One of the few interviews filmed with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side summed up his feelings about Anfield: “We lost the league at Anfield by not heeding instructions regarding McManaman.”
Ferguson, speaking to United players at The Cliff in 1998, was referring to the 2-0 loss in March 1995 to Liverpool, where Steve McManaman fashioned an own goal from Steve Bruce for the dropout.
Paul Ince was instructed to stay to the left to thwart McManaman, but his positioning was wrong for Jamie Redknapp’s first game and he allowed McManaman to pass him for the second.
In the Steve Bruce’s Captain Diary 2 Documentary from the 1994-95 season, Ince is filmed in an overly jovial atmosphere in the Anfield locker room as the kick-off looms. Returning to The Cliff three years later, Ince was preparing to return to Old Trafford – with Liverpool.
“They gave Ince the right to attack without any defensive task,” Ferguson begins scathingly. “But if he tries to intimidate you, he’ll take advantage … Don’t even let him try to intimidate you … Alright … Just make sure you’re ready for him tomorrow. And that’s all you need to worry about him: his big hunk of Charlie. He’s against men, isn’t he? “Even Roy Keane looks bewildered by Ferguson’s virulence.
The show aired on the eve of Ince’s second appearance at Old Trafford as a visiting player in September 1998. United won 2-0 and the crowd chirped, “Charlie, Charlie, what’s the score?
In his first managerial outing against United with the Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park in 2008, Ince was treated to a rendition of “Paul Ince is a Scouse b ——” by 7,000 days away. That’s how much a loss at Anfield cuts off Ferguson and United supporters.
The 2-0 setback in 1992 was much worse: the day United lost the league to Leeds. The sting was relentless and a Liverpool fan unfurled a banner that read ‘Have you ever seen United win the league? Their drought had lasted for more than a quarter of a century.
The current wait for a United title is approaching a decade. Liverpool’s decade-long drought allowed supporters to pin a banner at Stretford End in 2000 that read ’10 years and over’. Liverpool had to wait another 20 years and came close to a breakthrough only three times (2009, 2014 and 2019) before lifting the hexagon.
United haven’t mounted a credible league challenge since being champions in 2013 and 10 years can quickly triple, especially if the Glazers are still the thrifty. The least that is expected of United fans next season is a real slant after the progressive league campaigns.
Already, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to hope for a nicer Champions League group stage draw than last season. United face West Ham away, Everton at home, Liverpool at home, Manchester City at home, Chelsea away and Norwich away after their six midweek group games. These are their three competitors, a top six and the most tedious trek of the elite. United will at least avoid the pedestrianization of Norwich city center as they will be traveling by plane.
Provided United have the scream to reach the top after the snow melts, the timing of the Anfield game will be a test of the nerves. It falls on the last weekend of March before the spring internationals.
There are few more satisfying feelings in a season for a manager and his team than winning before a two week hiatus and it is essential that United achieve a positive L4 result before a tense break-in.
It may be more tense than expected. The FA has yet to set FA Cup dates and the quarter-finals fell on the last weekend before the March internationals in 2018, 2019 and this year. So there is a reasonable chance that Liverpool-United will be delayed until April.
United have already lost the championship at Anfield in March and April.