Published on 30 May 2022 6:43 pm (UK Time)
When you talk of English football’s most dominant dynasties, only 2 sides can come to mind. The two Northern Powerhouses of Liverpool and Manchester United. Liverpool ruled the 1970′s and 80′s, and Manchester United “knocked them off their perch” in the 1990′s and 2000′s. During this time, both established themselves as not only head and shoulders above the rest domestically, but as the most consistent side on earth.
Liverpool won the first Division 1 title when Football resumed after the Second World War, their 5th league crown overall, but by the time Bill Shankly walked through the door in 1959, they had been languishing in the Second Division for five years. Shankly inherited a side which had just been dumped out of the FA Cup by non-league Worcester City. After 1 year in charge, 24 first-team players left the club. With Shankly instituting wholesale changes to modernise the training facilities and training methods, as well as looking to cultivate a much closer relationship between the club and its supporters, Liverpool won the 2nd division title in 1962, after 8 seasons outside of the top-flight.Embed from Getty Images
Shankly’s simple philosophy of “pass and move” and tactics honed in the infamous Anfield Boot Room alongside 2 future managers led Liverpool to two league titles in 3 years aswell as the club’s first FA Cup in the mid-1960′s. However, Shankly was then reluctant to move on players with whom he’d achieved so much success, and the necessary re-building job was delayed due to his loyalty to his players. Many of them were past their best and as a consequence Liverpool continued to fall short going six seasons without a major trophy.
By 1972-73 though, the re-build was complete and thus began the most glorious stretch any English side had ever enjoyed. Signed in this re-build were players such as Ray Clemence, Alec Lindsay, Larry Lloyd, John Toshack, Kevin Keegan and Steve Heighway. All came from the lower league’s and in the case of Heighway, non-league football. Many of these signings came courtesy of the scouting system Shankly had established, which proved to be the best in the country by a considerable distance. Chief scout Geoff Twentyman was thought to be the key man in identifying players, and therefore was perhaps Shankly’s greatest ever ‘signing’.
Liverpool were crowned league champions for the first time since 1966, the partnership of young Kevin Keegan signed from Scunthorpe United in 1971 and John Tashack the year prior from Cardiff City proved a winning formula, both men netting 13 each in the league. An English record was set that season of 21 consecutive home league wins, only broken in 2020 by the same club under Jurgen Klopp.
The club’s incredible success in Europe also began in 72-73, which makes it the perfect season to begin the story of Liverpool’s dynasty. In the UEFA Cup they came through 4 German teams, 2 from the East and 2 from the West, aswell as AEK Athens and holders Tottenham. In the first leg of the final at Anfield, Keegan scored twice as Liverpool beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-0. In the second leg the Germans led 2-0 at the break to make for a nervy second half but they couldn’t force the equalising goal as Shankly’s men held on to win their first European honour.Embed from Getty Images
Liverpool were unable to defend the league title, finishing 2nd behind Don Revie’s Leeds, but they claimed the FA Cup beating Newcastle 3-0 with another Keegan brace in a final. The match turned out to be Bill Shankly’s 783rd and final game in charge of his beloved Reds though it wasn’t known at the time, as he announced the news two months after the final whistle. He was 60 years old and 25 years of constant management had put its strain on him. Shankly had won the UEFA Cup and reached the Cup Winners Cup final, but listed his only regret as being his failure to win the European Cup.
He was to be replaced by Bob Paisley. Paisley signed for Liverpool as a player in 1939, but didn’t make his first appearance for the club until 1946 due to the Second World War where he served in the Royal Artillery. He went on to be Liverpool captain until his retirement in 1954, upon which he immediately joined the club’s backroom staff, first working as a physiotherapist, then reserve team manager and then as first-team trainer. Shankly decided the training strategy, which was to abandon the traditional methods of hard physical exercise and move to a more football based approach concentrating on speed and using the ball. Dedicating time to ensuring players had an effective recovery period after training also proved vital to keeping his players remarkably injury free over the years.
Paisley was more of a tactician than Shankly, who excelled more as a force of motivation. However Paisley was a man happy to be in the background, demonstrated by his 15 years working as Shankly’s assistant, and therefore he was reluctant to step in to the Boss’ shoes, and attempt to fill the sizeable space they had left. Paisley’s first game as Liverpool manager came against Brian Clough’s Leeds, also in charge for the first time. Both were replacing gigantic figures at their respective clubs, with Clough being the successor of his great rival Don Revie. Though Paisley and Clough would both begin by competing against each other in the season’s Charity Shield, that would be where the similarities ended in regards to these spells, Clough was sacked after just 44 days. Adding salt to his wounds, it would be his previous club Derby County who took the title that season finishing ahead of second place Liverpool.
