By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
A lot of words come to mind when you think about matches between Liverpool and Manchester United – some more likely to end in an incitement to hatred charge than others. It’s one of the big derbies in world football and there’s rarely a shortage of drama. Ahead of this Sunday’s edition of the rivalry, the Paddy Power Blog has delved into some of the notions about the match that will help inform your betting.
There’s nothing quite like a blow-out. The bragging rights that come from a sound thumping of your fiercest rivals can last weeks, months and – in the absence of actually winning stuff – years if necessary. For those reasons, memories of those sweet lob-sided victories linger long in the mind.
When thinking about taking on Manchester United, Liverpool fans might start to think about that glorious 4-1 victory at Old Trafford. ‘That wasn’t so long ago. It could happen again,’ some of them might be thinking. That was three and a half years and three Liverpool managers ago! The sides have met eight times since, but still that’s a game features prominently in the collection of recent memories.
Likewise, United fans might reminisce about the 4-0 victory they enjoyed at the Theatre of Dreams in 2003. That was not far off a decade ago and to give you an idea how long ago that is, El Hadji Diouf was considered an inoffensive, likeable youngster at the time. United also enjoyed a 3-0 win in 2008, but that was one of only three wins by a margin of three or more goals in the last 51 meetings of the two teams.
The truth is, when you put those warm, fuzzy memories to one side, whuppings don’t happen very often when these two teams come together. In the vast majority of cases, it’s really tight. In their last 20 games, there has been a winner on 18 occasions and the margin of victory has been exactly one goal on 15 of those occasions. Most of the time, these old foes are harder to separate than Wayne Rooney and an all you can eat buffet. Backing Liverpool to win by one goal @ 16/5 or United to do the same at 10/3 isn’t the worst of ideas.
Again, this is a clash between memories and more recent events. There was a real glut of goals scored by defenders in this fixture a few years back. Even Wes Brown got one. That’s one of the six he has managed in 383 games at a rate of one every 64 games.
The time we’re talking about started in the 2004/05 season and ended in the 2008/09 season. During that period, the defenders of Manchester United and Liverpool put the strikers to goalscoring shame. There were eleven games played during this period with 21 goals scored. Defenders scored 38 per cent of those goals with the forwards trailing behind with 33.33 per cent of the haul. That’s a freakishly high occurrence of goals from defenders.
It’s possibly more than coincidence that the number of defenders scoring has plummeted towards and since the end of Rafa Benitez and his dreaded/delightfully generous zonal marking system at Anfield. Since the beginning of the 2009/10 season, the teams have shared 23 goals with just one coming from a defender (4.34 per cent). That’s possibly a low proportion, but more in keeping with what you’d expect . That’s not to say a defender won’t score in this Sunday’s encounter, but certainly it’s far from the certainty it looked like a few years back.
The odds tell us that this game is going to be tighter than Scrooge McDuck on an economising drive. Although backing the draw might be as questionable as making a reference to Duck Tales in an article about one of British football’s greatest rivalries.
With little to choose between the two teams, the temptation to go for the stalemate is strong. But be warned – it hasn’t happened a whole lot lately. There’s been just two draws in their last 20 meetings. Liverpool have been able to snatch wins out of the jaws of a draw and even if United haven’t been particularly impressive, they’ve also been able to eek out a win they generally don’t deserve. In fact, that’s pretty much how they’ve won every of one their league titles since about 2007.
The flipside of that point however is that the draw is overdue. Two in 20 is well below average. At the start of the nineties, the north-west rivals drew 50 per cent of the 10 games they played between the 1990-91 and 1993-94 seasons.
So, in conclusion, there haven’t been many draws lately. Depending on your point of view, that means there’s little chance of a draw this time around or there’s an extra big chance of a draw this time around. Either way, it’s about as convincing as Rio’s reasons for missing that drug test.