Liverpool Greatest Xl v Manchester United Greatest Xl: Who Wins?

Ahead of the lunchtime game between Liverpool and Manchester United, We got two fans to name the greatest ever Xls of players they had actually seen play in the flesh...
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Ahead of the lunchtime game between Liverpool and Manchester United, We got two fans to name the greatest ever Xls of players they had actually seen play in the flesh...

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Ahead of the lunchtime game between Liverpool and Manchester United, We got two fans to name the greatest ever Xls of players they had actually seen play in the flesh...

Liverpool Greatest Xl

GK: Pepe Reina

Plays like a sweeper at times, has got better in the air, kicks off both feet, has a beautiful, perfectly smooth, round head and was the fastest keeper in our history to 100 clean sheets. Grob might have won more and Dudek danced us to victory in Istanbul, but neither touch Reina for sheer class. 9

RB: Rob Jones

If Rob Jones hadn’t had a back like a wet fence in Walton and a knee made of glass, that ratbag Gary Neville would have considerably less England caps. I loved watching ‘Chopsy’ Nicol as a kid, but it’s Jones for me. Could play on either side, knew how to defend with it, full of pace and great on the ball. That he retired at 27 made me weep. 7

CB: Alan Hansen

Although I could happily give him a right-hander for his vampiric performances on the MOTD sofa, Hansen was the first Liverpool player I really, truly, loved. Couldn’t tackle or head but he was as continental as British defenders got in the 80s. The dictionary definition of ‘not a hair out of place,’ though I suspect he has been using creosote on it since 1977. 9

CB: Sami Hyppia

‘Oooohhh Sami Sami, Sami Sami Sami Hyyppppiiiaaaaaa…’ was the first song my stepson heard sung at Anfield for his first, and Hyppia’s last, game. Criminally underused by Rafa in his final season (who almost didn’t bring him on against Spurs that day) he memorably stepped in at the last minute for the sacking of Old Trafford and played like Beckenbauer. 8

LB: Jamie Carragher

Not his best position by a country mile, but there is no way I could leave Carra out. Has made more last ditch tackles than any footballer in the history of the game, deep thinker tactically and won’t stand for any rubbish. Anyone who has seen him, close up, hammering Phillip Degen will agree. ‘Degen… DEGEN… DEEEEGGGEEEENNN you ******* ****, mark your man…” 8

RM: Steve McManaman

He might have looked like Rodney from Only Fools and Horses with a perm, but the ‘coltish’ (copyright Fleet Street, 1992) Macca breathed fresh air into Liverpool’s moribund midfield under Souness. Scorer of great goals – Celtic twice, Villa etc – our plan at corners when he played used to involve passing short to him and letting him dribble. What we’d give now for someone on the flanks who was as comfortable on the ball. 9

CM: Steven Gerrard

He might have the worst haircut in the history of football and he might, due to the Chelsea courtship, be difficult to like at times but christ can he play. People might scoff, but when he had the security of Alonso and Mascherano behind him there was no-one better in his position. 10

LM: John Barnes

You can keep your Barcelonas, your Milans and your Brazils, the team Liverpool team that Dalglish put together, featuring Beardsley and Barnes left such an indelible impression on a nine-year-old boy that whenever I’ve set a team up since, either coaching, on Fifa or Championship Manager, I play with two wide men and a number ten. Imagine what Barnes would cost in the modern game? Sod England and the fans who booed him, Barnes was a hero and was nearly as good in the middle of the park after his thigh injury. 9

CF: Kenny Dalglish

As much as I loved Beardsley, there is no way I could have him ahead of Kenny. Technically perfect, not scared to put his head in, unparalleled with his back to goal and wearer of the most aesthetically pleasing number 7 shirt in history. Dalglish is to Liverpool what Maradona was to Napoli. And then some. 10

ST: Robbie Fowler

It was the 90s, the glory days had slipped away and we were all in a funk. Then a snotty nosed tyro with dynamite in his left-boot arrived and started ploughing goals in from everywhere. Still the fourth highest scorer in Premier League history with 163 goals (15 ahead of that turncoat Welshman Michael Owen) watching Fowler was joy unconfined. My favourite goal was when he Cruyff-nutmegged Steve Staunton at Villa Park and hit an exocet at the catflap. God indeed… 9

