Liverpool 1-3 Manchester United
Anfield, April 19th 1997
Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Manchester United
Ewood Park, April 19th 2008
On this day in 1997 and 2008 United took major steps towards regaining their Premiership crowns in the respective seasons, in entirely different circumstances.
United went to Anfield as League leaders, but without a win there in four years. Liverpool were in with a shout of a League title for the first time since 1990 but had started to lose ground on United in the weeks leading up to the game. Defeat for the Merseysiders would all but seal the title a fourth title in five years for United.
The game was sandwiched in between United’s ill-fated Champions League Semi-Final clashes with Borussia Dortmund and the game threw up a few selection surprises. Ryan Giggs’ injury had seen top-scorer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer play on the left-side of midfield which allowed Andy Cole back into the team. For the game at Anfield, Paul Scholes was preferred to Solskjaer in a selection that saw Nicky Butt move to the left to accommodate Scholes centrally – the first time that Scholes lined-up as part of United’s midfield.
The unlikeliest of braces was scored from two almost identical headers from corners by Gary Pallister before Andy Cole added a third after Liverpool ‘keeper David James flapped at a deep cross to allow Cole to head into an empty net.
The game came before a four-game winless streak for The Reds, where it appeared they were doing their best to throw it away; coming back from 2-0 down to draw with Leicester and 3-1 down to draw with Middlesbrough. It meant United ended up winning the title with 75 points – the lowest winning points total since the Premier League began
United’s line-up that day
1. Schmeichel; 2. G. Neville, 6. Pallister, 19. Johnsen, 12. P. Neville; 16. Keane, 7. Beckham, 8. Butt, 18. Scholes; 7. Cantona, 9. Cole. Substitute: 13. McClair.
Eleven years later United travelled to Ewood Park to face Blackburn a week after a fantastic win over Arsenal.
Chelsea were hot on United’s heels and up until the 88th minute looked like they would become the new favourites to win the title after Brad Friedel was in typically inspired form against United.
After Carlos Tevez missed a glorious chance early on, Blackburn took the lead in the 21st minute through a Roque Santa Cruz strike, after poor defending by United following a throw-in. From then on it was all United and if it wasn’t for some terrible refereeing decisions United would’ve got back in the game sooner; Wayne Rooney was denied a penalty after being bundled over by Steven Reid before being booked for his protestations.
Just before half-time Friedel made the first in a list of world-class saves from a Cristiano Ronaldo header that looked destined for the net. Ronaldo went even closer in the second-half when he hit the post after a spectacular long range strike, while Friedel once more thwarted United, this time from a Rooney effort.
With time running out United missed another great chance when Ronaldo’s goal-bound effort was blocked into the path of Tevez whose effort was somehow scrambled off the line by Friedel. United were then denied a penalty for the second time when Brett Emerton handled a Michael Carrick header on goal.
That man Friedel again kept Blackburn ahead when he saved another Rooney effort after the striker was clean through on goal, before denying John O’Shea from an almost impossible angle.
It looked like it wasn’t going to be United’s day but from the resulting corner after O’Shea’s effort, Scholes flicked the ball on for Tevez to head into the top corner from inside the six yard box to earn United a thoroughly deserved point and keep The Reds’ noses in front in the title race.
United’s line-up that evening
29. Kuszczak; 6. Brown, 5. Ferdinand, 15. Vidic, 3. Evra; 7. Ronaldo, 16. Carrick, 18. Scholes, 11. Giggs; 10. Rooney, 32. Tevez. Substitutes: 17. Nani, 22. O’Shea, 13. Park.