Manchester United's Premier League title challenge hinges on Champions League schedule and Liverpool FC fixture

If Man United are to mount a credible championship challenge then Liverpool away is a pivotally timed fixture.


One of the handful of filmed Sir Alex Ferguson team talks encapsulated his feelings about Anfield: "We lost the league at Anfield by not listening to the instructions about McManaman."

Ferguson, addressing the United players at The Cliff in 1998, was referring to the 2-0 March 1995 defeat at Liverpool, where Steve McManaman fashioned an own goal from Steve Bruce for the clincher.

Paul Ince was tasked with staying on the left to stymie McManaman yet his positioning was awry for Jamie Redknapp's opener and he allowed McManaman to drift past him for the second.

In the Steve Bruce's Captain's Log 2 documentary from the 1994-95 season, Ince is filmed in an overly jocular mood in the Anfield dressing room as kick-off looms. Back at The Cliff three years later, Ince was preparing to return to Old Trafford - with Liverpool.

"They've given Ince the license to attack without any defensive duties," Ferguson witheringly begins. "But if he tries to bully you, he'll f------ enjoy it... Don't even let him attempt to bully you... Right... Youse just make sure you're ready for him tomorrow. And that's all you need to worry about him: His f------ big-time Charlie bit. He's against f------ men, am I right?" Even Roy Keane looks taken aback by Ferguson's virulence.

The programme aired on the eve of Ince's second appearance back at Old Trafford as a visiting player in September 1998. United prevailed 2-0 and the crowd chirped, "Charlie, Charlie, what's the score?"

On his first managerial outing against United with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park in 2008, Ince was treated to a rendition of, 'Paul Ince is a Scouse b------' by 7,000 away-dayers. That is how deep an Anfield defeat cuts Ferguson and United followers.

The 2-0 reverse in 1992 was far worse: the day United lost the league to Leeds. The goading was incessant and a Liverpool fan unfurled a banner that read 'Have you ever seen United win the league?' Their drought had ticked past a quarter of a century.

The current wait for a United title is ticking towards a decade. Liverpool's decade drought granted permission for supporters to pin a banner to the Stretford End in 2000 that read, '10 years and counting'. Liverpool had to wait another 20 years and came close to a breakthrough on just three occasions (2009, 2014 and 2019) before they lifted the hex.

United have not mounted a credible championship challenge since they were last champions in 2013 and 10 years can quickly triple, particularly if the Glazers are still the bursars. The least that is expected from United fans next season is a genuine tilt after progressive league campaigns.

Already, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be hoping for a kinder Champions League group stage draw than last season. United play West Ham away, Everton at home, Liverpool at home, Manchester City at home, Chelsea away, and Norwich away following their six midweek group games. That is their three competitors, a top six side and the top flight's most tedious trek. United will at least avoid the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre as they will travel by air.

Provided United have a shout of reaching the summit after the snow has thawed then the timing of the Anfield fixture will be a test of nerve. It falls on the last weekend in March before the spring internationals.

There are few feelings more satisfying in a season for a manager and his squad than winning before a two-week break and it is essential United secure a positive result in L4 ahead of a tense run-in.

It may be tenser than scheduled. The FA is yet to outline the dates for the FA Cup 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 Liverpool-United could be delayed until April.

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