ST: Ian Rush

When Torres let the United defenders pass the ball around in last season’s FA Cup clash, my heart ached for Rushie. As devastating in the penalty box as anyone in the modern era, his work ethic was legendary. I was seven when he scored the iconic camera-toppling goal against Everton in the 1986 FA Cup final, and my four-year-old brother was so distressed when he left that he continued to call John Aldridge ‘Rushie’. 10

Player – Manager: Kenny Dalglish

I’ve fallen in love with him three times. 10

Total: 107

Manchester United Greatest XI

GK: Peter Schmeichel

Although Edwin van der Sar is largely credited with revolutionising the goalkeeper, Schmeichel was instigating attacks years before the Dutchman. Hailed by Sir Alex Ferguson as the ‘bargain of the century’, (£530,000), rarely a game would go by without the Great Dane plucking a ball out from the air and launching the size five to the halfway line where Andrei Kanchelskis or Ryan Giggs would continue the counter-attack. His performance in the 1999 Champions League final kept United on life support and it was in Europe where he executed his finest save when, against Rapid Vienna, he drew comparisons with Gordon Banks. Imposing and a regular match-winner, he didn’t have as good a defence in front of him as Van der Sar did, which made his goalkeeping all the more extraordinary. 10

RB: Gary Neville

As Mancunian as the Stone Roses, his tribalism and love for his club overshadowed just how accomplished a defender he was at right-back and even at centre-back – as Ferguson once opined: ‘If he was an inch taller he'd be the best centre half in Britain. His father is 6ft 2in - I'd check the milkman.’ He excelled at providing ammunition for a number of expert marksmen in red for almost two decades but his defensive nous was impeccable, as he could often be found covering a centre-back or adopting the graft of football’s pre-sanitisation era. It is testament to his ability and dedication that until injury in 2007 he was the best right-back for his club and country. 8

CB: Rio Ferdinand

The Lars von Trier of footballers – an acquired taste who nevertheless produces excellent results. Ferdinand grates on many United supporters for his brashness, lack of professionalism and flirting with Chelsea whilst haggling over a new contract, despite being paid £2.56m during the eight months he served for failing to take a drug test. It’s just as well he is a world-class defender whose contribution to the 2007/08 league and European Cup-winning season was just as crucial as Cristiano Ronaldo’s. Injuries, suspension and attitude have tainted his nine-year United career, but he is arguably the greatest natural defender the club has boasted. 8

CB: Nemanja Vidic

‘He comes from Serbia, he’ll f*****g murder ya.’ It wasn’t per chance that Ferdinand’s upturn in fortunes at Old Trafford coincided with the arrival of the Serb in 2006. A refined Steve Bruce, Vidic is a world-class stopper whose physicality and intimidating stature compensate for his erratic distribution and complement Ferdinand’s silkiness perfectly. Ferdinand may be the better footballer, but Vidic is the better defender – and with a knack for important goals too. His contribution in the 2008/09 title win was criminally overlooked in the award season after Fernando Torres embarrassed him in March, but not by supporters and his teammates, who voted him as player of the year. It was richly deserved. 9

LB: Denis Irwin

The proverbial unsung hero. Irwin was another Leeds United giveaway (£625,000) who was utterly dependable and a nerveless set-piece taker too. Unspectacular yet disciplined, Irwin offered another dimension to United’s attack and arguably reformed the way British full-backs should function, witnessed by his last-minute assist for Roy Keane’s winner at Maine Road in 1993. And before David Beckham had the monopoly on free-kicks, youngsters were endeavouring to recreate the Denis Irwin free-kick – he was an unerringly accurate dead-ball specialist outside the area and close to faultless from 12 yards out. Only Aston Villa’s Michael Oakes denied him in 1999, only for Irwin to slot in four days later from the spot at the Anfield Road End. 8

RM: Cristiano Ronaldo

When a skinny, pimpled and ostentatious teenager danced around a hapless United XI in Lisbon to mark the opening of the José Alvalade stadium, no United supporter could have surmised that they were watching a player who would evolve into the club’s finest player since George Best. Ronaldo’s first three seasons may have been his educational period, but he still scored in two cup finals and netted a brace at Highbury as the diamond was polished by Ferguson. From 2006 until 2009 he matured into the best player in the world – his seasonal scoring stats (six, nine, 12, 23, 42 and down to 26 – when his heart was in Madrid) underline the stratospheric rise. He could play badly in games yet still score twice, smashed in free-kicks and embarrassed the most reputable opponents while in his United career’s epoch – the 2007/08 campaign – he scored against every opponent except Manchester City (he played them just once) and Barcelona (against whom he missed a penalty). To quote the chant, ‘Running down the wing, hear United sing! Viva Ronaldo!10

He enjoys a following which the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton would struggle to rival as a collective, let alone individually.

