With Liverpool and Manchester United both currently in the hunt for the title for the first time since 2009, the news that they had been drawn together in the FA Cup for the time in nine years further increased expectation and interest levels. In what was an exciting end to end affair, ( a far cry from the stale league meeting between the two just a week before) United emerged victorious, with a Bruno Fernandes free-kick securing a 3-2 win.
The fact that there were no fans present in the ground dit not dilute the importance or significance of the occasion or, indeed, the rivalry between the two clubs for the match, which was the fourteenth meeting between the North-West giants in the history of the competition.
The very first FA Cup clash between the sides took place in 1898 and culminated in Liverpool emerging victorious from the second-round meeting with Newton Heaton 2-1 after a replay.
That Liverpool victory was followed by another one in 1921 but was one of only two over United in the competition until the dawn of the twenty-first century. In that time United prevailed in all other clashes including two finals and two semi-finals.
Interestingly, three times in that period games were played on the ground of Liverpoolâ€™s near-neighbours, Everton, and each time United remained unbeaten There were the two semi-finals of 1979 and 1985, played on the neutral Goodison Park pitch, and also the 1948 fourth-round clash which was counted as a home tie for Manchester United. As Old Trafford was damaged extensively during the Second World War, United were playing home games at Maine Road but on the day in question Manchester City were also drawn at home to Chelsea and so the Liverpool fixture was switched to Goodison.
Coming into football as I did in the mid-nineteen seventies, I have therefore been fortunate or unfortunate enough to have followed Liverpool in eight of the previous 13 FA Cup clashes and, I have to say, do not have that many fond memories.
1977 FA Cup Final
What a game to start with!
Played on May 21st 1977, Bob Paisleyâ€™s Liverpool side had already won the league title and so were looking to secure the famous â€˜doubleâ€™ of league and cup. With a European Cup Final against Borussia Moenchengladbach five days away, the Wembley clash with Tommy Dochertyâ€™s young United side was seen as the second step of a potential and unique treble.
A cagey opening half saw Liverpool in the supremacy but not really carving out many chances. The game exploded into life early in the second half, however, with three goals coming in a five-minute spell. Firstly, Stuart Pearson capitalised on hesitancy in the Liverpool defence to rifle a fierce shot under the body of Ray Clemence, only for Jimmy Case to instantly reply with a great shot on the turn from the edge of the area.
Just when Liverpool were expecting to go on and win the game, though, another mix-up in defence led to Lou Macari firing off a shot which took a mighty deflection off the chest of Jimmy Greenhoff for the third and final goal of the match.
Watching the game with my Manchester United-supporting father was an early sobering experience of the cruel mistress called football for this particular tear-stained eight-year-old.
1979 FA Cup Semi-Final
Denied the Double (and treble) by United in 1977, Liverpool were back to give it another shot two years later. Clear at the top of the table as the two sides met on Grand National Day in 1979, Liverpool were once more expected to overcome United, by now managed by Dave Sexton.
Once more, the best-laid plans of mice and men, and all thatâ€¦â€¦â€¦
In a marvellous match at Maine Road, with both sides wearing change strips, each team led before having to settle for a 2-2 draw and a replay four nights later back on Merseyside. This time the match was a cagier affair with chances at a premium and extra-time was beckoning when a Liverpool attack broke down and United sprang forward on the counter-attack.
With several Liverpool players, most notably Emlyn Hughes and Graeme Souness, badly out of position, Jimmy Greenhoff (again!) stooped to score the decisive goal.
1985 FA Cup Semi-Final
Six years later and the two teams met again at Goodison. This season Everton were drawing away in the league and were playing in the other FA Cup semi on the same day against Luton Town at Villa Park. This meant that with no league title realistically to aim for, both Liverpool and United were relying on the FA Cup for domestic success.
Just like six years earlier, the game was a classic, and just like 1979, it ended in a 2-2 draw. Twice United looked to have done enough to secure a Wembley place, and twice they were pegged back at the death by late Liverpool equalisers.
Firstly, Ronnie Whelanâ€™s 87th-minute wonder-strike cancelled out Bryan Robsonâ€™s 70th-minute opener, and then in the final seconds of extra-time, Paul Walsh bundled Ian Rushâ€™s header over the line after Frank Stapleton had restored Unitedâ€™s lead.
The replay was held at Maine Road and this time it was Liverpool who struck first through a Paul McGrath own goal. Despite playing better than they had in the first game, Liverpool succumbed to second-half strikes from Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes and so it was United who progressed to a Wembley final against Everton.
1996 FA Cup Final
This is getting depressing now!
