When I talk about the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester City, I almost feel like "rivalry" is too strong a word. Sure, there’s some history, and clashes in recent years have been fairly high-stakes. But there isn’t quite the level of animosity between Liverpool and City as between, say, Liverpool and United. Or Arsenal, or Chelsea, or even Crystal Palace. Relations aren’t exactly amicable, but they’re not superheated either. They don’t hate each other, as such. They’re just in each others’ way a lot.
Which is odd, because there’s plenty of basis for beef. Raheem Sterling. The end of the 2013-14 season. Leftover tensions between Pep and Klopp from the Bundesliga. If you wanted to have a fierce, eternal war between these two, there’s plenty of reason for it. But so far, nothing out of the ordinary.
Not even relegation at the hands of the other has been enough to date.
This week we look back at the last day of the 1995-96 Premier League season and ask the question: "how are they not at each others’ throats all the time?"
Manchester City went into the last day of the season in real trouble. They needed a good result to stave off relegation, and they needed to get it against one of the best teams in England. They were at home, and they were keenly motivated, which all worked in their favor. But it was still unmistakably an uphill climb.
Soon after kickoff things started to look grim. Captain Steve Lomas turned the ball into his own net to inside six minutes to gift Liverpool an early lead. City pushed for an equalizer, even winning a dangerous free kick (which should’ve been a penalty but whatevs) that came to nothing. But shortly before halftime Ian Rush doubled the lead with a deflected shot from outside the box. 2-0 down at halftime and you could sense the darkness settling.
But hope is the thing with feathers, and in a span of seven minutes late in the second half City looked as if they had turned things around. A penalty in the 71st minute was duly converted by Uwe Rösler to get his side back in it and bring the Maine Road crowd back on their feet. And then in the 78th minute, triumph. Some messy defending gave City an opening and Kit Symons finished from close range. Right about that time, tremors started moving through the crowd, whispers becoming shouts that results around the league were going City’s way and that a 2-2 draw might be enough. (Keep in mind, this was the mid 90s. There were no smart phones. Fans held radios and, in some cases, giant brick cell phones to their faces in order to find out what was going on elsewhere.)
In any event, City players convinced themselves that a 2-2 draw was Good Enough, and they went on the defensive. They settled in for a siege, took to wasting time however they could, and defended that level scoreline with everything they had. All they needed to do was hold on for 10, maybe 15 minutes. Keep the score at 2-2 and they’d survive.
They were very, very wrong.
City held on for the draw, of course, and it was a result to be proud of. But their relegation rivals, the likes of Southampton and Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday, they all had good results too. The point wasn’t enough. They needed a win or for at least Southampton or Coventry to drop points. And it didn’t happen. The home side were so elated to get the 2-2 draw, thinking they were safe, and the trapdoor released under their feet regardless.
It was, not to put too fine a point, a dark day for Manchester City.
Of course, that was a long time ago, and City are a very different football club. These days the worse they have to worry about is crashing out of the Champions League early. (Which, uh. Yeah.)
While things aren’t quite so fraught this weekend, Manchester City and Liverpool do face off on Sunday with Top 4 places on the line. The football will be frantic and tensions may well run warm, but the proceedings will likely be civil for the most part. Which is, to be honest, a bit baffling. In any event, kickoff is at 12:30pm Eastern on NBC.