Local rivalries are one of football’s most intense, passionate and enticing facets, as two clubs go head-to-head for bragging rights and things can tend to get out of hand, as reputations and sometimes even careers are put on the line.
There may be the wider context of league tables to take into consideration, but with matches like the North London derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the game represents a kind of final and that will never change due to their geographical proximity.
But what about Liverpool against Manchester United?
To put it bluntly, this match is suffering from something of an identity crisis. It doesn’t know what it is anymore. Both sides have a major local derby and neither is a table-topping force.
History is the main force keeping this ‘rivalry’ alive. History and Sky Sports’ need for something to talk about.
These days everything just seems contrived when Liverpool and United go face-to-face and that is down to a number of reasons.
While the ‘history’ factor undoubtedly played a big role in keeping the fires of passion burning through the previous decade, there was a group of homegrown players that helped to bridge the gap.
Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and many more were prominent and their attitudes along with their respective upbringings through the ranks and general longevity undoubtedly helped to keep the rivalry alive.
Where are they now? Well, mostly in the media. The media are the only ones really peddling this rivalry these days and Neville’s own admission that the two clubs’ relationship these days is rather “complicated” as opposed to built on “hate” is particularly notable.
Currently, there’s a real dearth of homegrown players on either side. Daniel Sturridge is perhaps the only Liverpool player who might feel any kind of burning animosity towards United in terms of his childhood, and that’s only because he came through at Manchester City. Even then he grew up an Arsenal fan.
Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford fit the ‘homegrown’ bill at United, but neither are particularly senior players. Wayne Rooney is the one United player who will have an ingrained hatred for Liverpool and that’s because he’s an Everton fan.
The fact that both sides have struggled to challenge for any major honours since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement – Liverpool in the 2013-14 Premier League as the exception – will likely have something to do with it, as will Manchester City’s emergence as arguably the team to beat.
City’s rise to prominence has seen the Manchester derby become arguably the Premier League’s most anticipated match, even more so now that it sees Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola renew their long-standing duel.
Of course, to Liverpool and United fans the match will still carry huge significance, particularly those who have grown up locally, but from country-wide perspective, it simply isn’t what it once was.
When Jurgen Klopp brands pre-match criticism of Mourinho as “bullshit” and the most contentious thing Jose can muster is a sly dig at the German’s touchline arm-flailing, you know there’s something lacking.