MANCHESTER United and Liverpool have traded places once again.
The Old Trafford club are down, further than we could ever have hoped and imagined in on Merseyside.
They are in the midst of their worst start to a league season in 30 years, while Liverpool are seemingly clambering back up a fucking perch that they won’t sit comfortably on until they have amassed at least one league title to pull closer to United’s 20.
What’s happening in Manchester is a movie we have all seen before. A rotating door of players who will be quickly forgotten, a mismatch of egos behind the scenes all contributing equally to constant wrong decisions and a manager who seems to age with each passing away defeat to a mid-table side. Another toothpick.
While there are very few truths in football, one which remains is that despite the efforts of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City over the years, Liverpool and United are the two biggest clubs in the country, and two of the biggest in the world. It is for that reason that millions will tune in Sunday from around the globe to watch them lock horns once again.
Yet their stature and dominance in English football is as problematic as at times beneficial. It is the reason why both have been guilty of overestimating themselves when making decisions which were simply never going to garner success.
While it takes several facets to be functioning cohesively for such huge entities to thrive, it is often what is produced on the pitch which defines both in terms of overall standing and general health.
As ever when it comes to these two, it takes a special type of manager at the helm in order to understand the complex needs of leading either English great.
It is no surprise that the most synonymous names with clubs remain the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson; men who were colossal in character as well as image. They defined what it was to be part of Liverpool and United, they were the figureheads of the whole operation.
Ferguson remains the first thought of many when they think of United, some six years after he retired. The Scot made United his domain in every sense. He was the biggest presence both on and off the pitch.
United supporters carried all of their hopes and dreams on his back and he strode through the 1990s and 2000s with huge success for which he deserves massive respect.
Yet now he has gone, United are witnessing things they swore would never happen when comparing themselves to Liverpool. A succession of managers all losing their way and finding the task too encompassing and smothering.
A reason United now look so forlorn is they’ve had the manager who was supposedly the answer in Jose Mourinho. However, despite tasting brief success, his inability to compromise and display patience soon led to the emergence of his self-destructive nature.
Liverpool can also look to Gerard and Houllier Rafael Benitez as rightly successful managers down the years, but their niggling inability to unite the club completely – or, in Benitez’s case, their misfortune at being at the club when a civil war was raging – meant they just fell agonisingly short of reaching their pinnacle.
The reality may be that to truly meet expectations at either club there has to be a Shankly, Ferguson, or the man currently in the Anfield dugout, Jürgen Klopp, at the helm.
What Klopp has done since his arrival in England is the envy of most, none more so than United. His ability to take on his own club, to challenge attitudes and to make it a collective focus towards success hasn’t been seen in this country, with the possible exception of Arsene Wenger, since Ferguson arrived in the late 1980s.
There are those who will rightly point to Pep Guardiola and Mourinho at Chelsea as opposing arguments to the point, but the fact remains that their success was not achieved at Liverpool or United.
As referenced in Marte Perarnau’s book Pep Guardiola: The Evolution, the attraction to Manchester City was it’s blank slate in terms of identity and resources. Guardiola has had the freedom to build a culture of his own which he is in complete control of.
That simply would not have been the case if he had arrived at Anfield or Old Trafford, as Mourinho found out. Klopp didn’t flinch, though.
Instead, he set about putting in place the foundations which would ensure his outlook and expectation reached every part of Liverpool Football Club, particularly to a fanbase scarred by years of United dominance. He became the embodiment of Liverpool which they so desperately craved.
It is for that reason that there is a slight hint of empathy on Merseyside when currently viewing the plight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and has been so since he was given the job full time.
Liverpool supporters knew, even if United didn’t, that he would sink under expectations as manager of Manchester United. After all, we’ve not just seen the movie, we know every word to the sequel.
The fact is that both clubs, despite the hate between them, remain uniquely special. It is why Liverpool are enjoying every second of Klopp while still keeping a cautious eye on what is next for United once Solskjaer is displaced.
Ultimately, both clubs are defined by emperors – those who can mould a global institution into their own image and still walk around with a smile on their face. They are once in a lifetime characters, and Liverpool now have their own.
As the pendulum continues to swing back towards Anfield, there are many whose envy in Old Trafford this Sunday will be focused firmly on the away dugout, and the overpowering presence of Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp.
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"I've never felt so confident going into a game at Old Trafford." ✊
What are you expecting from Liverpool on Sunday?
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) October 16, 2019