At Anfield this evening a Europa League quarter final spot is up for grabs in a tournament both sides realistically need to win to attain a Champions League placing for next season. As carrots go that’s big enough to trouble even Luis Suarez.
Yet the what ifs pale significantly to the occasion itself for this is Liverpool v Manchester United on a European night, the first time these English behemoths and archest of rivals have faced each other in continental combat.
It will be tribal, it will be electric, and hopefully it will compare to the five Battle of Britains below that showed the rest of Europe that we do family bust-ups better than most.
Manchester United 4 v Tottenham 1 (aggregate) European Cup Winners Cup 1963
The competition was just three years old and nothing had prepared it for this. Spurs were the reigning champions having thrashed Atletico Madrid 5-1 in Rotterdam and brought a two goal lead to a jam-packed Old Trafford in their bid to retain the trophy.
A first half David Herd header ramped up proceedings to fever pitch but Tottenham’s problems were just beginning as their magnificent talisman Dave Mackay departed on a stretcher, an innocuous challenge cruelly resulting in a broken leg.
The visitors still had Jimmy Greaves though, always threatening, always a sliver of space from scoring. With United having brought the tie level through another Herd finish Sir Jimmy pounced in trademark fashion meaning Matt Busby’s men needed two late goals to secure passage to the quarter finals. Bobby Charlton supplied both in one of the most pulsating all-English European nights we’re ever likely to see.
Wolves 2 v Tottenham 3 (aggregate) UEFA Cup Final 1972
A conversation on the great English managers will always omit Bill McGarry which is unfair when you consider that the no-nonsense gaffer brought a second era of pride and glory to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Having guided them to promotion McGarry forged a terrific side that included a young Kenny Hibbit and the prolific centre-forward pairing of Derek Dougan and John Richards and their first season in the top flight took everyone by surprise with a fourth place finish.
The following season’s UEFA Cup campaign was equally memorable beating Juventus and Ferencvaros en route to a two-legged final encounter with domestic rivals Spurs.
Both were closely fought affairs but ultimately the class of Chivers and Peters prevailed.
Nottingham Forest 2 v Liverpool 0 (aggregate) European Cup 1978
Having stunned a nation by not only winning the league championship but by doing so with dominant style Brian Clough’s Forest were looking forward to their reward of exotic travel in the European Cup. Turin perhaps. Maybe Stockholm.
In the event reigning champs Liverpool were drawn and despite finishing seven points ahead of them the previous year nobody gave John Robertson and co a chance. Sometime people just refuse to learn.
A young starlet with bumfluff moustache Garry Birtles scored an early opener and the most unlikeliest of heroes in left-back Colin Barrett ensured a two goal lead could be taken to Fortress Anfield for the return leg.
There a Shilton masterclass and stoic defending from Burns and Lloyd meant the tournament favourites were out and Forest could continue on their adventure that ultimately had a fairytale ending.
Rangers 4 v Leeds United 2 (aggregate) Champions League 1992
In the build up to the first leg the media hyped this into the stratosphere as a Battle of Britain and the ensuing clashes at Elland Road and Ibrox certainly didn’t disappoint.
This was the Gers in their Walter Smith pomp and they would march to a domestic treble by the season’s end. Leeds meanwhile were weighed down by the mantle of champions and even with a sublime midfield of Batty, Speed, McAllister and Strachan found themselves floundering in mid-table in the newly-formed Premier League.
Both games were ferociously contested but it was the Scots who ran out 2-1 winners on each occasion with McCoist in particular fired with patriotic fervour.
Chelsea 7 v Liverpool 5 (aggregate) Champions League 2009
Having previously come to blows in three Champions League semi-finals – including the infamous Luis Garcia ‘ghost goal’ and a tense encounter at the Bridge concluded by pens – these two behemoths had accrued a substantial back-catalogue of grudges and taunts. So all the speculation prior to this quarter-final clash centred on how this two-legged brawl would erupt in inevitable controversy. A contentious sending off? The managers squaring up?
In the event Chelsea were silky brilliant at Anfield taking a 3-1 lead into the second stand-off at the Bridge where all the drama came in the form of goals. Lots and lots of goals.