While many of the biggest rivalries in the world game are between teams from the same city, the Liverpool/Manchester United rivalry is based on more than just football. For many, the rivalry between the two clubs is even more important than their own city derbies against Everton and Manchester City.
The rivalry is one forged off the pitch between the two biggest cities in the north west of England. Liverpool and Manchester have spent much of their histories as cities competing industrially and economically. More on that later.
However, it is their success on the pitch that has created a big rivalry between the clubs. The north west rivals are the two most successful English teams in terms of silverware won. Their success has helped the pair to become global brands with global fanbases.
United has had the upper hand in that facet, though, at times in recent decades, the Red Devils have been regarded as one of the most commercially successful club brands in the world game. However, due to Liverpool’s recent success, they have moved ahead of United, as the fourth most prominent brand in the club game.
How do the two clubs compare in terms of success?
When it comes to trophies, both clubs can claim superiority over the other in different competitions. Manchester United have the English title 20 times, compared to Liverpool’s 19. However, the men from Merseyside have won the European Cup on six occasions, compared to United’s three triumphs.
In terms of how many trophies both teams have won in total, Liverpool edges that battle as they have won 67 trophies overall in their history, while United have collected just one fewer piece of silverware. The tally was even until Liverpool won the 2022 Community Shield against Manchester City.
When it comes to the head-to-head record, Manchester United prevails, as the Red Devils have recorded 82 wins, while Liverpool has claimed 70 wins, and 58 games have ended in draws.
What is the history of the rivalry off the pitch?
The rivalry between the two great clubs has much to do with the rivalry between the two cities, which dates back to before the clubs were founded. Since the industrial revolution, the two cities have been vying for economic and industrial supremacy.
Manchester was considered the bigger and more powerful city throughout the 18th century. However, Liverpool’s seaport made the city prosperous for over a century, and it overcame Manchester as the main city in the north west. Some even considered Liverpool the British Empire’s second city after London.
Things changed in 1894 with the completion of the Manchester Ship Canal by merchants of the city. It was completed three months before Liverpool relegated Manchester United, who were then Newton Heath, to the second division in a play-off match, which saw the Reds promoted to the English top flight.
Both cities suffered post-war but remained the two biggest cities in the north west. The tension between the two is now far less intense, and the two cities tend to have a decent relationship except when it comes to football.
Who is the oldest of the two clubs?
That particular accolade goes to Manchester United, who were founded as Newton Heath LYR F.C in 1878, but they didn’t play their first competitive game until season 1886/87 when they played in the FA Cup first round.
The story of Liverpool’s foundation is common knowledge on Merseyside. The Reds were formed in 1892 after a dispute over the rent at Anfield between the then-residents Everton’s board and club president John Houlding. Everton decided to leave Anfield and found a plot of land on the other side of Stanley Park, Goodison Park. Houlding then had a stadium with no team to play in, which led to the formation of Liverpool Football Club. The rest, as they say, is history, as the Reds have thrived on their home ground.
Liverpool dominated the 1980s, while United dominated under Ferguson
For much of the 1980s, Liverpool dominated the English First Division. Only neighbours Everton, managed by the legendary Howard Kendall, seem to be able to touch them for much of the decade. The Toffees won two league titles in the 1980s, but Liverpool claimed the title six times in the decade. The Liverpool team of the 1980s also won the European Cup and FA Cup on two occasions.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool’s most successful decades, United struggled, with just three FA Cup triumphs to show for their efforts in the two decades. However, that all changed with the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson as manager.
The Scot arrived at United in 1986, but until 1993 Ferguson managed just one FA Cup win. He even came close to being sacked. However, in 1993 United claimed the English top-flight title for the first time in 26 years.
The first title opened the floodgates, and Ferguson went on to claim 13 English top-flight titles as United boss and two Champions League titles, among other numerous trophies. On his appointment, Ferguson remarked about knocking Liverpool off their perch at the top of the English game. He certainly did that, as the Reds title in 1990 was their last until Jurgen Klopp’s team won the Premier League in 2020.
The two remain rivals despite contrasting fortunes
There is a rivalry between both clubs, no matter what position in the league the two clubs are respectively. No doubt they are English football’s most successful clubs, but both have endured different periods of struggle.
There have not been many seasons in living memory where the two clubs competed directly for the English top-flight title. Maybe it is not a coincidence that both teams have experienced their most successful years when the other has been struggling.
The two big north west clubs will likely be competing until the end of time. It is a fixture that both sets of fans look for when the fixtures are announced, and it is hard to see that changing any time in the near future.