Pen & Globe

Seeing Red!

Kirk

01/15/2017

Sports

No Comment

Like Dr. Frankenstein sparking his infamous monster to life, I feel compelled to revive the long-buried sportswriter inside me, at least for a day. And what, you ask, necessitates this radical resurrection?

The greatest creature of them all: Manchester United vs. Liverpool!

Okay, so it’s only a football/soccer match. And we’ve got Syria and ISIL and Brexit and Trump to worry about. But, hey, it’s Sunday, the weather outside is crap, the fall of Western civilization can wait until the workweek, and if you’re only going watch one match all year…

Why this one? Well, this is soccer’s equivalent of those classic Yankees-Dodgers, Packers-Bears, Lakers-Celtics rivalries. It’s the USA vs. USSR, Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed, Batman vs. Superman all rolled into one!

Okay, that’s going a little far. These are no longer the top teams in the world by a long shot, Real Madrid and Barcelona strongly staking that claim. Or even the best in England, with Chelsea currently cruising just past the season’s midway point.

But today’s match – kicking off at 4 pm in the UK – actually matters in one of the more tightly contested seasons in recent memory. Plus, it represents the biggest rivalry in England, and England invented the game, so there you go. This rivalry harkens back to 1894 (when people said words like “harken”), and since then these two teams have met 225 times – the Red Devils of Man U winning 87 of those matches, with the Reds of Liverpool taking 75, leaving 63 draws between them.

Even more impressive, Liverpool owns 18 English titles, including a jaw-dropping 10 over 15 seasons from 1975-1990, before passing the baton to Man U, which won 13 titles from 1992-2013 en route to a record 20 championships. Both teams have tasted similar sweetness abroad, making them by far the most successful English sides in domestic and European competitions.

Since their glory days, however, both Reds have fallen on bitter times. Liverpool has failed to lift the English crown during the past quarter century, while Man U has slumped miserably by its lofty standards following the retirement of legendary gaffer, Sir Alex Ferguson, prompting four new managers over the past four seasons.

Yet now, like Dr. Frankenstein and his fearsome creation, the two men at the helm of these longtime rivals are breathing life into their slumbering beasts. Though, they couldn’t be much more dissimilar in demeanor or approach to the game.

Liverpool’s humble German boss, the 6-foot-4 Jürgen Klopp, reminds one of a jolly philosophy professor in need of a new wardrobe and good shave. He has constructed a dashing sports car of a team, which grabs yet gifts goals with the best of them and stands fourth in a sizzling six-team race (having dropped from second since yesterday – it’s that tight at the top).

By contrast, Man U’s Portuguese maestro, the 5-foot-9 José Mourinho, calls himself the “Special One,” courts controversy, and keeps a scowl sketched above his tailored suits as he menaces the touchline. His side, which ironically runs more like a no-nonsense German sedan, currently sits sixth. But with nine straight wins in all competitions, Man U may finally be climbing back up the road toward its best.

Head to head, Klopp owns Mourinho, having only lost once in six encounters. Yet Man U plays at home today and its stars – including the world’s costliest player, Paul Pogba, and the ineffable 35-year-old Bosnian-Croat-Swede taekwondo black belt Zlatan Ibrahimovic – are shining, while Liverpool will be without its brightest performer and top scorer, Sadio Mane, off to Gabon to lead Senegal at the African Cup of Nations.

As the English say, this match has all the makings of a blinder. So grab a pint or two and wrap yourself in your favorite shade of red. Oh, and be forewarned: best to steer clear of me today. For a loss by my beloved Man U will surely turn me into a monster…and even with a victory I plan to be unbearable!

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