The Paisley era had begun by celebrating the era just past, with the team being walked on to the Wembley turf by Shankly rather than the current manager, in a gesture of respect to his great accomplishments. Shankly would quickly come to regret his decision to retire and in the early days under Paisley, would take to turning up at the club’s training ground and taking charge of training sessions, something he rarely did when manager. Paisley always a very modest figure, had to firmly tell the messianic Shankly that he did not work there anymore, that it was now his team. The board of directors similarly wanted to move on from Shankly finding him an over-bearing presence, they were wary of the way Manchester United had been unable to move past the shadow of Matt Busby, due to his lingering presence on the board and therefore opted to completely cut ties with Shankly. They were ultimately vindicated with this ruthless approach as Paisley would go on to surpass his achievements.
Bar the Charity Shield which was won on penalties after a 1-1 draw best remembered for the brawl between Keegan and Leeds’ Billy Bremner, Liverpool were unable to win a major trophy that season. It would be the first and only time that was to be the case in Paisley’s 9 years at the helm.
On the final day of the league season in 75-76, Liverpool needed atleast a draw away at Wolves, but after 75 minutes they trailed 1-0. It looked as though the title may be won improbably by Queens Park Rangers for the first time, but then Keegan equalised and Liverpool went on to win 3-1. They paired the league success with another UEFA Cup win, this time against Club Brugge after edging out FC Barcelona in the semis. The Merseysiders went 2 down in the first 15 minutes of the home leg, but came back to win 3-2. A 1-1 draw away in Belgium was enough to secure the cup against the side managed by the great Ernst Happel.
The following season was somehow an even better one. They retained the league title for the first time since 1923 and became just the second English club to win the European Cup beating Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-1 in Rome. The one disappointment came sandwiched between League and European success, as Liverpool were denied a potential treble losing the FA Cup final 2-1 to Manchester United. That season saw Scotsman Alan Hansen join the club from Partick Thistle for £100,000. He would go onto become one of the greatest defenders in the club’s history. Departing after the European Cup final was Keegan who left for Hamburger, after scoring 100 goals in 321 games for the club.Embed from Getty Images
Arriving in the Summer of ‘77 was Kenny Dalglish from Glasgow Celtic. He went on to more the fill the gap left by Keegan, scoring atleast 18 goals in his first six seasons. Also arriving that season was midfielder Graeme Souness from Middlesbrough, he would have an enormous influence in the side. Liverpool were unable to win 3 titles in a row losing out to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. They did however become the first English side to retain the European Cup beating familiar foes Borussia Mönchengladbach and Club Brugge in the semi-finals and final respectively, Dalglish scoring the only goal at Wembley Stadium with his 31st of the season. It was Liverpool’s second European trophy that campaign as they also took the UEFA Super Cup against Keegan’s Hamburger, a painful return for Keegan, as Liverpool won the tie 7-1 overall.
78-79 saw Liverpool reclaim the league championship in dominant fashion as they scored 85 and conceded just 16 in 42 games. In 21 home games they scored 54 and conceded only 4 times. They were unable to win 3 European Cups on the bounce however as they were knocked out in the 1st round by Nottingham Forest, who went on to lift the trophy. Liverpool retained the league title the following year, but were unable to win the FA Cup, finally being knocked out by Arsenal at the fourth attempt to decide a winner after the tie was eventually decided after 7 and a half hours. An exhausted Arsenal ended the season losing both the FA Cup final to West Ham and the Cup Winners Cup final to Valencia after a period of 17 matches in under 7 weeks.
Liverpool finished a lowly 5th in 80-81, their first season outside the top 3 for a decade. They made up for this in the cups, not least in Europe where they won the big one for the third time in five years. After edging out Bayern Munich on away goals in the semis, an Alan Kennedy goal was enough to beat Real Madrid in Paris. The following season saw a number of new players establish themselves in the side who would go on to be key players in Liverpool successes for the remainder of the decade. These included Bruce Grobbelaar, Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and most notably of all Ian Rush, with £300,000 spent to take the teenager from Chester City. He would go on to score 346 goals for the club. After the previous seasons blip, normality was restored as Liverpool regained the league title with a run of 18 wins from 20 games. There was no continental success this time out as they were defeated by CSKA Sofia and missed out on the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo, losing to South America’s Champions Flamengo by 3 goals to 0.