CM: Roy Keane

Unquestionably the model example for any budding professional footballer that determination and the obsession to win can compensate for a lack of ability. Keane was uncompromising, snarling and a born leader who by galvanizing his colleagues and demanding the mythical 110 per cent embodied his manager on the pitch. Like Ronaldo and Eric Cantona, Ferguson would turn a blind eye to certain faults his captain possessed because he was so indispensable and inspirational. In 2005 he won United’s titanic nocturnal clash at Arsenal before the two teams had left the tunnel, and his contribution in the 1999 Champions League semi-final in Turin remains one of the greatest individual performances in the club’s history. Off the pitch, his frankness and empathy with supporters endeared him further as the club become a brand. 9

CM: Paul Scholes

Aside from his refusal to play against Arsenal in a 2001 League Cup match, Scholes personified the professionalism Ferguson yearns for all of his squad members to display. ‘Get up, go to work, play the game, get showered, go home. No fuss.’ is the motto associated with the Ginger Prince, and his development as a United player signals his ingenuity as he was converted from a striker into a trequartista before playing out the winter of his career as a regista. A Salford lad whose modesty, catalogue of amazing goalsand mischievousness all contribute to the esteem he is held in by United followers, the list of compliments he has received from some of the game’s greats illustrates the grandeur he is held in by his peers, from Zinedine Zidane to Xavi. 9

LM: Ryan Giggs

His longevity and collection of medals is unrivalled by anyone ever to have played in British football, yet his achievements have masked years of personal underachievement. When Giggs slotted home the title clincher at Wigan and the penalty shootout winner in Moscow it masked what had been such an execrable season that many Reds hoped he would retire on such a high. Ironic then that in the three subsequent years he has arguably played his best football for the club, still leaving defenders with twisted blood and emerging as the lynchpin having been converted into a midfielder to compensate for an uninspiring midfield. United are more reliant on the adopted Mancunian now than when he was in his twenties, enacting electrifying surges which once compelled a commentator to liken his pursuer as ‘like a Mini chasing a Porsche’. Immortalised when he completed that wonderful run at Villa Park. 8

ST: Ruud van Nistelrooy

The greatest goalscorer at the Theatre of Dreams since Denis Law and an advocate of Gordon Gekko’s theory that ‘greed is good’. Ferguson was right to retain his interest in signing the Dutchman after his transfer collapsed in 2000, for in his debut season he banged in a remarkable 36 goals, scoring 150 for the Red Devils over the course of five seasons. Just one came from outside the area (Charlton away – 2005/06) but therein lies the mastery behind Van Nistelrooy – he was an arch poacher who could still score different goals despite all but one coming within the penalty box’s radius. His solo efforts against Fulham and Arsenal stand out but one of the most abiding memories he offered came at Villa Park in January 2002. United, 2-0 down and less than 15 minutes to go before an FA Cup 3rd round exit, halved the deficit through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before Van Nistelrooy executed a brilliant brace to win the game and spark one of the most memorable pitch invasions in English football in what was his inauguration as a Red. Unfortunately for him though, his potency came during a period of transition for the team. 8

ST: Eric Cantona

Denis Law is the King, Eric Cantona is God. His chants are still aired religiously home and away and always will be, for he enjoys a following which the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton would struggle to rival as a collective, let alone individually. The enemy who crossed the Pennines from Leeds (for a paltry £1.25m), he was the catalyst who ended the club’s 26-year title drought and elevated them to a new level of success. He scored great goals and created great goals, yet while the Gallic god’s penchant for kicking hooligans, philosophising about seagulls and seeing the red mist occasionally overshadows his ingenuity as a footballer (he never carried his domestic bliss into Europe either), United had never experienced a period of success in such a short amount of time, winning four league titles and two FA Cups (two domestic Doubles). Cantona’s arrival changed everything. 9

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

He has seen off every major domestic rival United have faced in his 24 years and 11 months, awakening a sleeping giant and making it more gargantuan. If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor. 10

Total: 106

Liverpool 107 - Manchester United 106

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