Just how important is the game against Liverpool?

Julian Finney

It is being suggested that Sunday's game against Liverpool is the most important meeting of the two sides in recent memory. Can that be right?

So it begins. At the time of writing, David Moyes is still sitting relatively comfortably in the hottest seat in the land. In eleven days time, after home games against Liverpool, Olympiakos and Manchester City (not forgetting a tricky visit to West Ham), he could be firmly ensconced in his position, the straight-backed upright ruler of all he surveys. Or he could be on fire.

First up on Sunday are Liverpool, who helpfully for Moyes have definitely been playing dour, defensive football, certainly don't have two of the most dangerous forwards in the league up front, and since the turn of the year absolutely haven't taken 23 points from a possible 27, scoring 29 goals in the process. Um. Er. Ah. Oh good.

The suggestion has been going round — see this piece by Mark Ogden over in the Telegraph, for example — that this is the most important United-Liverpool game for 20 years or more. The most important since Alex Ferguson went a-perch knocking and shifted the balance of power of in the English north-west. This is the moment, so the thinking goes, when either United will demolish Liverpool's out-of-nowhere title bid and reassert themselves, putting all that recent nonsense behind them, or Liverpool will confirm themselves both as serious title-challengers and, more importantly, as United's superiors.

On the one hand, it's something of a stretch. As a footballing contest, Sunday's game doesn't have as much riding on it as the 2009 meeting at Old Trafford, which was between the two pre-eminent title challengers, or the FA Cup Final of 1996, which was, well, an FA Cup Final. There's no silverware riding on this one: for all that Liverpool are certainly in the title race, results elsewhere could mean that they kick off on Sunday in third place, ten points off the top, and the big pots, champagne and open top bus tours are still the point, just about.

On the other, though, you can see where this thought comes from. For United fans, this season has been one of rediscovery or discovery, depending on age, of all manner of uncomfortable footballing realities. Teams have been coming to Old Trafford without the old fear. Players have been indulging in public and unpunished displays of disaffection. People are laughing. To this list can now be added: big games that aren't just big because of who the opponents are, but because they carry with them genuine existential implications for United's manager.

After all, it's been a long, long time since United went into a game, or a series of games, with the knowledge buzzing around that a bad result, some bad results, could genuinely mean handing out the P45s and starting again. Sure, if Ferguson lost a couple of big games he might tear the tactics to pieces, sell a couple of players, permanently sacrifice his attacking instincts, buy Juan Sebastian Veron, hire Carlos Queiroz, or in some other manner reinvent himself, but there was never any sense that it would see him off.

This is how it feels to be alive, people! This is life on the edge! We are just a few terrible results away from a rending of garments and a gnashing of teeth the likes of which have not been seen for a lifetime. (Because of on the pitch stuff, anyway; the takeover got plenty and deserved more.) Regime change hangs in the air. This is squeaky Moyes time. And the fact that all three games come at home only tightens the pressure: it should be a help, yes, but If he loses Old Trafford ...

So while it's not the most important game in all that time for United or Liverpool, it is delicately and almost maliciously positioned at an exceptionally important time, and is guaranteed to bring froth to the mouths of those strange folks who adore nothing more than narrative. Perhaps in another 20 years, we'll look back and say 'Ah, yes, that's when the polarities reversed again, and we were condemned to life under the Rodgers jackboot'. Or, 'Well, of course, that was the moment we knew Moyes would win the quadruple'. One things for certain: it's the most important game of David Moyes's Manchester United career, and will remain so until Wednesday.

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