While Liverpool floundered through the early years of the Premier League and Rafa Benitez battled with a pair of unsupportive owners, Alex Ferguson built Manchester United into the power in English football. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to watch if you were a Liverpool fan.
Yet watching now as Liverpool begin to build an identity under Jürgen Klopp and United continue to struggle to find theirs under their third manager since Ferguson retired, it also serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of many things. And even Ferguson can’t help but notice.
"It can happen that big clubs lose it,” noted the former United manager. “For two decades, Liverpool changed managers without building their own identity. You can now well and truly sense that you have to count them in this year. You can see Klopp's dedication on the sideline.”
Liverpool, finally, appear to have both an identity and a manager who will be given backing. United, on the other hand, have the richest squad in all of football but already appear to be out of the title race this season and face an uncertain future under the volatile Jose Mourinho.
For now, Ferguson still sees Mourinho as the answer—but then, United and Ferguson were equally convinced that David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were the answers previously, and so far the results have been no better with Mourinho despite additional investment.
“I think there’s five potential candidates,” Ferguson noted hopefully on the title chase. “City as favourites, Tottenham and Liverpool, but also United are still there if we get some consistency soon. Even when you’re trailing by six, eight points, it’s possible to catch one or two teams.”
For United, though, that’s the problem. They aren’t trailing one or two teams by six or eight points. They’re trailing five, none of which are outsiders. There is no Leicester or West Ham or Stoke City; no club many will be expecting to drop off the pace in the coming months.
United might catch one or two of them if they can find their form. Catching and besting all five of City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool at this stage already seems a near impossibility. Those five, Liverpool most certainly included, are this season’s real title challengers.