This weekend features a meeting in one of the most explosive rivalries in football. Two of Europe’s biggest clubs, with centuries of history and metric boatloads of silverware between the two of them, will face off in what is nearly always an intense and thrilling contest. Underpinning the rivalry are sociopolitical tensions between two regions, periods of ascendancy and decline for both clubs, thick layers of antipathy built up over generations, epic goals, scintillating controversies, and some of the best players to ever don a pair of football boots.
I’m referring, of course, to Liverpool vs. Manchester United.
(Oh, sorry, did you think I was talking about something else)
When you’re talking about a rivalry this big with this much history, it’s hard to find one game to highlight, but the 2003 League Cup Final has a lot going for it. This match featured some of the best players in either club’s respective histories. Manchester United most of the fabled Class Of ‘92—Beckham, Scholes, both Neville brothers, Giggsy, Butt—as well as several other key figures from the Red Devils’ period of peak dominance, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane. Meanwhile, Liverpool sent out most of the same guys that would win the Champions League two years later— Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Jerzy Dudek, Sami Hyypiä, John Arne Riise, and Milan Baroš. That team also featured Michael Owen, one of a very few players who managed to play on both sides of this particular divide.
And as you can see from the video, the game was just ridiculous.
End-to-end stuff with lots of chances for both teams. Heroics from both goalkeepers is the only thing that kept the goal tally from approaching double digits. Some of the best English players of a generation on their A-game. If you’re a neutral, this game is face-meltingly intense. In the end, Liverpool took home the cup with 2-0 win, thanks to a long-range screamer from Stevie G and—because football has a taste for irony—a breakaway goal from Michael Owen.
Heading into this Sunday’s match, Liverpool are in 5th place in the Premier League, two points behind United. A win would see the Reds leapfrog their opponents into the Top 4. Silverware’s nice and all, but there’s arguably a lot more at stake this weekend than there was in Cardiff in 2003.