Liverpool V Manchester United: More than a game?
Friday’s Europa League draw has thrown up a host of intriguing contests, with Gary Neville’s Valencia paired with Spanish rivals Athletic Bilbao, Tottenham facing German giants Borussia Dortmunsd and Villarreal and Bayer Leverkusen going head to head. However, the tie of the round is undoubtedly the coming together of England’s two biggest clubs, certainly in terms of silverware and support, for the first time ever in European competition. Indeed, the meeting between Liverpool and arch-enemies Manchester United will be the first between two English sides in this particular European competition, under its current guise or as the UEFA Cup as it existed before, since Tottenham and Liverpool met in 1973. On paper, it is a round of 16 tie. In reality, it’s much much more than that.
Not only does the match promise to be a mouth-watering affair in terms of the fierce rivalry and passion a game of this magnitude generates, especially between two such great rivals, the added motivation of automatic Champions League qualification for the Europa league winners is prize almost too great to be missed for two teams who are historical regulars among Europe’s elite, but are struggling to take their place at the top table due to their indifferent Premier League form. Indeed, at time of writing, Manchester united sit six points behind fourth placed Manchester City, while Liverpool are a further point back with 12 games remaining. With the form of the top four clubs remaining solid, and an injury crisis engulfing the side from Manchester in particular, a full-tilt attack on Europe’s secondary competition seems the most accessible route to the promised land – or indeed was before Friday’s draw was made. Both Louis Van Gaal and Jurgen Klopp will be acutely aware of the added pressure of success in this competition, especially in comparison to many of the other sides remaining in the draw who could perhaps look at league positioning as a much simpler road to Champions League partition – domestic rivals Tottenham Hotspur being a case in point.
It hardly needs mentioning that the very presence of these two old English giants in the Europa League is a direct consequence of recent underperformance. United dropped down into the competition after their surprise elimination from their Champions League group at the expense of Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven – hardly behemoths of the current European game. Liverpool entered the Europa League at the group stage after finishing in sixth position in the Premier League – hardly an achievement for a side who hold 18 English Championships to their name (but none since 1990). And while Liverpool have Sunday’s Capital One Cup Final to look forward to, and the prospect of the silverware that may bring, United can point to the FA Cup and their upcoming Quarter-Final tie with West Ham United as an opportunity to chase. However, fans of these two clubs are used to success on a grander scale – indeed eight Champions Leagues (or European Cups) and 38 domestic titles between them point to the glory that was once a way of life at Old Trafford and Anfield in previous years. Liverpool have won this competition on three occasions (in 1973, 1976 and 2001) while United have never claimed this particular European prize. The Europa League may not be the Champions League, but if offers a path to success that the two clubs are so desperately seeking, and so represents a game of significant importance, both in terms of footballing glory, and financial sustenance.
Where and When?
The first leg will be played at Anfield on Thursday 10th March with the return leg at Old Trafford a week later. Domestically, these games fall between important fixtures for both sides. Most notably, United face an FA Cup game against West Ham just three days after the first leg, and have a trip to city rivals Manchester City at the Etihad stadium just three days after the second. The fixture schedule could well turn the tie in Liverpool’s favour.
Betting (To Qualify)
Liverpool 2.00, Manchester United 1.80
Selected other ties
The third English representative in the competition, and two times UEFA Cup winners (1972 & 1984) Tottenham Hotspur, have been handed a daunting task against German giants Borussia Dortmund, although have the comfort of playing the return leg at White Hart Lane, where they so convincingly overcame Fiorentina last night. Holders from the last two seasons Sevilla face a trip to Basel’s St Jakob-Park ground in the first leg, which is also the venue of May’s final. The Spanish side have claimed the trophy a record four times and will be confident of progression, aiming for a never-before-achieved three titles in a row. Spain has a total of four representatives in the last 16, with Valencia and Athletic Bilbao going head to head, and Villarreal facing Bayer Leverkusen as a reward for seeing of Napoli in the previous round.
Full Europa League round of 16 draw (all ties to be played on 10th & 17th March)
Shakhtar Donetsk V Anderlecht
Basel V Sevilla
Villarreal V Bayer Leverkusen
Athletic Bilbao V Valencia
Sparta Prague V Lazio
Borussia Dortmund V Tottenham Hotspur
Fenerbahce V Braga
To win the tournament outright
Borussia Dortmund – 5.00
Sevilla – 7.50
Tottenham Hotspur – 10.00
Manchester United – 12.00
Liverpool – 12.00
By: Steven Paget