Liverpool retained their title in 1983. Despite winning none of their last 7 and losing 5 of them they walked to the title 11 clear of 2nd placed Watford. They also won a third successive League Cup, United becoming the third side to taste defeat after West Ham and Tottenham had both failed to deny Liverpool getting their hands on the cup. Bob Paisley stepped down at the end of this his 9th season. It was a period of astonishing dominance in which he won 6 league titles, only finishing outside the top 2 once, 3 European Cups, 3 League Cups, 5 Charity Shields (outright), one European Super Cup and one UEFA Cup.
Joe Fagan became the latest to emerge from Shankly’s boot room and take the hot seat as Liverpool boss. And he picked up right where Paisley left off with an incredible first season. Liverpool won 3 league titles in a row for the first time in their history, and as well became the first team to win the league cup 4 times on the spin. It took a staggering 13 games to win this one, including 6 replays. The final fittingly went to a replay and Liverpool triumphed 1-0 over local rivals Everton. This wasn’t all, as Liverpool also went on to win their 4th European Cup as they beat Roma 4-2 on penalties, despite missing their first kick. The match was to be the last in a Liverpool shirt for Souness, who left for Sampdoria that summer. It had been a fitting end to an incredibly successful 6 years in which he won 5 league titles and 3 European Cups. That season saw Ian Rush hit a career best 47 goals in all competitions.Embed from Getty Images
84-85 was to be a season of disappointment as Liverpool finished empty handed. Made worse, it was Everton who bested them first in the Charity Shield then by 13 points in the league. Adding to the pain was an FA Cup semi-final replay defeat to other rivals Manchester United. The Intercontinental Cup was this time lost to Independiente of Argentina and the European Super Cup was a 2-0 defeat to Juventus. Liverpool met the same opponent in the European Cup final as they looked to win their fifth in 9 years. The final was to be marred however by the Heysel disaster, which saw 39 Juventus supporters lose their life as a result of hooliganism. The kick off was delayed for an hour but somewhat remarkably looking back, the game did take place despite the tragedy. This decision was taken due to it being felt that postponing the game would only lead to more violence. Juventus won the game 1-0 to secure their first ever European Cup, but it would come tinged with sadness at the needless loss of life. Liverpool’s disappointment didn’t end with this defeat as they along with every other British club would face a ban from European competitions.
Fagan left in 1985 and Dalglish took over as player-manager at the tender age of 34. Liverpool regained the title from Everton by winning 10 of their last 11 games, making the title certain on the last day with a Kenny Dalglish winner at Chelsea. They also triumphed over Everton in the first-ever all-Merseyside FA Cup final, winning 3-1 to win their first ever league and FA Cup double. Everton snatched the title back in 86-87, with Liverpool also tasting defeat in the League Cup final 2-1 against Arsenal. The only trophy won that season was the Football League Super Cup, a competition played between teams that would have been competing in Europe if not for the ban. Not surprisingly the competition was tried once and not again. Ian Rush hit 30 in the league that season and 40 in all competitions before being sold to Juventus. His replacement was to be Liverpool-born John Aldridge who’d been signed from Oxford United.Embed from Getty Images
His first season was a successful one as he scored 26 in the league, where he was aided by fellow new recruits Peter Beardsley from Newcastle and John Barnes from Watford. The Reds kept the championship on Merseyside for a seventh straight year, as they won their fifth in that time not losing until the 30th game of the season. They could not though win their second double in 3 years as they were stunned 1-0 in the final against the ‘Crazy Gang’ of Wimbledon in one of the greatest ever cup shocks. Aldridge would miss a penalty in the game.
Ian Rush returned in the summer of ‘88 after an unhappy season with Juventus. Liverpool dropped a lot of points and a large gap was opened up by Arsenal. However everything seemed to change for Liverpool after a 3-1 defeat on New Years Day against United. After that they looked as strong as ever as they won 10 on the spin including an FA Cup quarter-final to set up the semi-final against Nottingham Forest. The 15th of April 1989 will forever be the darkest day in Liverpool’s history as 96 of their supporters tragically lost their lives. When the game was replayed, they won 3-1 to set up an FA Cup final with Everton.Embed from Getty Images
Taking place just a few weeks after the disaster, You’ll Never Walk Alone was performed by Gerry and The Pacemakers at Wembley prior to kick off. In one of the great FA Cup finals, Liverpool led from the 4th minute until the very last kick of the 90, with which McCall equalised for Everton. Rush re-established Liverpool’s lead in Extra-Time, before McCall equalised again. The sides were level for just 2 minutes before Rush got his second, giving Liverpool the lead for the third time and this time they held on. A few days later they beat West Ham 5-1 at Anfield, their 13th win in 14 league games. It meant that the title would be decided on the final day, with 2nd travelling to play 1st, knowing anything but a victory by a margin of atleast 2 goals, would not be enough. Arsenal had not won at Anfield for 15 years, Liverpool had not lost at home by more than a single goal for 3 years. Liverpool looked a near certainty to secure the league and cup double. 12 Million turned into ITV on Friday Night on the 26th May 1989 and saw the most astonishing climax to a league season and fittingly in the 100th year of the Football Association.
