“My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch. And you can print that.”
So said Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2002, reflecting on the job he had done in turning Manchester United from a club very much in the shadow of Liverpool to perennial trophy winners.
With Ferguson now retired, his successor David Moyes finds himself – or at least the side he has inherited – on that same perch, a perilous one that it is far easier to slip from than call home.
And while United find themselves 12 points off top spot and in the unfamiliar position of ninth, Liverpool are currently fourth, no doubt dreaming of all that entails if the same can be said come mid-May.
United’s current predicament is very much one of their own making. Their ineptitude in the summer transfer window, and both Ferguson’s and Moyes’ failure to strengthen a weak (and weakening) midfield, means they have been made to look distinctly average by clubs previously labelled just that.
At the same time, Luis Suarez is looking increasingly like the best player in world football not to go by the name of either Messi or Ronaldo. And with Steven Gerrard, Lucas and Philippe Coutinho behind him, Liverpool appear to possess exactly the kind of midfielders United are crying out for.
The season has a long way to go, and I am not one of those naysayers convinced this is the beginning of the end for United, nor a victim of hyperbole who believes Liverpool are destined for the Premier League title. But I do feel that this season will be vital for the future of both clubs.
With Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City all possessing the squads and the mentalities to occupy the first three places, it really could come down to a fight between Liverpool and United for the final Champions League spot.
The likelihood of Suarez remaining at Anfield beyond the summer is certain to hinge on a return to Europe’s elite competition. While for United, any chance of attracting the top class talent needed to reenergise their squad could be lost if the best they can offer is Europa League football.
So while Brendan Rodgers will only be thinking of his own side, should he prevent Moyes from achieving a top four finish, the effects could be considerable, knocking United off the perch of domestic dominance Ferguson took such great pride in reaching and affecting them for far longer than single season.
image: © Vincent Teeuwen