From the Doc to Kuyt, six Manchester United v Liverpool FA Cup clashes

Scott Murray
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock

1977: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

Liverpool had beaten United at Anfield 18 days earlier, en route to the title. But it wasn’t much of an omen, not least because Tommy Docherty’s side had nothing to play for and were keeping their powder dry. At Wembley, he set his team snapping at Liverpool’s heels, ditching their trademark pretty wing play for something uncharacteristically agricultural: long launches that would hopefully discombobulate the normally ice-cool champions. It worked like a dream. Though Jimmy Case was the best player on the park, equalising with a juggle and volley of Zidanesque grace, United applied sufficient aerial pressure to break Liverpool, Stuart Pearson taking advantage of Emlyn Hughes’ inability to deal with a flick-on, Jimmy Greenhoff benefiting from an absurd looping deflection. Liverpool consoled themselves by winning the European Cup four days later; United drew satisfaction from denying them an unprecedented treble. Someone in Wimbledon may have taken notes.

1985: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

When it comes to the business end of the Cup, United have Liverpool’s number. The tally so far: two finals, two semis, four United wins. In 1996, Eric Cantona’s late steer through a crowded box of fashion victims enlivened an otherwise turgid final. In the 1979 semi-final replay, Jimmy Greenhoff once again made the difference, Kenny Dalglish’s mesmeric twist and turn in the first match all for naught. But 1985 topped the lot. Ronnie Whelan and Paul Walsh scored late equalisers in normal and extra time of the first match at Goodison, Mark Lawrenson admitting that Liverpool had been outplayed. “It was just like playing Monopoly, we got out of jail twice.” In the Maine Road replay, Mark Hughes netted the winner, but it was Bryan Robson who delivered the signature move, barrelling down the middle before releasing a creamy 25-yarder that gave Bruce Grobbelaar no hope.

Two Liverpool fans climb up to get a better view of the action during the 1985 FA Cup semi final against Manchester United at Goodison Park
Two Liverpool fans climb up to get a better view of the action during the 1985 FA Cup semi final against Manchester United at Goodison Park. Photograph: Getty Images

1999: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

Nobody knew it at the time, but this was the point in history where United entered their imperial phase. Michael Owen headed Liverpool into the lead after 140 seconds of this fourth-round tie at Old Trafford, and his teammates spent the next 86 minutes defending in the dogged style newly implemented by Gérard Houllier. They should have put the tie to bed – Robbie Fowler missed a great chance just after half-time, Owen miscontrolled when sent clear with nine minutes to go – while United generally toiled. But with two minutes left, Andy Cole cushioned David Beckham’s free-kick to tee up Dwight Yorke, then in the first of two added minutes a certain supersub swept the ball past David James to complete an astonishing smash and grab. It wouldn’t be the last time United and Ole Gunnar Solskjær pulled off this trick.

2006: Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United

The first-ever FA Cup meeting between these behemoths took place in 1898 and was … wait for it … an anticlimactic goalless draw. The more things change, huh? For the record, Liverpool won the replay, beating their rivals – still in their Newton Heath phase – 2-1. Liverpool knocked United out of the Cup again in 1921, but that would be the last time they’d manage it for 85 years, losing the next seven Cup meetings (1948, 1960, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1996 and 1999) on the bounce. The dam eventually burst in 2006 when Peter Crouch guided a perfectly placed header off the base of the right post, the ball rebounding satisfyingly across the face of goal and resting in the bottom left. Rafa Benítez’s team – OK, Steven Gerrard – went on to win one of the great finals, against West Ham.

Peter Crouch, pursued by Steven Gerrard, celebrates scoring Liverpool&#x002019;s winner against Manchester United in 2006
Peter Crouch, pursued by Steven Gerrard, celebrates scoring Liverpool’s first FA Cup winner against Manchester United since before the second world war. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

2011: Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool

If Gerrard was unquestionably the hero of 2006, he was very much the villain at Old Trafford five years later. Liverpool had just replaced Roy Hodgson with Kenny Dalglish – consider the Trump-Biden dynamic, then multiply the relief tenfold – and the feelgood factor was strong. So strong that not even the concession of a penalty after 31 seconds, Daniel Agger bringing down Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs converting, could dampen the visitors’ newly rediscovered joie de vivre. Liverpool responded magnificently, Raul Meireles and Lucas establishing control, Fernando Torres and Maxi Rodríguez sharp up front. An equaliser looked on the cards. So what was going through Gerrard’s mind when he dived in two-footed on Michael Carrick just after the half-hour mark is anybody’s guess. A straight red for Liverpool’s captain allowed the hosts to re-establish dominance and coast home. Michael Owen coming on in a United shirt merely added insult to injury.

Manchester United fans jeer Steven Gerrard after the Liverpool captain was sent off in 2011
Manchester United fans jeer Steven Gerrard after the Liverpool captain was sent off in 2011. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

2012: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United

After the party-over-oops-out-of-time misery of 1999, Liverpool were probably due a smash and grab of their own. It came 13 years later at Anfield, Dirk Kuyt plundering the winner in the 88th minute of a fourth-round game that had been dominated by United, Michael Carrick ruling midfield over an out-of-position/depth Jamie Carragher. United would surely have won the tie had Danny Welbeck laced his shooting boots properly, or if a still callow David de Gea hadn’t made a mess of both Liverpool goals.

Dirk Kuyt scores Liverpool&#x002019;s second goal in the 2012 FA Cup tie against Manchester United
Dirk Kuyt scores Liverpool’s second goal in the club’s most recent FA Cup tie against Manchester United. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

In the post-match interviews, both Kuyt and Gerrard were magnanimous enough to admit that United had been the better side. But when it’s your day, it’s your day: Kuyt had come on midway through the second half for Rodríguez, who seconds earlier had somehow avoided a red card after some studs-up nonsense with Giggs. Sometimes the biggest rivalry turns on the smallest things.