No Love Lost: The Ferocious Rivalry Between Man United And Liverpool

Previewing week 16 in the Premier League, including why Mourinho might be coming unraveled and which manager is most likely to get sacked first

While we mere mortals count down the days to Christmas, the titans of English football are girding their loins for another weekend’s combat. Welcome to the Match-day 16 Premier League Preview:

The Red Mist Descends

Featuring two devoutly footballing cities only 30 miles apart, Manchester United vs. Liverpool is arguably the most ferocious derby in the English leagues. Their rivalry stems from the proximity of both geography and achievements: only United have won the league more often than Liverpool; only Liverpool (within England) have won the Champions League more often than United.

If Louis van Gaal is in any doubt as to the importance of this fixture for the Old Trafford faithful, he need only ask former United fullback Gary Neville: “I can’t stand Liverpool, I can’t stand the people, I can’t stand anything to do with them." However, if the opinions of a former-player-turned-pundit aren’t good enough for the Dutchman, he could always canvas the thoughts of his current captain, Wayne Rooney: “I grew up hating Liverpool. And that hasn’t changed.”

This weekend’s iteration is an important test for both sides: one looking to maintain momentum, the other seeking to kick-start it. United are on a five-game winning streak following their 2-1 victory at Southampton, and Sunday’s derby is the perfect way to announce that they’re truly back as a footballing force of nature.

For Brendan Rodgers, the trip to Old Trafford is a test that couldn’t come at a worse time. Liverpool have racked up their fourth-lowest-ever points after 15 games, and in midweek crashed – nay, limped – out of a Champions League they fought so hard to qualify for last season. On paper, so tight is the middle of the table that a win on Sunday could propel The Reds to within touching distance of the top four. Yet, so visceral and totemic is this fixture that a loss could cost Rodgers his job.

With the stakes so high for both teams, and with each manager keenly aware of his respective defensive frailties, expect a cagey affair. The18 is going to put its metaphorical balls on the line and call this one as a 1-0 win for United following a piece of individual brilliance from van Persie.

Go bet the farm.

Portuguese Propaganda

Jose Mourinho is a past master of the dark arts of PR, propaganda and media manipulation. You’ll have noticed that, after Chelsea’s loss to Newcastle last weekend, Jose grumbled ad infinitum about the the poor performance of the ball-boys at St James’ Park, the crowd not throwing the ball back (shameful) and the paltry six minutes of additional time that, according to Jose, should have been closer to 20.

Mourinho wants the press to write about anything other than his side’s poor performance, which is why The18 steadfastly refused to address Jose’s grumblings in our Premier League round-up. We’re no mugs (well, not in this instance, at least).

But Mourinho’s weekend soapbox performance also let slip his concerns about Chelsea’s recent performances. When his side is winning and eight points clear at the top, Jose speaks only of “marathons,” “long roads ahead” and being nothing but the “Champions of Autumn.” Last weekend, however, having dropped five points in their last three games, Mourinho spoke bullishly of being “the best team in the Premier League” while reminding all who would listen that “my team is top.”

In short, Mourinho is worried about Chelsea’s form. He’s worried that his team are tiring at exactly the wrong time, which is why he rested six players for their mid-week Champions League clash against Sporting.

Fortunately for Chelsea, their next Premier League opponents – Hull City – haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in 20 attempts. Jose better have some darn good distractions lined up if they drop any more points this weekend.

Spinal Tap

The18 has spoken before about the importance of Manchester City’s spine: Hart, Kompany, Toure/Silva, Aguero. With two (Kompany and Aguero) currently injured, and David Silva only just returning from the physio’s table, Manuel Pellegrini must have had serious concerns for the hard-earned momentum his side has achieved in recent weeks.

So imagine the unbridled joy that must have coursed through his Chilean veins when he scanned the fixture list for the remainder of December and read: Leicester (20th), Crystal Palace (15th), West Brom (16th), Burnley (19th).

We’re surprised Jose Mourinho hasn’t said something.

Sack Race

Last season, the Premier League had witnessed its first managerial casualty by late September. And yet, comfortably into December, we’re yet to see the first sacking of 2014-15.

With Christmas just around the corner, what better time to summarise the runners and riders in the "Great Premier League Sack Race":

4. Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur: At almost any other club, he’d be given the time his achievements at Southampton demand; at Daniel Levy’s Spurs he’s lucky to still be in a job. 21 points from 15 matches is Tottenham’s lowest haul since 2008-09, when Juande Ramos was in charge. He was sacked by October.

3. Steve Bruce, Hull City: Eight games without a win and just four points from a possible 24, Hull have found the back of the net just twice in the last six weeks. And all this after Steve Bruce spent the lion’s share of $60M on ten summer signings.  

2. Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool: See above.

1. Nigel Pearson, Leicester City: Bottom of the table with just 10 points, zero wins in their last ten matches and a visit from Man City on the horizon. Oh, and Pearson has resorted to telling certain opinionated Leicester fans to “f*ck off and die”. Naughty.

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