The World Cup of 1990 is often credited with birthing a new era of Football which culminated in the Premier League, but perhaps the seeds were sewn here, as the country saw how enthralling and entertaining football could be, and the emotions it could produce in women as well as men. The game that started with Arsenal players handing bouquets of flowers to the Kop in commemoration of the lives lost, ended with Liverpool not rioting or attacking Arsenal fans whose team had pipped them to the title right at the very end, but staying on to applaud the newly crowned Champions. What happened in between was a game between 2 great sides, decided by Michael Thomas in stoppage time as he secured a 2-0 win for Arsenal. The game showed what could be possible for the future of football, as it looked to move away from the kind of tragedies that had blighted the ‘80s.
Liverpool responded like champions do to the setback of that night, by taking the title back in 1990 losing just one of their last 23 games. As they ran riot on the final day winning 6-1 at Coventry for their 10th league title of the last 14 seasons, you would have been hard-pressed to find a single soul anywhere who would believe you had you told them this would be the last league championship Liverpool would win for 30 years.
But the following season brought the first murmurs of uncertainty. Dalglish resigned suddenly after a 4-4 draw with Everton and Alan Hansen announced his retirement. Ronnie Moran was appointed caretaker boss until Graeme Sounness took the job with 5 games of the season left. Arsenal took their second title in three years as Liverpool had to settle for second place.
91-92 saw other long-standing players such as Peter Beardsley and Steve McMahon leave the club and for the first time in a long time new signings were underwhelming rather than exceeding all expectations. Liverpool finished 6th, their lowest finish since 1965. They did however find success in the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Sunderland, one of the goals scored ironically by Michael Thomas, this time ending a season positively for Liverpool.
Liverpool would only win one more trophy for the remainder of the 90′s, the 1995 League Cup against Bolton. The glory days were well and truly over. Between 72-73 and 90-91 Liverpool finished outside the top 2 just once, in a season they won the European Cup. In 20 years between 1973 and 1992 they won 11 league titles, 4 European Cups, 4 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and 1 UEFA Super Cup for 26 major trophies in 20 years. Adding in the 7 Charity Shields won would make for 33 honours. Liverpool in the 70′s and 80′s were an all-conquering winning machine who seamlessly transitioned from manager to manager to even player-manager and still just went on winning. Their scouting and recruitment was an endless conveyor belt of successes.
However, 1992 didn’t just see the birth of the all-new FA Premier League, it saw the disappearance of the once-powerful force of Liverpool into the shadows and in their wake came a new beast from 30 miles down the road, Manchester United.
91-92 saw United win the League Cup and the European Super Cup against European Champions Red Star Belgrade. It was the third successive season United had picked up silverware after winning the Cup Winners Cup the previous year against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona and the FA Cup in 1990. The most significant final involving United in 1992 however didn’t contain their senior side, as it was the Youth Cup Final. Word had been spreading around Old Trafford about the most talented set of youngsters the club, as well as perhaps the whole country had seen since the Busby Babes who won the first 5 Youth Cups. The squad that won the Youth Cup by beating Crystal Palace 6-3 on aggregate contained Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Keith Gillespie, Robbie Savage (never featured for the first team but made 346 Premier League appearances) and Ryan Giggs. The teenage Giggs had already made over 50 appearances for the first team and was considered the club’s most prestigious young talent since George Best.
It wasn’t all joy for United that season however. A run of 6 games in 11 April days cost them the League Championship as they won just 1 of them and lost 3 in the space of 7 dreadful days. It meant the long wait would go on, United still hadn’t won the title since 1967, the days of Matt Busby and the holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton, as they lost out to Leeds United.
