Choccy’s Diary: It’s Man Utd v Liverpool in the title race and there’s no phone-a-friend

Like most people, I spent Christmas watching repeats, films, box sets not to mention a number of game shows and quizzes featuring various Z list celebrities I’ve never heard of.

Such shows will always bring back memories of my brief cameo on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? during Christmas 2004 when I was asked to be Alex Ferguson and Eamonn Holmes’ phone-a-friend.

And wouldn’t you just know it, when the twosome got stuck on a question about the name of the rooster in 1970s sitcom The Good Life, yours truly was called upon to provide an answer.

In the days before Google was just a tap of the phone away, I struggled to come up with any kind of positive response from the four options I was given – Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky or Rasputin – as the time ticked down.

Beaten by the clock, my old gaffer and his morning TV presenting pal opted for the wrong answer for which I received all the blame, not to mention a frosty reception when I saw the boss the following week.

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Regardless of the fact the show was a bit of fun with the proceeds going to charity, Fergie was furious with me and barely uttered a word my way for several days due to my failings when it came to Tom and Barbara’s feathered friend. It’s yet another example of just what a fearsome competitor the man is whatever he turns his mind to and not just football.

Whether it’s tiddlywinks or top trumps, that man just hates losing and since that day I’ve constantly been reminded that: “Everyone knows the cockerel in The Good Life was called Lenin.”

Winning is a Habit

Of course, I’m no stranger to Fergie’s ruthless winning mentality, but I have no idea to what extent the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will go in order to achieve success. Although I’m sure they are pretty similar.

In light of something of a recent stumble, some people have rather unfairly questioned Klopp’s chances of defending the Premier League title, having finally won the league with Liverpool after a 30-year drought.

To be fair, a number of penalty decisions that would probably have gone their way earlier in the season have eluded them of late, particularly in the game against Southampton, but that’s something they’ll have to deal with.

However, I often hear people say that winning the league is one thing but it’s harder to retain the title, something I have to say I really don’t agree with as when Manchester United won the league after a wait of 26 years, I felt the hard work had been done.

Once you’ve won the title, the pressure is suddenly relieved and you’re able to build on that success knowing you are the best in the land, while the players are spared the constant questioning that comes with such a long spell without success.

Not surprisingly, this win and win again mentality came from the boss, who as soon as we bagged that first championship, turned to us all and said: “Right, who is ready to climb the mountain again?” while making it quite clear that if you weren’t up for the challenge, there was no place for you at the football club.

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It goes without saying that injuries will play a part in any club’s season and Liverpool have had more than their fair share, particularly at the back, which is no doubt a huge factor why they haven’t replicated last season’s stunning form… so far at least.

Saying that, sometimes such adversity can force a manager’s hand for the better. I mean, just look at how the recent Covid outbreak seems to have rejuvenated Manchester City, who looked a shadow of themselves for the first few months of the season.

Suddenly, with fewer resources at his disposal, Pep has turned to the likes of John Stones, who looked out of favour at one point and has excelled in his role, with Riyad Mahrez also looking like a threat once more. Whether these players would have been in the reckoning prior to the outbreak, we’ll never know.

Agony and ecstasy at Anfield 

What must surely be regarded as the game of the season so far will take place on Sunday as Manchester United travel to Anfield to face the champions in this most unpredictable of campaigns.

Few people gave Manchester United a chance back in the autumn, but now they’re looking like genuine title contenders, thanks mostly to their incredible away form and some scintillating counter-attacking football.

I’ve always been a big believer that if you’re in the hunt after Christmas then you have every chance of winning the league, something the great United sides of the past were able to do on a regular basis under Alex Ferguson.

I remember that first Premier League title winning season in 1992/93, we looked well out of contention following a poor start, but a good run over Christmas combined with the arrival of Eric Cantona put us right in the mix.

Once we had put ourselves in that position, confidence grew and we were eventually able to wear down Aston Villa and finally get over the line – something I wouldn’t put past Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side doing come the spring.

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Getting anything at Anfield won’t be easy though, despite the fact there won’t be any fans in attendance this time around – something, which despite possibly being an advantage for United will be a real shame.

I used to love playing there due to the fact the spectators are so close to the pitch and the atmosphere that creates and, in fairness, I always found the Liverpool crowd hostile but fair when I played in front of them.

In the 10 or so times I featured in this fixture, I experienced the whole range of emotions from scoring the winning goal in front of the Kop during that title run-in of 1993 – an effort that would have been ruled out by VAR today due to my blatant push on Steve Nichol – to a 4-0 drubbing at the start of the 90s.

Probably the most painful was our 2-0 defeat in the penultimate game of the 1991/92 season, which subsequently handed Leeds United the title – something the Anfield crowd celebrated wildly, though I don’t blame them. Do you really think United fans wouldn’t have done the same if the roles had been reversed?

I recall being in the bath after that match and thinking to myself I never wanted to experience anything like that again, although it was a defeat that perhaps galvanised us as we went on to finally take the title the following year.

I also featured in two 3-3 draws at Anfield. In one of these, we blew a 3-0 lead having been in total control of the game, while the other we came back from the dead to earn a point after being 3-1 down late in the game.

On both occasions we were given the hairdryer treatment by the boss for wasting an opportunity to take all three points at one of our biggest rivals. Though little did I know that a decade or so later I’d receive a similar tongue lashing for not knowing the name of the cockerel in The Good Life.

Until the next time.



Choccy’s Diary: It’s Man Utd v Liverpool in the title race and there’s no phone-a-friend
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