There have been many titanic struggles between Liverpool and their arch enemies, Manchester United, down the years—but only twice in Europe.
Ever since the club’s first met at Anfield, in the Second Division in 1895, the two have been fierce rivals.
That game ended 7-1 to Liverpool, by the way.
However, for all their domestic battles, they had never met in European competition. That is until they were drawn against each other in the last 16 of the Europa League on March 10, 2016.
Jurgen Klopp immediately saw the importance of the tie and, sensing the opportunity to whip the Kop into a frenzy, described it as the “mother of all games.”
He didn’t need to, they could do that themselves, but this was vintage Klopp.
Jurgen is never cliche and, where other managers might seek to downplay the importance of such a game, in attempt to ease the pressure, he sought to turn it to his advantage. It worked a treat.
The first leg took place at Anfield and Liverpool would run out comfortable 2-0 winners, thanks to goals from Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino. The game lived up to Klopp’s description, with United unable to settle thanks to a tremendous performance from all four corners of the ground.
“That’s the worst Man Utd performance I’ve ever seen,” said Paul Scholes, who was working as a pundit for BT Sport. “They’re destroying the Man United legacy now…I don’t think the manager knows how big this game is.”
In truth, Liverpool made United look poor. The press had Klopp’s men in the driving seat and most Liverpool fans could sense a memorable night at Old Trafford beckoning. They were right, but there’d be a scare on the way too.
United had left Anfield without a precious away goal. Still, as Liverpool supporters knew only too well, all they needed was an early goal and the game could easily be turned on its head.
The United fans attempted to replicate the majesty of the Kop, in an effort to intimidate their rivals. However the paltry sprinkling of banners was more than a little embarrassing. It invoked more hilarity than horror amongst the Red hordes.
Nevertheless, United would strike fear into Liverpool hearts just after the half-hour mark. Anthony Martial’s trickery on the wing goaded Nathaniel Clyne into a lunge that upended the Frenchman. The referee signalled a penalty and the travelling Kop held their breath.
He scored, and suddenly it was game on. Liverpool’s defence had been a problem for some time and there was real fear that United, with their tails up, would launch a panic-inducing barrage. Could the Reds really hang on for a hour?
They would do more than that and, on the stroke of half-time, Philipe Coutinho scored a goal he had absolutely no right to finish. The Telegraph headline said it all:
“THEY DINK IT’S ALL OVER; Coutinho touch of genius is too much for United.”
Klopp described it as the “perfect goal,” saying “what he did was brilliant. Phil had a genius moment. It was the most unexpected thing he could do in that situation.”
It certainly was. With seconds remaining before the break, Coutinho ran at the United defence and left Guillermo Varela embarrassed, as he homed in on David de Gea’s goal.
The ‘keeper had been in inspirational form thus far, he had the near post covered and the angle was extremely tight.
Somehow, miraculously, stupendously, the Brazilian did what no other player would have done and the absolute last thing De Gea thought he could do: he chipped him at the near post.
As the ball hit the net, joyous scenes broke out in the away end. Liverpool had that all-important away goal and United needed to score four to progress. All they had to do was sit back and hit their opponents on the break.
In truth Van Gaal’s men threatened little and with 15 minutes left on the clock the United fans headed for the exits. This passage from the Guardian described the scenes and is particularly pleasing:
“As a measure of how Liverpool saw off their old enemy, nothing summed it up more than the break of play, with a quarter of an hour still remaining, when the first Manchester United supporters decided they had seen enough and the queues started forming at the exits. This was the club that once prided themselves on late feats of escapology—Barcelona in 1999, “Fergie Time” and all the rest—but those days have gone and Liverpool’s supporters certainly enjoyed waving them goodbye before the burst of jubilation at the final whistle.”