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Role Reversal: The Liverpool-Manchester United Derby In The Klopp Era

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Some reflections on what the rivalry means now that Liverpool are favorites against their biggest rivals.

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-LIVERPOOL Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

For decades—hell, nearly the entirety of the Premier League Era, as we’re frequently reminded—Liverpool played second fiddle to Manchester United. In particular, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

While both clubs struggled to find the right fit in a post-Fergie world, Liverpool hit on the right appointment first in Jurgen Klopp, thereby allowing the power to shift poles once again from United to the Red half of Merseyside.

It is a peculiarity of English football that the two biggest clubs never seem to be vying for dominance at the same time. As one waxes, the other inevitably wanes. And the new power dynamic can stay that way for decades.

So after years of cultivating a finely tuned hatred for all things Manchester United, largely because they were winning all the silvery things that we felt we also deserved, the roles are reversed.

In years past I would already be feeling a sense of excitement for the fixture, mixed with a substantial amount of dread, in the week leading up to the fixture. By this point in the season during most years of my Liverpool fandom, the Reds had little to play for other than pride. Wins and draws evoked feelings of relief more than joy. The losses, on the other hand, were truly devastating.

I’m sure similar feelings will come as the match approaches, but the feelings aren’t as intense. The “hate” I felt for Manchester United has largely subsided the last couple of seasons. A desire to beat them is now less about “getting one over” on our rival, and more about achieving our goal of winning the league.

Indeed, feelings of hate have become something far worse from their perspective: apathy.

Off the top of your head, where are United in the table? I couldn’t tell you without looking it up: they’re 5th on 34 points. They’re 5 points behind 4th placed Chelsea, leading a chasing pack of good to mediocre sides, 2 points ahead of 6th placed Sheffield United and 6 points ahead of 12th placed Southampton. Most relevantly, they’re an eye-watering 27 points behind us. With a game in hand.

How are United getting on? Who’s arsed?

Their business has nothing to do with our business. Our business is winning the league. Theirs is...I genuinely don’t know. I’m not sure Ole At The Wheel could tell us at this point. Either way, I genuinely don’t care. They only become our business this weekend. They stand in the way between Liverpool and another three points. That’s it from our perspective.

Like with so many Liverpool teams in the past, who would show up with the sole task of being a speed bump in the procession to the title, that will be United’s hopes this weekend.

They’ve done their job to spoil our fun at Old Trafford twice in 2019—with the first playing a substantial part in Liverpool coming second last year. With the Reds currently holding a 14 point lead—with a game in hand—it’s unlikely that even a United win, as annoying as that would be, would similarly impact our season.

In fact, Liverpool’s league dominance this year has greatly affected how I’ve viewed other “rivals,” and from Liverpool Twitter, it seems as if I’m not alone. Who among us is hanging on each and every one of Manchester City’s goals and/or results this season? Like with their cross-town Mancunians, their results are hardly our business these days.

This is all to say that life is pretty good back on our perch. The business of winning the league isn’t over yet. But for the time being the business of relegating United to the second tier of English footballing powers has been achieved. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have gone a long way to ensure that Sunday’s result matters little in the big scheme of things.

At some point United will be back. They’re too big of a club—just as Liverpool was and is—to simply go away forever. It is also why United Twitter hasn’t quite lost their minds in the way City or Everton has. Just as Liverpool had a begrudging respect for Ferguson’s United, there seems to be a begrudging respect for Klopp’s Liverpool. There also seems to be an acknowledgement that they need to sort their own house first, just as Liverpool needed to in the late 2000’s/early 2010’s, in order to reestablish themselves as a true English power.

For now, we should enjoy being favorites. Enjoy the perch that we fought so hard to climb back upon. And hopefully, we can also enjoy a fair few victories over United along the way.