Two Northwest cities, with their own proud heritage separated by approximately 35 miles. Two huge footballing rivals, one with the most European Cup (Champions League as it is known nowadays) wins by an English side and one with the most domestic top flight titles. Liverpool and Manchester United are the two most successful clubs in English football history. Scouse Red against Manc Red always brings a fierce rivalry and they both go into the season under pressure despite having very different goals with a bit of a role reversal.
Liverpool enter this coming season on their biggest high, probably since they won the Champions League in 2005 to lift the European Cup for the fifth time. After a consolidation in his first year (2012-13), Brendan Rodgers team progressed markedly last season, with a sustained title challenge especially from the start of the 2014. They fell just short, but achieved their pre-season goal of reaching the top four and a return to the Champions League for the first time in five years. His development of young mainly English talent such as Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Jon Flanagan (and the Brazilian Phillippe Coutinho) alongside experienced players such as Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson was superb and with the now departed Luis Suarez it did look at one point that the title was heading back to Merseyside for the first time in 24 years, alas this was not to be. Last season they did not have any European commitments, which helped as their squad was thin, despite an excellent first eleven. They have invested upwards and potentially beyond 100 million on the required squad improvements over the summer, (the reported 75 million fee for Suarez a welcome cash pot), to be able to maintain a title challenge as well as progress in Europe and that’s not mentioning the domestic cup competitions. This brings about its own additional pressures on their Northern Irish manager as the fans may now expect this as a norm. We will learn a lot more about Mr Rodgers managerial skills in terms of being able to man manage a much larger squad and a lot more matches, as well as maintain a high league position. Furthermore he will have to have the squad mentally ready after their near miss last season.
Down the East Lancs Road, Louis Van Gaal was confirmed as the successor to David Moyes on May 19th. The then Champions had a season to forget in 2013-14, the then new manager struggled in the job, the new Chief Executive Edward Woodward, was of no help and the performances and effort of some players left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately the club massively underestimated the effect that the loss of Sir Alex Ferguson would have on the club and the writing was on the wall when Ed Woodward (taking over from the departing David Gill) could not secure the requisite signings, especially in the summer that were clearly needed. Despite a run to the Champions League quarter finals, defeat by the holders Bayern ended the run and a poor league season saw them finishing 7th – missing out on qualification for Europe’s premier club competition. The incumbent Dutchman has a massive job to do and is under big pressure to qualify the 20 times English Champions for the Champions League by securing at least a fourth place finish, especially as the clubs whole financial plan (which includes hefty debt repayments) is based on qualification for Europe’s main cup competition. He has already stamped his authority on the squad and is not afraid to even tell the club what he likes and dislikes. Like Liverpool last season they will not have the problem of being in the Europa League and a Thursday to Sunday turnaround so it will just be a season of domestic football for the fallen Champions for the first time in 24 years. Ed Woodward surprised a lot of people by actually making some early summer signings – with Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw bought for a near 60 million pounds – though these were actually ones the previous manager had already identified. However since his return from their tour of America for ‘general club business’ the ‘lesser spotted one’ has not secured any players much I imagine to the chagrin of the new manager. It is clear that reinforcements, especially in defence and midfield, are required and the mistakes of last season need to be rectified, not just on the pitch but behind the scenes at Old Trafford.
So the tables have turned with Liverpool looking like stepping up for a title challenge as well as progression in Europe, whereas Manchester United have regressed backwards trying to just get themselves up the table to fourth position and qualification so they can mix with Europe’s elite. If only it was that simple, nobody could have predicted such a turnaround in both teams fortunes from last season and it is impossible to predict what will happen in the one upcoming. One thing is for sure both managers, for different reasons, will be under pressure to perform and get their teams up that Premier League table and have a successful season in cup competitions too. It will be very interesting to see how the teams are faring when they meet at Old Trafford in mid-December.
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