Opinion: United fans can influence Liverpool cup tie

Wednesday 13 March 2024 14:00

Before last Saturday's match with Everton, I stopped at the old ex-serviceman's bar by Trafford Bar for a couple of pints with some friends.

But in no time at all, the conversation jumped ahead, and beyond the blue half of Merseyside, to our next game: the much-anticipated FA Cup quarter-final against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

I won't get into the gory details, but it's fair to say that, collectively, my Red mates weren't too optimistic about our chances of reaching Wembley. And a quick look at the bookmakers' odds for this Sunday suggests that most of the football world agrees with them: odds of a home win are a distant 3/1.

But, personally, I don't agree with the football world. Or most of my mates. I think United have a great chance on Sunday, for one reason, and for one reason alone. Old Trafford. Or, more specifically, the power of Old Trafford at its defiant best.

Old Trafford can be an uncomfortable place for opponents, when players and fans come together.

You know what I'm talking about, because you've seen it before. Many, many times.

Erik ten Hag, especially, will know what I'm talking about. Go back to his very first victory as United manager; I'm sure you'll remember it. Manchester United 2, Liverpool 1, August 2022.

You'll remember the result, but do you remember the context? United had just been battered at Brentford 4-0, after losing 2-1 to Brighton on the opening day of the season, and knives were being sharpened in the canteens of Fleet Street.

Liverpool had come within days of completing an unprecedented quadruple the preceding season. And the gist of the build-up was: if Brentford can trounce United, Klopp's team could easily dish out a cricket score.

It didn't happen. It didn't come close to happening, because United ran like hares and fought like dogs, and because the United faithful rocked up to Old Trafford ready to make every moment utterly uncomfortable for the Merseysiders.

Touches were jeered. Lisandro Martinez's shoves on Mo Salah and James Milner were celebrated like small revolutions. Both goals unearthed the kind of primal roars that Old Trafford belches like no other stadium – Fletcher against Chelsea in ’05, Scholes against Barcelona in ’08, McTominay against City in ’20... the list is almost endless.

Fans can get down, pessimistic, when the team is experiencing a difficult season, or a difficult run of form. We can forget what our team, our support and our stadium are capable of. And I think now might be one of those points in time.

But we shouldn't. We need to remind ourselves of these kinds of moments ahead of Sunday. Over and over again. Remind ourselves that a 31-game unbeaten run at home only ended in September; remind ourselves that Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, City and Barcelona have all been beaten here under the Dutchman.

Never mind the feats under Busby, Docherty, Atkinson, Ferguson and more.

90 in 20: United v Liverpool Video

90 in 20: United v Liverpool

90 in 20 | Ten Hag's first win as United boss came against Liverpool, on 22 August 2022. Relive an epic night...

You'll read all kinds of stats, facts and figures rolled out over the coming days. How Liverpool have only lost two domestic games this season; how they beat United 7-0 at Anfield; how Jurgen Klopp's departure has created a forcefield around Liverpool that NASA have asked to come and study.

But you can always find stats for your purpose. If you wanted to make an alternative case, how about these? Klopp has only once won at Old Trafford when fans have been present. Liverpool's only FA Cup win here (against United) came over 100 years ago, in January 1921.

The bottom line for me is that fans can and do regularly have an impact on these games. You can make it harder for your opponent; you can create intimidation. It needs a collaboration between players and supporters, but it is very much achievable on Sunday.

The crowd make a big impact when Liverpool last visited, in August 2022.

Speaking about our upcoming big home games against both Merseyside clubs recently, Ten Hag said: "Old Trafford has to be ready, we have to be ready. A strong, big crowd, a big voice... that makes an impact on the opponent. That's going to lead to intimidation of that opponent, to get the right results."

That's our job on Sunday. To forget form, and to remember the power of this stadium, when players and supporters align with effort, passion and soul. From minute one, let Liverpool know that the overwhelming majority of M16 is urging them to misplace every pass, fumble every touch, slice every shot.

We have our injuries, but don't forget that Liverpool do too. Don't forget that while they have Anfield, we have Old Trafford. They'll have 9,000 supporters inside M16 on Sunday, but we'll have tens of thousands more.

Once the first ball is kicked, all we need to remember is that the score is 0-0 and we can make a very big contribution to the flow and feeling of this match.

The players need to do their jobs, of course. But let's make sure we do ours.