Man Utd vs Liverpool: Even minimal WSL history doesn't diminish rivalry

Jamie Spencer
Man Utd & Liverpool are set to face each other in the WSL for only the second time
Man Utd & Liverpool are set to face each other in the WSL for only the second time / Naomi Baker/GettyImages | Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Manchester United vs Liverpool is one of the biggest rivalries in world football.

It has dominated the men’s football calendar for decades, born out of being in direct competition with each other from the early 1960s onwards and snowballing as the years went by.

But there is much more to it than that. The more general city rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool fuels the football rivalry and is centuries old, dating back to the industrial revolution when both were fighting to be the northwest’s pre-eminent economic powerhouse.

To suggest that there is no Manchester United-Liverpool rivalry in women’s football because there is only minimal direct history between the teams is wrong.

On Sunday 15 January, they meet for only the second time in the WSL. Liverpool’s heyday in the top flight came in the years when United decided against operating a senior women’s team, while they were later like ships passing in the night – Liverpool relegated a year after United promoted.

But even relatively few meetings do have meanginful history attached to them, especially for the Manchester side of the divide. The only previous WSL game they have contested, played in September 2019, marked United’s first ever top flight win.

Meanwhile, a Continental Cup game against Liverpool in August 2018 was United’s first competitive game since reforming. Liverpool were even chosen by the Red Devils for their first game of any kind, invited to play in a behind closed doors friendly earlier that summer.

The idea of a Manchester United-Liverpool rivalry in the women’s game has been downplayed by many since those first games in 2018 and 2019. But that also takes away from the experience of the players who grew up watching titanic battles between the clubs – the fact they were men’s games is kind of irrelevant. That is especially so for the local home-grown players on both sides of this game: Missy Bo Kearns for Liverpool, and Ella Toone, Katie Zelem and Millie Turner for United.

Even those who didn't grow up Manchester United or Liverpool fans are excited to be part of it. 90min has been told by one such United player ahead of Sunday that games against Liverpool do rank highly in their mindset and are amplified on the pitch.

In time, Manchester United vs Liverpool will also come to build on the rivalry specifically within women’s football as well as being part of the wider picture, adding its own layers to what is already decades and centuries of history in the making.

“This could be a really huge fixture. Not only geographically, but the more games you play [against each other] builds that history. We’re still building that history, but it doesn’t mean it’s a game we don’t look forward to,” United boss Marc Skinner said in the build up to the weekend.

Liverpool counterpart Matt Beard was a little more reserved when asked about the magnitude of the game, playing down talk of any rivalry at the risk of creating a distraction from the points at stake and referring to it more than once as “just another game.”

Skinner elaborated: “It’s exciting for us and our fans. [Manchester United and Liverpool] just had very different journeys... what I’m trying to say is there is a slight difference.

“It’s not us downplaying this type of fixture, especially against a very good team and a rival on the men’s side. It will be definitely be that on Sunday, there’s no doubt we’re not taking it lightly.

“The way our fans treat it is exactly the way we will treat it, so there is no difference in that. It will take a little bit of time to build the history that the men’s games have had, but we’ll try and play it at that intensity and I’m sure Liverpool will do the same.”

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