Liverpool v Man United – The Champions League Eclipse
Top 4 Finish
A solar eclipse generally takes place once every few years; a historic kind of event in which the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth obscuring our view of the giant star. Today’s typically cloudy weather meant the blackout itself was concealed – rather ironic, really: the eclipse eclipsed. If there was a slight tinge of disappointment, don’t worry, you might just get another chance to see one Sunday afternoon.
Liverpool face Manchester United in a clash of titanic proportions and that’s no exaggeration. Whoever wins at Anfield on Sunday takes a giant step towards Champions League football next season and in return, elbows the other out of contention for European football’s premier competition – a devastating thought for both clubs. Whilst Arsenal are also in the mix, one would imagine, of the three, the Gunners will nab third spot leaving both United and Liverpool fighting for the final place.
With just two points separating the pair going into the final nine games of the season, this game has a winner-takes-all feel to it even if, in reality, the situation is a little more nuanced than that. There’s no doubt a win for either side puts them in the driving spot for that coveted spot but the remaining fixtures do still present opportunities to redress the balance should the result not go their way.
Manchester United’s run-in looks ominously more difficult than their bitter rivals, though. Louis Van Gaal’s side face consecutive games against champions Manchester City, title-chargers Chelsea and Everton before a penultimate faceoff with Arsenal in the second last week of the season. On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers’ side have just Chelsea and Arsenal to meet.
Whilst United fans will abate concern, deep down, they must be worried. Missing out on Champions League football for a second season running would be catastrophic for the Old Trafford club. It will not only dent the club’s coffers but it will also weaken Van Gaal’s hand when he enters the summer transfer market.
Of course, Manchester United will always be an attractive proposition for any player but the world-class stars will see concurrent failures to qualify for Europe’s showcase competition as not a blip but a trend.
The treatment and performances extracted from the likes of Falcao and Angel Di Maria will also not go down too well on the continent and with Manchester City set to rebuild in the coming months, Eastlands rather than Old Trafford might be a more attractive destination for the crème de la crème.
Liverpool, too, would suffer greatly should they miss out. Having only just made their return – despite a poor showing – consolidating their Top 4 credentials was Rodgers’ number one goal back in August. To build on their exciting showing of 2013/2014, continued Champions League football is critical. The bloated income along with the added bonus of being able to offer elite football would go a long way in their rebuilding process.
For both clubs, failure on Sunday could represent an eclipse that lasts more than just a few fleeting, underwhelming moments – it could last years and it will hurt inexorably.