece misbehaves. Some even claim the incident was viewed as a thrilling byproduct of those “great European nights” at Liverpool.
Plenty of reports surfaced on Thursday stating that Manchester City are plotting an alternative route to Anfield for Sunday’s league showdown; some locals may quip it would have to be airborne if City are to dodge Liverpool fans, given the limited access to the stadium.
Many red-clad Liverpudlians believe the City inquest has been overblown and is used as an excuse for the Mancunians’ 5-1 aggregate defeat over the two tussles.
Nevertheless, the constant comparisons and one-upmanship since have been incessant and hint at a burgeoning enmity between the pair. The fact they had England’s best players in the 2017-18 season – Mohamed Salah won the PFA Player of the Year award, while Kevin De Bruyne was sublime as City broke a stream of records en route to winning the Premier League – led to countless debates. Despite Klopp expressing distaste at spending big like City in the past, Liverpool brokered their own pricey deals when Naby Keita, Alisson, Fabinho, and Xherdan Shaqiri arrived during the summer window. Unsurprisingly, City devotees claim those moves weren’t met with the same media scrutiny as expensive transfers conducted by their club.
“Guardiola’s not gonna be here. I thought he’d get Coach of the Year, but there you go,” musician and unofficial spokesperson for Manchester City supporters, Noel Gallagher, said at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony in September, before raising the suspicions of fellow fans: “There must be some kind of bias this year – to Liverpool, no doubt.”
The sprouting grievances form the lyrics to new terrace chants and, as the Jose Mourinho malaise drags on at Old Trafford, can begin to construct the next prominent backdrop to the cities’ rivalry. Both City and Liverpool are on an upward trajectory and leaving United behind while Ed Woodward & Co continue to mismanage the Ferguson transition.
The Manchester derby suffered when woeful organization and backstabbing in the boardroom dropped City down the leagues, and United became consumed by their wars with Liverpool (and, when they competed at the top, Arsenal). The grudge match of United and Liverpool is at risk of enduring the same fate while the latter’s priorities turn to topping the former’s cross-city foes.
Manchester City need to collect more prizes to be taken seriously by Liverpool supporters – 15 domestic trophies and a solitary European Cup Winners’ Cup on the continental scene constitutes a derisory haul compared to the Reds’ riches – but Guardiola’s side taking first blood this Sunday in what could be the closest title race in five years will add spice to a promising duel.