Historically, Liverpool v Man Utd is the game that makes the world stand still and aside from Barcelona v Real Madrid – which also happens to be on the football agenda today – this is the fixture that gets the biggest TV audience around the world.
Chelsea may be top of the Premier League and Man City have done well in recent years, but those two clubs have been propped up by a load of money from foreign investors and their success is somewhat manufactured.
Liverpool and United have a history that goes beyond any financial windfall and this is why I always say I respect United, even if I don’t like them at all.
If you are born in Liverpool, as I was, you will know that hating someone from Manchester is part of your culture and when you throw in the Liverpool v United rivalry, the tension goes to another level.
I saw Steven Gerrard say in an interview a while back say that he would never swap shirts with a United player after a game because he would not want one of their jerseys in his house and I feel the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I got along great with the likes of Denis Irwin, Roy Keane and the other United lads that played alongside me for Ireland, but that does not dilute the fact that I bloody hate United and want them to trip up every time they step on the field.
These two clubs are rivals in the traditional sense of the term and no player has been transferred between Liverpool and United since 1964. That shows you that they don’t do business with each other and if you have played for one of these sides, the idea of crossing the divide and pulling on the other jersey is a complete no-no.
I was gutted when I left Liverpool back in 1990, but if Alex Ferguson and United had come calling at that time and offered me a huge contract to move to Old Trafford, there’s no way I would have done it. You can’t do it, end of story.
This is why Michael Owen lost the respect of Liverpool fans when he signed for United at the back end of his career and I bet their fans felt the same about Paul Ince when he joined Liverpool after enjoying success at Old Trafford.
There is no doubt that the foreign players in the Premier League would quite happily play for United and Liverpool in the same week if there was enough money in it, but they don’t understand the passion that goes with this sport of ours.
Of course, this fixture has a different meaning to people who are not from the North West of England and I have to throw in one little story here from a trip I had to Cork a few years back.
I was taking part in a game at Turner’s Cross for Liverpool Old Boys against a team of ex-United players and the scenes in the stands were just amazing. Here was a stadium with loads of passionate Liverpool and United fans and they were all sitting side by side. I wish I’d taken a photo of it because that image would never be seen on Merseyside or in Manchester.
In many ways, it’s sad that the two leading teams in England are going into this battle at Anfield with their sights set on fourth place, because this is a fixture that should mean so much more.
There is arguably more at stake for United in the race for a top-four finish because my old club are following a slightly different path in their bid to get back to the top of English football when compared with United.
Brendan Rodgers has invested in youthful players in the last year and some of them are coming good now, while United are spending massive money and signing superstars. Well, if they want to carry on doing that, they need to be in the Champions League next season.
Liverpool are the form team in the Premier League and their win at Swansea last Monday boded well. They played poorly and won ugly, which is something Rodgers’ teams never used to do.
I reckon Gerrard will start on the bench in what will be his final match against United, but he could still have a big role to play, as I felt he had a very positive impact when he was thrown into the Swansea game late on and got the team passing.
I’m backing Liverpool to win a tight game by the odd goal and if you are like me and live and breath this rivalry with United, you will be watching today’s game with your hands over your eyes.