Reds or Red Devils?

Sunday sees what can still be described as the biggest fixture in English football: Liverpool-Manchester United. But does the race for a Champions League spot overshadow bitter old rivalries? Tony Dawber speaks to Sean Bones of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust.

There’s little argument that Liverpool v Manchester United has been the biggest fixture in English football for the past three decades – and possibly remains so despite the recent rise of Chelsea and Manchester City,

But set aside the bragging rights and the pride of these two huge clubs.

Because look at the bigger picture, and there’s much, much more at stake in Sunday’s Reds v Red Devils clash at Anfield.

Sean Bones, spokesman for the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust explained.

‘We have realised it’s all about finishing in the top four,’ he said.

‘The Champions’ League money has doubled for next year so if we miss out, that will be a £100m loss.

The fab five/Seán Kearney

‘In addition, the club has a clause in a sponsorship contract which means it will be reduced by £20m if we miss out on the Champions’ League for two years in a row, so obviously that will come into effect if we don’t make the top four again.’

That’s serious dosh, even for a club of United’s massive stature.

‘We could still compete if we missed out on the top four, but the ones who qualify for the Champions’ League would have a big advantage,’ admitted Bones.

And there are other factors too, as he pointed out.

‘If we miss out on the top four but finish in the top six, that would mean competing in the Europa League and playing on Thursdays and Sundays.

‘That has a huge effect on fatigue levels as was proved when Liverpool played in the competition a couple of years back and had a nightmare season.’

It all increases the stakes for what is already a pressure-cooker clash.

MU store/Seán Kearney

‘Liverpool must win, while we can’t afford to lose,’ said lifelong United fan Bones.

And it’s a real tester especially for United who even their most loyal fans would admit have failed to hit the heights this term despite the formidable presence of Louis van Gaal in the dug-out.

‘Most United fans accept we are in a period of transition,’ said Bones.

‘I think when van Gaal took over, he needed to get us through three stages: first, to stop conceding goals and be tighter at the back; second to ‘win ugly’, and third, to start winning in the style United have always been known for.

‘I’d say we are maybe at the second stage now and our hope is that the terrific win over Spurs was a sign we are getting to the third stage.’

Hope, expectation, tension, fierce rivalry. It’ll all be there at Anfield on Sunday. Bring it on.