Are Manchester United the Liverpool of the Nineties?

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Manchester United’s long wait for the league title already looks like continuing for another season and their fall from grace is reminiscent of Liverpool’s in the Nineties.

The humbling 4-0 defeat at Brentford left United pointless and in the Premier League relegation zone with new manager Erik ten Hag having lost his opening two games in charge of the club.

Such was the horror show on display in west London last weekend that many experts and United fans have already written off the club’s chances of competing with champions Manchester City for this season’s Premier League.

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With the potential departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gary Neville believes that Manchester United could finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brentford’s win against Manchester United in the Premier League

That would make it a whole decade since Sir Alex Ferguson brought the record-extending 20th and last title back to the Old Trafford trophy room, with United now enduring the same agonising wait to win a championship that rivals Liverpool went through in the 1990s.

So ahead of their meeting on Monday Night Football, we look at how United’s current barren spell without a top-flight title compares to Liverpool’s 30 years ago and what, if any, lessons can they learn from the Merseysiders’ own league struggles back then?

Monday 22nd August 6:30pm Kick off 8:00pm

It’s not easy following serial-winning Scots

When Kenny Dalglish suddenly resigned as Liverpool manager on February 22 1991, Liverpool were the reigning league champions, having won title No 18 the previous season. And while they eventually failed to defend their crown that year, losing out to Arsenal, it was not expected to be long before the club got their hands back on the trophy.

Image: Sir Kenny Dalglish (centre), with the help of assistants Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans, were the masterminds behind Liverpool’s league title win in 1990

They opted to bring in another Scot to replace Dalglish in the former Liverpool captain and then Rangers boss Graeme Souness, with his appointment in April 1991 welcomed by the club’s supporters.

However, Souness’ time in charge at Anfield did not go according to plan as his attempts to rebuild and modernise an already-ageing squad – perhaps too quickly – only served to alienate a number of star players, while like we are seeing now at United, the club also started to lose its touch in the transfer market.

As a result, despite winning the 1992 FA Cup, Liverpool could only finish sixth in Souness’s first two full seasons in charge and he resigned in January 1994 with the title further away than ever.

Image: Sir Alex Ferguson during his last game as Manchester United manager in May 2013

United also opted to replace their serial-winning manager with a fellow Scot when Ferguson called it quits after securing title No 13 in May 2013 as Everton boss David Moyes took over the reins at Old Trafford.

Moyes signed a six-year deal but was gone within a year as United made a disastrous title defence by failing to qualify for the Champions League, with the club bringing in Louis van Gaal as his replacement.

Image: Kenny Dalglish (left) Liverpool suddenly in February 1991

But not even the experienced Dutchman could return the glory days to Old Trafford, with United never threatening a title challenge. Despite an FA Cup triumph in 2016, he too was soon axed.

Liverpool’s expensive flops post-Dalglish

Player Season Cost
Dean Saunders 1991/92 £3m
Paul Stewart 1992/93 £2.5m
Nigel Clough 1993/94 £2.5m
Julian Dicks 1993/94 £2m
John Scales 1994/95 £3.5m
Phil Babb 1994/95 £4.8m

Liverpool’s key departures post-Dalglish

Player Season Destination
Alan Hansen 1991/92 Retired
Steve McMahon 1991/92 Man City
Gary Ablett 1991/92 Everton
Peter Beardsley 1991/92 Everton
Steve Staunton 1991/92 Aston Villa
Ray Houghton 1992/93 Aston Villa

The Barren Years

After Souness’s departure, Liverpool opted to look to their famed Boot Room in order to return the club to winning ways as former assistant Roy Evans took over, with their search for the title now entering its fifth year.

For the first time since the Eighties, the Reds were once again challengers under the silver-haired Evans, the only problem being that by now, United were the dominant force in English football under Ferguson.

Image: Graeme Souness looks on during his early days as manager at Liverpool; the Scot admits he has many regrets from his time as boss at Anfield

As well as winning the 1995 League Cup and getting to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup the next year, Evans also led Liverpool to third-place finishes in 1996 and 1998, while they were just seven points adrift of eventual champions United when finishing fourth in 1997.

However, there was always the feeling Liverpool’s ‘Spice Boys’, as their young team became labelled in the media, lacked the mental strength to truly compete with their rivals up the East Lancs Road.

Speaking of United, they then turned to the ‘Special One’ following Van Gaal’s exit in the summer of 2016 in the belief the man who won titles everywhere he went, would do the same at Old Trafford.

Image: David Moyes (centre) and Jose Mourinho (right) struggled to continue United’s success

Jose Mourinho did win the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League all in his debut campaign in charge, before guiding the club to a second-place finish the next season – albeit they still finished 19 points behind rivals champions Man City – their first runners-up position since Ferguson’s departure five years earlier.

Like Evans during the corresponding period at Anfield, Mourinho also lost an FA Cup final in 2018 and was then replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that December with United trailing, of all teams, Liverpool by 19 points in the table.

Image: Graeme Souness (centre) and Roy Evans (right) were among those who tried to follow in Kenny Dalglish’s footsteps (left)

The former United striker, who scored the winner for them in the 1999 European Cup final, actually led the club to second place behind City in his first full season at the helm, but after defeat on penalties in the 2021 Europa League final made it four trophy-less seasons, it all started unravelling again for United and the Norwegian left that November.

Seeds of recovery & lessons learned?

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Gary Neville says that Manchester Utd have reached a new low and are drained of all confidence after a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Brentford

As Liverpool neared a decade without a league championship, they opted to try something different by bringing in their first foreign coach to work alongside Evans in the Anfield dugout, with Gerard Houllier becoming the joint manager in the summer of 1998.

However, that experiment did not last long, with the Frenchman taking sole charge of the team in November, although Liverpool could only finish down in seventh that debut season, 25 points behind United as a 19th league title seemed years away.

Image: Gerrard Houllier started Liverpool’s revival

But it was the next campaign, 1999-2000, where light finally appeared at the end of the tunnel as Houllier started making the Reds title challengers again thanks to a combination of smart purchases and a series of impressive youngsters, all coached expertly by a one-time teacher and former France technical director.

Houllier recognised the club was not only languishing its rivals on the pitch but off it as well, with Anfield – once the envy of the top flight – by now run down and ageing, while he also modernised the training ground.

Despite that poor first season, the Liverpool hierarchy stood by their man – who said it would take five years to get them competing at the top level again – as they could see he had a long-term plan and the team was progressing.

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Gary Neville looks at Manchester United’s major signings since 2013 and labels them as green, amber or red based on how successful they were at the club

It took him just three, though, with Liverpool claiming a memorable treble in 2000-01, before the following campaign securing their first runners-up spot in the league since Dalglish’s departure in 1991.

That is where United can learn from their rivals as they now prepare to enter their own 10th year without a league title, also under a new studious coach from overseas who has made a tricky start to his Old Trafford reign.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Crystal Palace in the Premier League

Give Erik ten Hag the time and support to make the changes – in personnel, tactics, training, even the position of the dugout at Old Trafford – he believes are needed to get United back to where they belong and trust him to do so.

Liverpool, of course, despite two near misses under Rafa Benitez in 2008-09 and Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14, still had to wait another 20 years before Jurgen Klopp’s side were crowned champions in 2020.

While it seems unthinkable it will be that long before United win another title, they need only look at their opponents at Old Trafford on Monday night to know it could happen to them…


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