“Both clubs, their supporters and football fans around the world are looking forward to this historic and passionate match between two of the sport’s biggest and oldest rivals. There is great rivalry between our fans and we ask all supporters to be respectful and help eradicate all forms of offensive and discriminatory behaviour from the game. If any supporters are found to be engaged in any form of offensive or discriminatory behaviour by stewards or via CCTV then they will be immediately removed from the stadium, risk arrest, prosecution and be reported in accordance with the club’s ground regulations. This is an unrivalled fixture in the Premier League calendar and we thank all fans for their continued support in this important area of the game.”
Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
Liverpool and Manchester United felt the need to issue that joint statement above on Thursday; an appeal to the higher instincts and decent human judgement of their respective fans in advance of the clash on Monday night, asking their supporters to refrain from brutish behaviour, and laying out the consequences for anyone attending the game thinking of using the occasion as an excuse to kick out the jams and get violent.
A fine sense of a pending flashpoint ahead of Monday’s game, with the memory of the Europa League clash between them at Old Trafford in March is still raw. The ugly tone was set early on when a banner with the word ‘MURDERERS’ – a welcome sign for the travelling Liverpool fans – had to be removed by police from the motorway, and five supporters were taken into custody afterwards when small factions of supporters on both sides erupted into a hate-frenzy and started laying hands on each other, deteriorating into a savage and atavistic tribal brawl.
Nobody wants a repeat of those scenes, and nor would anyone on either side be entirely satisfied with the same 1-1 outcome. Especially not United, who go into one of their toughest and most high-pressured fixtures of the season knowing that defeat would leave them five points off fourth place, with Chelsea as their next opponents, at Stamford Bridge; A fixture that will get almost as much hype as this one and maybe more, being Mourinho’s first return to his old stomping ground since his sacking almost a year ago, and given how much could be riding on it by then.
But there’s not much use in getting into that here. The critical point to get across is that there’s a very real possibility for United of emerging from this game and the next with no points, or perhaps just one or two points, and if that were to happen their title chances would already look extremely bleak before they even reached the 10-game mark.
As it stands now, a loss against Liverpool would leave them only six points from the top, where City are still clinging on to 1st place on goal difference after a 1-1 draw with Everton on Saturday, opening up a potential scenario where the top three clubs could all be level on 19 points after Monday’s game, with Spurs just one point behind...A very tight squeeze that would mean some dark brooding on the preconceived ideas about the 2016/17 title race and where it might go from here, which might have been what Gianluca Vialli – a pundit on Sky Sports on Saturday – was thinking about when he talked about Monday’s game as a potential turning point in the season for both clubs.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho appeared very relaxed and in good humour in their press conferences on Friday; calm, composed, and careful to avoid any kind of language that might rouse ill feelings or stoke the flames going into a fixture that some sections of the media have been referring to for the last several days as ‘Red Monday’. The main point Klopp seemed intent on getting across was his unhappiness with the Christmas fixture schedule, which has left Liverpool with less than 48 hours between a home game against Man City on December 31st and an away fixture in Sunderland on January 2nd, which is neither here nor there, for now. On the subject of the United game Klopp talked about wanting the fans to create a “special atmosphere”. “They have big quality in their team and we have to respect this,” he said, “but of course, it’s Anfield, and we have to show this.”
That was about as close as he got to ‘fighting words’, and despite his cool demeanour he insisted he was already in ‘game mode’, which a lot of people watching might have been surprised to hear, having seen enough of Klopp by now to have a very different notion in their own heads about what he’s like when he’s really in game mode; a raving beast at the mercy of his own emotions, his eyes bulging wide and fixed in an intense stare, teeth clenched, arms moving wildly in a blur of speed – punching the air, pounding his chest, and waving around maniacally, ready to embrace, strangle, or beat anything that gets too close.
Mourinho commented on Klopp’s touchline behaviour last season, at one point turning to the fourth official during Chelsea’s encounter with Liverpool and asking “what if that was me?”. In his pre-match press conference for the next game he raised it again: “I had a game a few days ago where I stood for 90 minutes in my own technical area,” he said. “The other manager was jumping like Michael Jordan and nothing happened.”
The context was important for those comments. At the time, Mourinho had just been given a stadium ban for an ugly confrontation with referee Jonathan Moss at half-time during Chelsea’s defeat against West Ham two weeks previously. His problem wasn’t really with Klopp, but with what he perceived as unfair treatment from the FA and officials – the idea that he (Mourinho) is somehow treated ‘differently’ to other managers, a fixed theory he’s never really been able to let go of.
There is no real personal rivalry to speak of between Mourinho and Klopp, just a normal professional one. Nothing on the same heated level as his rivalries with Guardiola or Wenger, but there’s enough of a contrast to make Monday’s managerial conflict interesting, with Klopp being regarded as a ‘rising force’ in management and part of a new wave of ‘super coaches’, and Mourinho, perhaps the first pioneering forerunner of that new wave, now considered by many people to be washed up, a man being left behind by a new era which he helped to create.
Mourinho’s head-to-head record against Klopp is perhaps one reason for that view. In five meetings between them, stretching back to 2012, Klopp has won three times and Mourinho just once. But that will not have much bearing on Monday night, and neither, many say, will current form or the odds which make Liverpool favourites, with this fixture considered to be one of a few where most of the usual factors for predicting the outcome are thought to be of no relevance.
Mourinho, in his own press conference on Friday, talked about the fixture as “a big match” comparable to Madrid vs. Barcelona or Inter vs. Milan – matches, he said, that he “likes the characteristics of”. Which had a lot of people nodding in agreement. Despite his mixed success in those games, he’s retained a reputation as being something of a specialist in these kinds of fixtures; a manager built for big occasions who will do whatever it takes to get a result, and often does.
This has been one of the main questions in the build-up to Monday; whether Mourinho will take his Man United team to Anfield with a game-plan based on the concept of ‘parking the bus’ and winning ugly. There would be no shame in it, but it would not do much to soften the headlines if he went with that approach and then lost anyway...though with two defeats already this season, another of any kind – even a 4-3 open battle that was decided with two unjust penalties in the final minutes – would mean hunkering down and bracing himself for the whirlwind.
There wasn’t much of interest in Mourinho’s press conference, but he did touch on one of the other main talking points – the appointment of Manchester native Anthony Taylor as the referee. “I think Mr. Taylor is a very good referee but because such pressure is being put on him I think it will be difficult for him to have a very good performance at Anfield,” he said. “I don’t really want to say too much more on the matter. I have my view but I have learned a lesson, if you want to call it that, by being punished so many times for my words about referees.”