United v Liverpool: Cole and Robson have their say
Andy Cole and Bryan Robson know all about the thrills and spills of Manchester United v Liverpool games and both are looking forward to the latest encounter between the two rivals on Sunday at Old Trafford.
Ahead of the match, we sat down with the two legends, who have been in the United States this week on club business, to discuss five key topics relating to Sunday’s big game…
“As players you’re always looking forward to this game, it’s the biggest of the season every year. In my time you always knew this game was coming up because the gaffer [Sir Alex] would be a little bit angrier as the week went on! We all understood the magnitude of the game and its importance and you’ve got to be professional. Every team wants to beat Manchester United and even though this is the biggest match you have to approach this as you would every match. You’ve got to block out the media too because they’re always trying to big things up with this game. As players you appreciate how big the game is but you don’t look at the media. And the bottom line is if you stay focused and play to the best of your ability you have a great chance of winning.”
“You more or less knew what Liverpool team you were facing so you know what you’ve got to do and you focus yourself on that. Ron Atkinson and Sir Alex were very good before these big games, they didn’t really put you under pressure because they knew you were concentrating on your preparations and they knew every player would be up for this game. Everyone knows how important this game is – not just when it comes to winning league titles and cups, but it’s the game all the fans look for and want to win. I always had the same little nerves in my stomach before every game, it wasn’t just this one. You just have to prepare yourself as best you can, week in, week out. There’s no point raising your game for a team like Liverpool and winning and then getting beat the following week because you haven’t focused. You have to prepare for each game in exactly the same way.”
“Our fans are fantastic. They can really galvanise you, especially when you’re going through a tricky spell like we are now. We always used to say in the dressing room before the big games, 'we need to get the fans behind us.' If you start a game well, they always stick with you. You can feel their positive energy and that lifts you and you’re just focused on trying to do your job or get yourself a goal.”
“When the fans get right behind you, they don’t show that they’re maybe a bit nervous, and they just do everything to back the team, then I think the lads really respond to that. I always think if someone makes one bad pass and the fans are like ‘arrghhh’, everyone gets nervous. When the fans get right behind the lads, the players feel it and they raise their performance. I’ll always remember the Barcelona game in ’84 when we were 2-0 down and we came back to Old Trafford and won 3-0. I honestly don’t think it would have happened without the fans, it’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at Old Trafford and they kept us going. They just give you that extra push you need.”
“There was always a lot of respect between the sides in my day. I played with about six or seven Liverpool players who were all in the England squad, the likes of Alan Kennedy, Phil Thompson, Phil Neal, Terry McDermott. They became your friends off the pitch but when we went on the pitch, it was a war. That’s how we looked at it. Beating Liverpool was always the best feeling but I think there is a great deal of respect that comes from the rivalry and the history the two clubs have. United went out in front in Europe by being the first English club to win the European Cup in ’68, but then Liverpool went on an unbelievable run in the 70’s. The two clubs are, of course, very close in the league title stakes and that history between them means both teams are always desperate to win this game. That takes it beyond games against Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal.”
“In my day it was totally different to what Robbo has said. There was no going out for drinks together, and in the England squad there was a United table and a Liverpool table. That’s how much things changed and the rivalry became even more intense. Sir Alex was always just so desperate to win this match and as I said before, he was just angry before the game. The intensity in him to win this game home and away was huge, and that transmitted through to the players.”
“When I first came to the club we had to believe. Liverpool were dominant and winning titles more or less every season, but we did well against them in one-off games in the league and in the cup. So you had to have that belief. From where we are as a team at the moment, and the run of the form we’ve been on, I think it will be very difficult if we go behind on Sunday. But if the players keep working hard and believing in themselves, then we can get a result. We’re Man United and we can beat anyone on our day but the lads must believe that.”
“Belief ran through our team, and we always had the mindset that we’d always beat Liverpool. If you go into the match with that mindset, then that’s half the battle and there weren’t many times when we didn’t win. You always have to believe. On Sunday, the lads need to have confidence in themselves and if we do go a goal down, then it will be harder because we are finding it hard to score goals. But if your mindset is right and you’re focused on creating as many chances as possible, then you have a great chance. We have to go into the game believing we can win.”
“It was always feisty. I always looked forward to these games and more often than not we used to come away with three points. When the game was at Anfield, it didn’t matter what form I might have been in, the manager always used to play me. I had a good record there. I just loved the games, they meant so much to me. I still get that buzz from seeing those goals. The atmosphere in those games is something else. I remember one season at Anfield [in 1999], I scored, got sent off, won the game and the manager didn’t fine me… that was a good memory! But for me, the best game against them was on the 1999 FA Cup run. We were 1-0 down and ended up winning 2-1 in injury time. Say no more!”
“My better moments against Liverpool were away from Old Trafford. In the Charity Shield in ‘83, I scored both goals in a 2-0 win at Wembley and I could have got a hat-trick if all my studs hadn’t come out of my boots, meaning I slipped when I was one-on-one with Bruce Grobbelaar! Winning the FA Cup semi-final replay at Maine Road in ’85 and scoring a goal, and then winning the Cup was very special too. Nothing beats the feeling you get from winning this game.”
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