Has the balance of power shifted from Liverpool to Manchester United again?


The Kop confetti had barely been swept away and the champagne hangovers had just worn off when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer vowed to knock Liverpool off their Premier League perch again.

The league title going to Anfield for the first time in three decades stung Manchester United, the 33-point chasm between these bitter rivals in the final table symbolic of a power shift.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool winning the Champions League and then the Premier League in consecutive seasons only hammered home how far United had declined from the time when Sir Alex Ferguson made winning look as easy as breathing.

Liverpool’s Premier League title win last season stung their bitter rivals Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) vowed to overhaul Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in the league table

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) vowed to overhaul Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the league table

‘Every time you see anyone else lift a trophy, it hurts. That’s the feeling everyone associated with Manchester United,’ Solskjaer said a few days after Liverpool’s title coronation.

‘We want to get back to winning ways. That is our challenge.’

While United’s third-placed finish in 2019-20 hinted strongly at progress, nothing suggested they would enter this Sunday’s clash with Liverpool at Old Trafford four places and 13 points above them.

It isn’t a full reversal of last season’s colossal gap but an impressive swing nonetheless and United need just a point from the game this weekend to guarantee they will finish above Liverpool.

What’s more, Solskjaer’s team find themselves in the nice position of knowing any points taken on Sunday will deal a blow to Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

United are on course to finish comfortably in second position in a season of improvement

United are on course to finish comfortably in second position in a season of improvement

But Liverpool's title defence has been risible amid a season of injury frustrations

But Liverpool’s title defence has been risible amid a season of injury frustrations 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can be satisfied with Manchester United's season

Jurgen Klopp, however, will want the new campaign to start as quickly as possible

It’s Solskjaer’s (left) team who can be happier with how the season has turned out while Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp (right) will just want the new one to start

While United look set for a second-place finish, albeit a distant one to champions-elect Manchester City after their title challenge spluttered, Liverpool are caught in a top-four bottleneck.

They’re duking it out with Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham and Everton for what is essentially one remaining Champions League place.

Liverpool’s nine league defeats this season is as many as in their three previous seasons combined and far from where they expected their title defence to be with five rounds of games to play.

But are we witnessing a long-term pendulum swing back from Merseyside to Manchester? In truth, it’s too early to say.

The 1970s and 1980s belonged to Liverpool before Ferguson’s United dominated the two decades that followed. The seven seasons since Fergie’s retirement have seen greater unpredictability.

Matches between the two north-west rivals remain as keenly-contested as they've always been

Matches between the two north-west rivals remain as keenly-contested as they’ve always been

Bruno Fernandes scored a free-kick winner during their last meeting - in the FA Cup in January

Bruno Fernandes scored a free-kick winner during their last meeting – in the FA Cup in January

The balance of power since Fergie retired 

2013-14 Liverpool (2nd) Man United (7th) +20 points

2014-15 United (4th) Liverpool (6th) +8

2015-16 United (5th) Liverpool (8th) +6

2016-17 Liverpool (4th) United (6th) +7

2017-18 United (2nd) Liverpool (4th) +6

2018-19 Liverpool (2nd) United (6th) +31

2019-20 Liverpool (1st) United (3rd) +33

Liverpool have finished ahead of United in four of the campaigns, United have finished higher in three. When Liverpool have the superior season, the margin of points tends to be far greater though.

In 2013-14, Brendan Rodgers’ team mounted a serious title challenge before ultimately missing out to City – but they still finished 20 points above United, whose ‘Chosen One’ in David Moyes had been and gone.

In 2018-19, when Liverpool came second to City despite losing only one game all season, the gap to United in sixth with an almighty 31 points. Last season it was 33.

So Solskjaer has done very well to claw that back, albeit aided by what has turned into a nightmare title defence for Klopp.

But Liverpool have had, of late, something that has become a forgotten tradition at Old Trafford – winning trophies.

Solskjaer undoubtedly has United moving in the right direction again but they have lost in four semi-finals during his tenure. In that time, Liverpool have been getting the job done, conquering Europe and ending their long and agonising wait for the championship.

When Solskjaer says ‘getting back to winning ways’ he means by lifting trophies and, by the looks of the present landscape in English football, that means dislodging Pep Guardiola’s City from an ever-loftier perch.

It would be a major breakthrough if United can finish this season by winning the Europa League, with the two legs of their semi-final against Roma sandwiching the Liverpool match. Thursday night’s 6-2 first leg win sees them with one foot in the final. 

Solskjaer was a proven winner as a player but he needs to prove as a manager that those in his charge can overcome this psychological barrier and win that first piece of silverware.

Champions-elect Manchester City are the team both Liverpool and United have to overcome

Champions-elect Manchester City are the team both Liverpool and United have to overcome

Nobody expects the same kind of dynasty that followed Ferguson’s first trophy – the 1990 FA Cup – but if Solskjaer wants to restore United to the very top, the Europa League would be an excellent place to start.

As for Liverpool, it is sustaining those high standards that has proved impossible this season. It’s the first time during Klopp’s tenure they have failed to reach even a semi-final, let alone win anything.

But there are plenty of extenuating circumstances for the regression. The injury crisis that ended the seasons of first-choice centre-halves Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez took a heavy toll.

Other key players including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson have endured spells on the sidelines. The makeshift look of Liverpool’s defence has seen vulnerability creep in.

Unusually, six of their league defeats have come at home and the heavy losses to Aston Villa and Manchester City have shown Klopp’s champions are just as fallible as anyone else on a bad day.

The injuries suffered by Virgil van Dijk (pictured) and others hampered Liverpool's too much

The injuries suffered by Virgil van Dijk (pictured) and others hampered Liverpool’s too much

We knew quite early in the season that a successful title defence amid such a situation would be tricky but City’s rampant winning form made it impossible by the start of Spring.

That form also snuffed out United’s brief flicker of a challenge at the beginning of the year but they can still have a pretty good season.

Actual matches between United and Liverpool remain close affairs. The goalless draw played out at Anfield in January saw in-form United frustrated in their search of a late winner.

It took a brilliant Bruno Fernandes free-kick to settle their FA Cup tie at Old Trafford seven days later, continuing the theme of there being precious little between them in recent years.

United have moved forward, with Bruno Fernandes to the fore, but need to win a trophy

United have moved forward, with Bruno Fernandes to the fore, but need to win a trophy

You have to go back to the 2015-16 season, with United under Louis van Gaal, for the last time either side managed a league double over the other.

We can expect Liverpool to write this underwhelming season off and return stronger in August. United, meanwhile, will wish to kick on and sustain an actual tilt at the title.

For now, they can take heart from the way they’ve overhauled their greatest rivals again. Just don’t expect it to be a permanent shift.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk