The Best Premier League Rivalries

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Football is well-known for its short-termism. Something brilliant that happened five minutes ago quickly becomes the best thing ever.

Former Liverpool and England defender, and current Gary Neville-baiter in the Sky Sports studio, Jamie Carragher, recently asserted that the ongoing toe-to-toe tussle between Manchester City and Liverpool is the biggest rivalry in Premier League history.

While he may not be far off the mark regarding the consistent quality of the two sides involved, does City v Liverpool match the biggest Premier League rivalries ever?

Here, we look at the five biggest Premier League rivalries since 1992.

John Rogers
John Rogers

published 11:21, 05 May 2022

5. Manchester United vs Newcastle United (1995 to 1997)

In 1995, Kevin Keegan’s free-spirited Newcastle United side captured the hearts of fans up and down the country with their rip-roaring, full-throttle, goal-laden attacking style of play.

Supporters were stunned at the start of the year when he let top goal-scorer Andy Cole leave St James’ Park for Old Trafford, and he was forced to stand outside the ground pleading with angry supporters to trust him.

12-months later and Keegan’s judgement appeared to be sound. They sat 12-points ahead of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League.

The two sides met at St James’ Park in March 1996, and the mercurial Frenchman, Eric Cantona, scored the game’s only goal as Peter Schmeichel put in an inspired performance to keep wave after wave of Newcastle attack out. Keegan’s Newcastle had outplayed Ferguson’s Red Devils and lost.

Man United v Newcastle Head to Head (Premier League only)

Manchester Utd Wins Newcastle Utd Wins Draws Goals-per-Game
32 7 15 3.11

Things then seemed to conspire against Keegan and Newcastle. Painful defeat in a 7-goal thriller at Anfield, followed by his bitter “I would love it if we beat them!” outburst in response to some wry observations from Ferguson, meant it was no great surprise to the outsider when, on the final day of the campaign, a 1-1 draw against Spurs coupled with Manchester United’s win at Middlesbrough handed the title to Ferguson.

That summer, Keegan shattered the transfer record to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers. A 5-0 demolition of Manchester United at St James’ Park suggested Newcastle would overtake their great rivals in the autumn.

However, a boardroom dispute saw Keegan resign in January 1997.

Kenny Dalglish took over, another 4-3 defeat at Anfield in the Spring of 1997 pretty much ended their title hopes, and they finished runners-up again, seven points behind Manchester United.

Although this Premier League rivalry was relatively short-lived, it had burned intensely with all of the bitterness, hatred and suspicion the neutral adores.

Jamie Carragher

Former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher(Image:

4. Manchester United vs Manchester City (2011-2016)

Although a local derby, the big Premier League rivalry between the two Manchester clubs began to ramp up in intensity once the big pound notes distributed by the benevolent Sheikh began to propel City towards the top of the English game.

Until then, City had occasionally given United a bloody nose with the odd derby win here and there. Still, waves began to be made in 2009 when they signed Carlos Tevez from their cross-city rivals and made great play of the fact with cheeky billboards plastered across Manchester.

Man United v Man City Head to Head (Premier League Only)

Manchester Utd Wins Manchester City Wins Draws Goals-per-Game
24 17 9 2.76

In October 2011, City went to Old Trafford and did the unthinkable, thrashing United 6-1 in a result that suggested a shift in power across the city. In April 2012, a Vincent Kompany header completed the double for City over United. City then went on to clinch their first Premier League title on goal difference thanks to Sergio Aguero’s stoppage-time winner against QPR, and things were never the same again.

Except for the 2012-13 season, which saw United canter to the title by an 11-point margin over City in Ferguson’s final season, the rivalry has been dominated by City. Even when they have been not challenging for silverware, the Etihad-based club have bettered United, as seen in 2015-16 when they beat United to the Champions League once again on goal difference.

3. Manchester United vs Chelsea (2004 – 2011)

Sir Alex Ferguson had first been introduced to the whirling dervish that was Jose Mourinho in 2004 when the then Porto manager led his side to Champions League glory, firstly at Old Trafford and then in the final.

At the end of that season, he pitched up at Stamford Bridge, began shaking up everything and everyone in the Premier League, and quickly turned Manchester United vs Chelsea into one of the Premier League’s greatest rivalries.

Man United v Chelsea Head to Head (Premier League Only)

Manchester Utd Wins Chelsea Wins Draws Goals-per-Game
17 18 25 2.45

Although Mourinho arguably had a more significant impact on Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger regarding interpersonal relationships than Ferguson, the Portuguese’s arrival in London gave way to some huge heavyweight skirmishes between the two sides. Mourinho picked up titles in 2005 and 2006 before Ferguson responded in 2007.

A year later, in 2008, the two sides met in the final of the Champions League, although by then, Mourinho had left Chelsea to be replaced by Avram Grant. A titanic tussle in Moscow saw United win on penalties to cap an era in which personal duels on the pitch characterised this great rivalry.

Nemanja Vidic against Didier Drogba, Paul Scholes against Frank Lampard, Cristiano Ronaldo against Ashley Cole, and two of the finest goalkeepers in the world in Petr Cech and Edwin van der Sar. The list is endless.

The two sides went toe-to-toe for the title in 2010 and 2011, each club winning one apiece before Manchester City arrived on the scene and Ferguson departed.

2. Manchester City vs Liverpool (2016 to date)

Manchester City and Liverpool unquestionably contest one of the biggest Premier League rivalries of the past-30 years. Although Jamie Carragher isn’t quite right to suggest that this is the first time since the 1970s that England has laid claim to Europe’s out-and-out best sides (see Manchester United vs Chelsea) since Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp arrived on these shores, they have helped their clubs emerge as the best in England and also fired a flame across Europe.

The two managers crossed swords in Germany when Klopp was at Borussia Dortmund and Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Since arriving in England, they’ve led their clubs to a level of consistency on the pitch that is among the best the Premier League has seen.

While the matches themselves often lack the needle and cynicism usually associated with big Premier League rivalries, they are often dramatic.

Man City v Liverpool Head to Head (Premier League Only)

Manchester City Wins Liverpool Wins Draws Goals-per-Game
11 20 19 2.92

The league rivalry truly kicked off in the 2018-19 season when City pipped Liverpool to the title by a single point, having won their last 14 matches. A year later, roles were reversed as Liverpool cruised to the title by a massive margin of 18 points and then again this season, a single point split the two sides as City won their second title in successive seasons.

The intriguing clash of styles, with Klopp’s favoured high-octane Gegenpress style against Guardiola’s creative possession-hungry passing style, always makes for a fascinating and watchable clash.

With the two sides’ domination of English football showing no signs of dimming, it’ll be fascinating to see how this big Premier League rivalry develops in the coming years.

1. Manchester United v Arsenal (1997 to 2004)

This was the rivalry that had everything. Fireworks on and off the pitch, frequent red cards, a food fight in the tunnel at Old Trafford, brilliant goals and barely disguised simmering hatred between the two clubs and their managers.

Arsene Wenger’s impact on Arsenal when he arrived in 1996 is well known. Breathing new life into the Gunners and English Football as a whole, he also put Sir Alex Ferguson’s nose firmly out of joint.

The first signs of United’s dominance being challenged came in Wenger’s first season when Ian Wright and Peter Schmeichel clashed in both games. United won both games on their way to their fourth Premier League title, but things changed a year later. A 3-2 win at Highbury followed by a 1-0 win at Old Trafford thanks to a Marc Overmars goal in March 1998 set the Gunners on the way to the league and FA Cup double.

Man United v Arsenal Head to Head (Premier League Only)

Manchester Utd Wins Arsenal Wins Draws Goals-per-Game
25 17 18 2.47

A year later, the rivalry hit new heights as United overcame the Gunners in a thrilling FA Cup semi-final to the historic treble, thanks to a beautiful solo-winner from Ryan Giggs, this after Roy Keane had been sent off for United.

Keane was often at the centre of things alongside Patrick Vieira, the two famously almost coming to blows in the tunnel at Highbury before a game.

A 6-1 win for United at Old Trafford looked to have given Ferguson the long-term bragging rights over his great rival; however, a year later, Sylvain Wiltord’s goal at Old Trafford was enough to seal Arsenal’s second league title. “This is a shift of power!” Wenger exclaimed afterwards.

Two years later, Arsenal went throughout the entire season unbeaten. This included a hostile 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. Martin Keown confronted Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Dutchman had missed a penalty, after which pizza was exchanged as mid-air projectiles between the two sides.

Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten league run ended at Old Trafford in Autumn 2004 as they were beaten 2-0 in another feisty match. By then, Jose Mourinho had joined Chelsea, and the land was shifting in the Premier League.

No matter how long football continues in this country, the biggest Premier League rivalries yet to come may never top Manchester United vs Arsenal.

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