Since those glory days of the ‘60s, United had endured some hard times. Bouncing straight back up from a relegation suffered in 1974, United were an inconsistent side, occasionally finishing as high up as 2nd and 3rd or as low as 11th and 13th. 3 FA Cups were won between 1983 and 1990, but rarely were they able to consistently threaten the likes of Liverpool.
After finishing his playing career as a forward in Scotland after spells with Dunfermline, Rangers and Falkirk among others, Alex Ferguson took his first managerial job in 1974 with East Stlrlingshire aged just 32. He quickly took a bigger job in St. Mirren where he managed for four years, taking the club up the leagues with a team of very young players. Relationships with club authorities soured however and Ferguson was sacked. He was hired by Aberdeen.
Ferguson was still not much older than some of the players and initially had some trouble winning them over but in 1980 Aberdeen became Scottish champions for just the second time, and for the first time in 25 years. 3 years later Aberdeen won their first European honour, the Cup Winners Cup where they knocked out Bayern Munich and triumphed over the mighty Real Madrid in the final. They then won the Super Cup beating European Champions Hamburger. The following season Aberdeen did the league and cup double, and retained their title in 1985. His final full season at Aberdeen saw Ferguson win both domestic cups taking his trophy haul at the club up to 10 major trophies in 8 years, all won in his last 6 years.Embed from Getty Images
Ferguson had unsurprisingly received many offers from England, turning down Wolves, Tottenham and Arsenal. However when Ron Atkinson was sacked by Manchester United in November of 1986, he decided the time was right. His first full season saw United finish a promising 2nd but the following year saw United drop to 11th. 1989-90 was even worse as the Red Devils came 13th, their worst Division 1 finish since relegation. The season featured a humiliating 5-1 loss at Maine Road against a City side that finished below them. Ferguson was able to pick up his first trophy as United boss though after two 3-3 draws in the semi’s and final against Oldham and Crystal Palace respectively, they were able to win both replays.
When the Premier League got under way in 1992, United had won 4 trophies in the past 3 seasons, but big questions still remained over whether they could lift a league title. These questions only intensified when United began the season with just 1 point from the opening 3 games. A late Dion Dublin winner in the 88th minute away at Southampton to give United their first win of the season set United on a path of 5 straight wins, but they then went 7 without a win, drawing 5 consecutively.
On the 26th November with the team sat in 8th position, Eric Cantona was signed from Champions Leeds United for £1M. He had scored 9 goals in 28 games in the top division for Leeds and was seen as a decent player but not worth the hassle due to a troubled personality that had caused problems everywhere. But United were desperate for goals and having been unable to sign Alan Shearer or David Hirst, and having new signing Dublin out with a broken leg, United were prepared to take a gamble on the Frenchman. It proved to be the greatest gamble in the club’s history.Embed from Getty Images
United were suddenly transformed with Cantona and only lost twice for the remainder of the season. They took the title 10 points clear of Aston Villa, to win their first league title for 26 years. United then set off to ensure they made up for that long barren spell. They retained the title in 93-94, adding the FA Cup to win the club’s first ever double. Cantona scored 2 in the 4-0 final win over Chelsea to take his tally for the season to 25. The club were using their position as the best supported side in a league which suddenly had money pouring in from Sky Sports and outside advertisers to bolster their side with the acquisition of Roy Keane for a British record transfer fee of £3.5M, it proved another inspired signing.
94/95 was defined by an away game at Crystal Palace on the 25th of January. Having received his marching orders, Cantona then reacted to taunts from the Palace support by launching into the crowd to ‘Kung-Fu’ kick 21-year old Matthew Simmons. For this, the Frenchman received an 8-month ban and 120 hours of Community service. The race against Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers went right to the wire, but three 0-0 home draws from four looked costly as Blackburn continued to keep their noses in front. Going into the final day, United had to win at West Ham and hope rivals Liverpool did them a favour at home to the Rovers. Liverpool did their bit winning 2-1 but United were unable to win at Upton Park, the 1-1 draw meaning they missed out by a solitary point. More pain followed the next weekend as they lost the FA Cup final to Everton.
That summer Manchester United sold big players in Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes, players who’d played a key role in United’s back to back title wins. They were also to be without the still-suspended Cantona until October. To compensate this Ferguson signed not a single first-team player, instead opting to promote the Neville brothers, Butt, Scholes and Beckham from the youth team. Following on from the Busby Babes of the ‘50s, this crop would go on to be known as Fergie’s Fledglings. But after opening day defeat away to Aston Villa, they looked more like Fergie’s Flops, Alan Hansen famously dismissing them with the line “you can’t win anything with kids”. Few people disagreed with him.
