Who would you rather see win the League – Liverpool or City?
A depressing choice, to be sure. But after Chelsea’s toothless capitulation against Crystal Palace on Saturday it’s becoming an issue United fans now have to consider. For some it’ll be like Ross’s nervy chat-up line in Friends: “Would you rather drown, or be burned alive?”
Well, some fans have already spoken. A poll run by the Manchester Evening News says that 68% of United fans would prefer to see the Premier League crown end up in Merseyside at the end of year. That’s an interesting result. For the old-school Stretford-enders, you’d imagine the general consensus is that Liverpool winning the title would be nothing short of an abomination. For those supporters every victory, every terrace anthem, every moment of superiority, is infused with the knowledge that the Scousers’ glory days of the 70s and 80s are over, gone. It is a more bitter, intense rivalry than the duel with City who have never had such an empire to speak of… at least not yet.
Some of the most intense rivalries in sport are borne of mutual success – Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Inter vs AC Milan, Manchester United vs Liverpool. City, in the minds of seasoned Old Trafford regulars, will remain the ‘noisy neighbours’ and the ‘small-time club’, to use the withering put-downs of Alex Ferguson, until they can string together successive years of trophies and make any kind of lasting impression in Europe. Whilst many would perhaps be loath to admit it, there is a level of respect afforded to Liverpool’s past achievements that City are not given. This grudging acknowledgement of Liverpool’s history may go some way to explaining why the 68% feel the way they do. There will be doubts among the United faithful that City have the ability to prolong their success and create an empire for themselves the way Liverpool and United have done in the last 40 years.
There is also the immediate appreciation of the class and beauty that this season’s Liverpool side have displayed. Whilst City have been attractive at times, their success has been built primarily on bulk and power. Liverpool are built from pure speed and intensity and have been wonderful to watch, a football purist’s dream. Saturday’s routine win over Spurs may have been as much down to a combination of the comedic defending of the reliably poor Michael Dawson and the general lack of any perceivable structure by Tim Sherwood, but the pincer-movement pace and finishing of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has been stunning. With the exception of Suarez, Liverpool are also a team lacking in any easy hate figures. Brendan Rodgers is a distinctly likeable manager, a proponent of flowing, direct attacking football, a remarkably astute tactician and with an affable personality devoid of any hateable elements.
So with six games to go, what now? Liverpool are top, two above Chelsea and four above Manchester City, who have two games in hand on both. The feeling is this: those scenes at Anfield on Sunday, of Rodgers and his side displaying the kind of confident, intense celebration that showed they firmly believe the title is theirs to lose, were eerily reminiscent of United’s celebrations in the same spot in 2007, when John O’Shea’s winner propelled them towards the title. Nothing is settled – but the chance is now theirs and the red half of Manchester, at the moment at least, appear to believe that a Liverpool title is the lesser of two evils.