In the 1995-96 season, Kevin Keeganâ€™s Newcastle United side looked to have sewn the title race up in February when they moved 13 points clear of the chasing pack. They then fell into freefall and Manchester United caught them up. What is often forgotten, however, is that Liverpool made up a similar deficit and by early April were sitting right on the shoulders of both United and Newcastle. By the time that Liverpool and Manchester United prevailed in their respective FA Cup semi-finals, both sides were still in with a chance of securing the double.
While United kept driving on in the league, Liverpool fell away following the famous 4-3 home victory over Newcastle and ultimately finished third, while United finished four points ahead of Keegan and his men to take their third league title in four seasons.
So, when the two sides met in the cup final it was a reversal of 1977 in as much that it was Manchester United that were looking to complete the double and Liverpool who were aiming to be the party poopers.
On a day best remembered for the colour of the Liverpool playersâ€™ suits, one of the worst finals in living memory was played out before a packed Wembley and hundreds of millions watching on television. Despite behind as ardent a Liverpool fan as anyone in the history of the game, my eyes were almost bleeding at the spectacle unfolding in front of me and Eric Cantonaâ€™s last-gasp winner at least meant we were spared another thirty minutes (and, heaven forbid, a possible replay) of this drabness.
1999 FA Cup Fourth Round
The 1998-99 season is quite rightly remembered for Sir Alex Ferguson and his sideâ€™s marvellous â€˜Trebleâ€™ of Premier League, FA Cup and European Champions League. So many times through the season United overcame adversity and triumphed at the last, and while the events of Barcelona and the two injury-time goals that secured Sir Alex his knighthood will never be forgotten, nor should the closing minutes of the fourth round FA Cup clash with Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Liverpool came into the match well-prepared by the new management team of Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson, but vast underdogs all the same. For 87 minutes the Anfield men played the perfect cup game, sitting tight while breaking at speed and as time closed out, they led by a single Michael Owen goal scored as early as the third minute.
With twenty minutes to go, Liverpool captain, Paul Ince, declared himself either injured or exhausted and asked to be substituted. Houllier never forgave Ince for this, stating that the only way his captain should ever leave the field in an FA Cup game at Old Trafford with his side hanging onto a one-goal lead was on a stretcher.
Needless to say, United hit Liverpool with goals in the 88th and 90th minutes to pull off a famous victory.
2006 FA Cup Fifth Round
Finally. Finally, Liverpool got one over on their rivals from down the M62.
Two seasons into Rafa Benitezâ€™s reign as Liverpool manager and things were beginning to stir again after the disappointment of Houllierâ€™s last two seasons in charge. Meanwhile, United were going through a difficult spell Arsenalâ€™s Invincibles and Jose Mourinhoâ€™s Chelsea side depriving Sir Alex of the title for three successive seasons.
The match was played on a freezing cold Sunday afternoon in February and with the injured Rio Ferdinand watching incognito from the visitors’ section of Anfield, once more a not particularly inspiring match was played out. The only goal of the game came courtesy of a first-half Peter Crouch header following a corner and Liverpool had their first FA Cup victory over Manchester United in eighty years.
2011 FA Cup Third Round
In the summer of 2010, Liverpool decided to dispense with the services of Rafa Benitez. It was a little bit harsh on the Spaniard but was probably the correct decision given that he and the side had lost their way somewhat in 2009-10, following a good season twelve months earlier when United were pushed all the way for the league title.
The decision to appoint Roy Hodgson as Benitezâ€™s successor looked on paper to be a reasonable one, but for whatever reason, it didnâ€™t work out and it was to nobodyâ€™s surprise that by the time Liverpool met Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round on 9th January 2011, Hodgson had gone and had been replaced, initially on a caretaker basis, by Liverpool legend, Sir Kenny Dalglish.
A debatable penalty awarded by Howard Webb for a Daniel Agger challenge on Dimitar Berbatov in the second minute was converted by Ryan Giggs for the only goal of the game.
The only other thing of note to happen in the match was the first-half red card awarded to Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, for a two-footed lunge on Michael Carrick.
2012 FA Cup Fourth Round
The following season, with Sir Kenny now permanent Liverpool manager, the two sides met again in the FA Cup. The pairing of the two sides came on the back of the distasteful furore over the Suarez-Evra racism incident and was not exactly welcomed by officials of the two sides at the time.
With Suarez still suspended at the time, the match was thankfully to pass off with no major incidents.
A reasonable match ensued with Daniel Agger scoring to put Liverpool ahead in the 21st minute, Ji Sung Park equalising before half-time. A good second-half followed with both sides seemingly keen on avoiding a replay and this time Liverpool getting the nod as the final stages of the match approached.
A route-one ball from goalkeeper Pepe Reina was flicked on by Andy Carroll, and Dirk Kuyt was on hand to smash home past David De Gea, who really should have done better – shades of Ray Clemence in 1977 there, I think.