But these weren’t just any kids, and they continued to be a central part of Ferguson’s plans alongside more experienced teammates, including Cantona who returned to the side with a goal from the spot against Liverpool in his first game back from his lengthy banishment. United’s rivals for the title that season was Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ Newcastle United, who flew out of the blocks winning 9 from their first 10. In comparison to Manchester United, Newcastle had spent big in the summer with high profile signings such as Les Ferdinand and David Ginola, and despite having a big lead in January, they went even further in bolstering the side to make absolutely certain by adding Faustino Asprilla and David Batty.
Newcastle led by 12 points with 15 games to go but Cantona had by now got fully up to speed, and seemed a man on a mission to cut down that sizeable gap between first and second. In the season’s turning point, he scored the winner away at St. James Park, and aswell United’s only goal in the next 3 matches to gain United another 7 points, including 3 against Arsenal which saw United go top for the first time since September. Newcastle who had led the Premier League for nearly the whole season never regained the position and Keegan and co. were left rueing what might have been, whilst Fergie and his team celebrated again. More celebration was in order a week later as United completed the ‘Double Double’ beating Liverpool in the final with Eric Cantona again the difference maker. Liverpool’s team were famously dubbed ‘the Spice Boys’ by the media due to their all-white suits and it went a way to showing just how far that team had fell in a short time, and how far United had risen to clinch 2 doubles in 3 years.Embed from Getty Images
United retained the league crown the following season despite a horror week where they were hammered 5-0 at contenders Newcastle and then shipped 6 at Southampton. Overall though the title was won in more straightforward fashion than the previous year as the Red Devils took their 4th title in 5 years. This was also the first season in which they were able to better get to grips in the Champions League, reaching the Semi-Finals for the first time since 1969. That season was to be Cantona’s last as he announced his shock retirement aged just 30.
His loss didn’t appear to be being felt too heavily as United led the way with new captain Roy Keane and new number 7 David Beckham, when Arsenal suddenly charged in from out of nowhere and took the title by winning 13 out of 14 in the closing months of the season. Ferguson was left feeling how Keegan must have felt, and a bitter war of words that had already begun was starting to form a rivalry which would go on to define the Premier League for years to come.
With the acquisition of Dwight Yorke for £12.6M in the summer of ‘98, adding to Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and little known Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed a couple of years prior, United went into the season knowing they now had the firepower to compete on all fronts. At the back Jaap Stam was added and he would prove just as vital, if not more so than anyone going forward. Fergie’s men lost the Charity Shield 3-0 to Arsenal, but they would lose on just 4 more occasions for the rest of the reason. 3 of them came in the league, but with a comeback from a goal down against Tottenham to win 2-1 they were able to take the title back from Arsenal by a solitary point. They had also bested Arsenal in a dramatic FA Cup Semi-Final replay after a solo goal from Ryan Giggs and were able to secure their third double by beating Newcastle.
There was a chance for yet more however, as the team had qualified through the Group Stage of the Champions League above Barcelona, then got past Ronaldo’s Internazionale in the Quarters and Zidane’s Juventus to face a familiar opponent from the Group Stage that season in Bayern Munich. They had needed a 92nd minute equaliser in the home leg against Juventus and then to score 3 to come back from 2-0 down against them to reach the final but this time an even greater miracle was required. Cole and Yorke had proven a devastating and deadly combination all season but they were unable to get a sniff at the Nou Camp against this Bayern defence. Cole was subbed as Sheringham and later Solskjaer entered the fray.
With Bayern still leading from the 6th minute as the board went up to indicate 3 minutes additional time as the game clock surpassed the regulation 90, United launched a throw into the box, it was dealt with but the ball was recovered and a corner was won. It was cleared from the box only as far as Giggs who volleyed it back in and Sheringham diverted it home for 1-1. Immediately after the restart, Solskjaer won a corner giving United one last chance before Extra-Time. Beckham whipped it in, Sheringham won the header and Solskjaer lifted it into the roof of the net to give Manchester United the most dramatic victory in the history of the sport and to secure them the first League, FA Cup & European Cup treble in the history of English Football.Embed from Getty Images
The following season United retained the title easily finishing a massive 18 points clear of Arsenal, and they also won the Intercontinental Cup but were unable to win any of the other prizes on offer. In 2001 3 league titles were secured for the first time in the Premier League era and for the first time in United’s history. In 01/02 United finishing outside the top 2 for the first time in over 10 years as they had to settle for 3rd behind Arsenal and Liverpool. Ferguson announced his retirement during the season but couldn’t bare to bow out on such a disappointing note so reversed his decision.
United roared back with the help of Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy who banged in 44 in all competitions including 25 in the league, to secure United’s 8th Premier League in 11 seasons. There would then be 3 seasons without the title, as they missed out first to Arsene Wenger’s invincibles and next to Jose Mourinho’s Oil-Rich Chelsea who won it back-to-back. Ferguson added abundantly talented teenagers Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in an attempt to fight these foes but won just 1 FA Cup and 1 League Cup in these 3 years. The arrival of the Glazer family in 2005 as new owners also didn’t appear to bode well for United’s chances of re-establishing past dominance as they saddled the club with debts.
Ferguson was able to buy 4 very key players that 05-06 season however. 35-year old keeper Edwin Van Der Sar, South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung who offered endless running for £4M and defenders Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic. These players properly settled in their second season and this combined with Rooney and Ronaldo scoring 23 apiece across the campaign saw United win their first league title for 4 years, the key game being a last-minute win at Anfield with John O’Shea scoring the goal. 07-08 saw Ronaldo go up to another level as his 31 in the league helped United to retain the title on the final day with a 2-0 win at Wigan. He scored his 42nd in all competitions in the Champions League final, United’s first since ‘99, this one against Chelsea. Ronaldo would go on to miss a penalty in the shootout after a 1-1 draw, giving John Terry the chance to win the cup for his side. He slipped, and Edwin Van Der Sar would instead be the hero saving from Nicolas Anelka as United triumphed 6-5 on spot-kicks to win their 3rd European Cup and second under Ferguson.Embed from Getty Images
United made it 3 in a row in the Premier League for the second time, aswell as winning the World Club Cup. They also were back in the Champions League final but this time fell short against Barcelona. That summer Ronaldo was sold for a world record fee of £80M to Real Madrid. Replacing him was Wigan winger Antonio Valencia, injury-prone Michael Owen and 2 unknowns in Obertan and Miram-Diouf. United still took the title to the final day but missed out on becoming the first club since Huddersfield in the 1920′s to win the league titles 4 years consecutively by a single point, the key result being a 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea in April.
The league championship was won back in 2011 and United as well found themselves in their 3rd Champions League final in 4 years. Again though they came off second best against Barcelona this time losing 3-1 at Wembley Stadium. 11/12 saw the emergence of a new title rival in Manchester City, local rivals who found themselves suddenly a force after an unprecedented influx of cash into the side following the takeover of the Abu Dhabi United group. The Red Devils knew what a force they were after suffering a 6-1 humiliation at home against City in October, but appeared to have left them behind in April only to let the Blues back in by losing to them as well as Wigan and dropping points at home to Everton. This meant that on the final day United had to beat Sunderland and hope relegation threatened QPR could prevent City from winning. United won 1-0 and then could only wait for reports to come in from the Etihad. With 5 minutes added on, QPR led until the 92nd minute when Dzeko equalised. City still needed one more and they got it courtesy of Sergio Aguero with a minute to spare in the most dramatic end to a league season since Michael Thomas at Anfield all those years prior.
United responded by signing striker Robin Van Persie from Arsenal and his goals made all the difference in 12/13, his 26 in the league ensuring that there would be no last day heartache this time around as United took the title by 11 points. With the title secured fittingly with a Van Persie hattrick against Aston Villa, Ferguson took the chance to call time on his extraordinary career. With Manchester United Ferguson had won 13 league titles, 5 FA Cups, 3 league cups, 2 Champions Leagues, 1 Club World Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup and 1 European Super Cup. In their dominant period between 1992 and 2013 they won 13 league titles and a total of 26 major trophies in 21 years and 35 trophies including the 9 Community Shields won in that time.Embed from Getty Images
Similarly to Liverpool who endured a very mediocre ‘90s in the immediate aftermath of 2 decades of constant success, United too have suffered since the departure of their all-conquering, fear-inspiring coach. And like Liverpool, they are now having that misery compounded by being forced to watch their rivals replace them as the countries dominant force, this time in the shape of Manchester City, who have won 6 of the last 11 league titles aswell as 6 of the last 9 league cups, and who look likely to boast a similar number of trophies in a decades time to rival the amount won by Liverpool in the ‘70s and 80′s, and United under Ferguson. In almost a quarter of a century between 1996 and 2019, Liverpool won just 5 major domestic honours with 2 FA Cups and 3 league cups, not winning their first Premier League title until the 28th edition. It has taken the arrival of Jurgen Klopp to turn Liverpool into a regular trophy winner again. Since the departure of Ferguson United have won 3 major trophies in 9 years and given the strength of Manchester City and Liverpool, not to mention their own dire situation currently look likely to face a long wait before they can again win any of the biggest prizes in England or on the continent.
Liverpool’s success may have stemmed from one man in Bill Shankly but it had been the club’s ability to transition seamlessly from the Shankly era to the Paisley era to the Fagan era to the Dalglish era that had defined their success. United’s success could only be attributed to one man and one man only. Ferguson and his ability to get more from everyone. Bad players were made to look average, average made to look good, good to look very good and very good was turned into great. The decision to allow Van Nistelrooy to leave after 150 goals in 219 games for the club in order to make space for the just turned 20 duo of Rooney and Ronaldo to go onto fire United to a three-peat of League titles and back-to-back Champions League finals was an example of the many bold decisions he would take that other managers would not have the stomach for and that ultimately would pay off time and again.
So who was more dominant?
Liverpool won 11 of 18 league titles between 72-73 and 89-90, United won 8 of the first 11 Premier League’s and then after 3 seasons without the title, won 5 of the last 7 available under Ferguson. Liverpool finished outside the top 2 only once between 72-73 and 90-91, finishing 5th in 1981. United finished outside the top 2 twice between 91-92 and 12-13, but never finished below 3rd. Liverpool did the league and FA Cup double only once in 85-86, United three times including one as part of the treble. Liverpool won the league three times in a row once between 1982 and 1984, United are the only club to do it twice as they did between 1999 and 2001, then again between 2007 and 2009. Both teams won the league and European Cup in the same season on 2 occasions, Liverpool in 1977 and 1984, United on both occasions they won the European Cup. Both also won multiple major trophies in 5 separate seasons and each won 3 once, Liverpool in 1984 with the league, European Cup and League Cup and United in 1999 with the league, European Cup and FA Cup. This golden period accounts for 58% of Liverpool’s total league titles, 50% of their total FA Cups and 44% of their total league cup wins throughout the club’s history. United under Ferguson won 65% of the club’s league titles, 42% of their FA Cups and 80% of their League Cups. By virtue of winning 13 league titles to Liverpool’s 11, not finishing below 3rd for 21 years, winning more doubles, and winning the league three times in a row twice, United were slightly more dominant domestically.
Liverpool won 7 continental titles between 72-73 and 83-84. They won 4 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and 1 European Super Cup. They reached the European Cup final 5 times between ‘77 and ‘85, losing only once. Despite being Europe’s best performing club in this era they likely would have had even more European success in this era if not for the Heysel disaster, which led them to spending 6 years banned from Europe. United won 6 continental titles under Ferguson with the first coming in 1990 and the last in 2008. They won 2 Champions Leagues, 1 World Club Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup and 1 European Super Cup. They reached 4 Champions League finals, including 3 between 2008 and 2011, but lost two finals against two great Barcelona teams. Liverpool retained it in 1978 and won 3 in 5 years. United took a while in the 90′s to look like the side that dominated domestically, but defeated all of the continent’s best in 1999 to take the title. From there though they only reached 1 semi-final in the next 6 years which they lost to Bayer Leverkusen. Between 2006 and 2011 they finally looked confident in Europe and reached 4 semi-finals, only winning once but being perhaps unfortunate to play 2 finals against Guardiola’s Barcelona sides. Liverpool won 67% of their European Cups in this era, and also 67% of their UEFA Cups. Manchester United won 67% of their club total European Cups under him, and reached 80% of their European Cup finals. Liverpool were comfortably more dominant than United in Europe, despite only reaching one more European Cup final, they were able to win twice as many as their rivals.
The two eras were extremely close in overall trophy count, between 1973 and 1992, Liverpool won 11 league titles, 4 FA Cups and 4 league cups for a total of 19 major domestic trophies. Between 1990 and 2013 United won 13 league titles, 5 FA Cups and 4 league cups for 22 major domestic trophies. Liverpool’s 7 continental trophies takes their tally to 26, and United’s 6 equally takes them to 28. Including Charity shield’s won Liverpool’s trophy count would be 33 and United’s 37. Across their 20-year reign Liverpool won an average of 1.3 trophies per season, 1.65 including the Charity Shield. United’s era of either winning trophies or challenging for the league title lasted slightly longer than Liverpool’s, and across their 23-year reign they won 1.1 trophies per season, 1.4 including the Charity Shield.