Man Utd Rivalries

With a record 20 top-flight titles and multiple European trophies, Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world. The club that saw their best days under Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson failed to live up to their standard of late. Meanwhile, their fierce rivals are competing for the Premier League title that the Red Devils once dominated. Let’s delve into these and more historical rivals of Manchester United.


Manchester United’s biggest local rival is undoubtedly Liverpool. This fixture is an inter-city rivalry and the clubs are the most successful ones in England.

Why are they rivals?

There is a historical background of economic and industrial differences between the cities. And that also translated into their success on the pitch. Manchester United is in the ascendancy if we only count league titles, but Liverpool won one more trophy that put them ahead as the England club with a populated trophy cabinet.

How did the rivalry start?

The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, in the final decade of the 21st century, had Liverpool politicians oppose the move. This added fire to the regional rivalry feeling. And, with both clubs starting to dominate the English football landscape, that sentiment grows in nature.

Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard are the epitomes of this matchup. It’s compulsory to develop a distaste for your biggest rivals to win hearts at your club.

Biggest Games

28 April, 1894

Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United

This was the first-ever competitive game involving the two clubs. At Ewood Park, Liverpool were victorious to book a place at the 1984-85 First Division.

21 May, 1977

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

The first cup final saw Manchester United end Liverpool’s hopes of a treble in 1977. Jimmy Greenhoff scored the winner as Bob Paisley’s Reds had to settle for a league and European Cup double.

11 May, 1996

Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United

19 years later, the Red Devils once again won the prestigious FA Cup by beating their big rivals in the final. But the headline comes right after the final whistle as Liverpool fans attacked Ferguson and Erik Cantona as they went on to Wembley’s Royal Box to collect the trophy.

14 March, 2009

Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool

Not one Manchester United fans relished in a good memory, Liverpool stunned Ferguson at their yard. But they ended up winning the league that season, which was not a small consolation.

11 February, 2012

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez’s beef dominated this tie in the early 2010s. The Uruguayan slapped with an eight-game suspension for what was deemed as a racial abuse towards Manchester United’s left-back. The first time they met since that incident had Suarez refusing to shake Evra’s hands before kickoff and the Frenchman provoking him in celebration after a 2-1 success.


Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United (on aggregate)

This Europa League Round of 16 tie was the stage for their first continental meeting. Liverpool progressed after defending their first-leg win in the return fixture at Old Trafford.

5 March, 2023

Liverpool 7-0 Manchester United

After winning the League Cup, Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United were in good spirits when they traveled to Anfield last season. But it resulted in one of the worst defeats in the club’s history. The following season, they held then-league leaders Liverpool to a goalless draw.

Played for both

To date, 1964 saw the final transfer between the two clubs. Phil Chisnall, who only had brief spells at both, was the last to do it when he left Matt Busby’s United for Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.

We even have to go back to Michael Owen’s playing days to find the last player to feature for both clubs. Prior to that, Paul Ince played for both clubs but had a spell at Inter Milan in between.


Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger had a rivalry that is still remembered as the most heated in the history of English football. The emergence of investor-backed clubs Chelsea and Manchester City ended the chapter prematurely.

Why are they rivals?

Although their first meeting dates back to 1919, there was no rivalry between the clubs until the 1990s. Competing for the league title consistently had both sets of fans and players look at each other as big rivals.

How did the rivalry start?

This can be traced back to Sir Alex’s famous interview in which he slammed Wenger’s arrival to English football by downplaying his time in Japan. But the Frenchman had other ideas.

Wenger is attributed to the big shift in English football ranging from the playing style to nutrition. And he presented the biggest challenge for Ferguson’s United despite limited financial means.

Biggest Games

12 May, 1979

Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United

The FA Cup is the oldest national football competition in the world. And FA Cup finals used to have huge weight before the priorities changed in modern football. Arsenal fighting back to regain control in the 1979 final after Manchester United canceled a 2-0 first-half deficit was one of those historic nights.

Alan Sunderland was the matchwinner in the game remembered for its moniker of “five-minute final”. Both Manchester United’s goals and Sunderland’s winner came in the final five minutes of a rollercoaster game.

28 November, 1990

Arsenal 2-6 Manchester United

With two hard-fought games between the clubs just before this meeting, such a scoreline and dominance wasn’t to be expected. But Lee Sharpe took center stage with a fine hattrick at the age of 19.

Although Arsenal won the league title thanks to their otherwise solid defensive record, Manchester United recorded one of their biggest wins in the EFL Cup, then called the Rumbelows Cup for sponsorship reasons.

April 14, 1999

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United

Arsene Wenger won the double in his first full season at Arsenal with a famous win at Old Trafford in the process. Three years later, they also had a chance to stop Manchester United’s run for treble,

And they were given a boost with Roy Keane’s sending-off and Ronny Johnson playing through injury. But the extra-time of this FA Cup semi-final decided with Ryan Giggs’ solo effort finding one of Villa Park’s nets.

The Welsh winger’s subsequent celebration is one of the famous images of the FA Cup.

21 September, 2003

Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal

The previous year, Arsenal won the league title at Old Trafford. Although this was an early-season fixture, it had both sides fighting for every ball for the entirety of the game.

And it all boils down when Arsenal players, led by a visibly furious Martin Keown, hurling physical and verbal abuse on Manchester United’s striker Ruud van Nistelrooy after his late penalty-kick miss.

24 October, 2004

Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal

Another season, another huge game between the then-giants. Arsenal’s 49 unbeaten league games streak came to an end at Old Trafford. And, as fate has it, van Nistelrooy scored the first goal in the final quarter of the game from a controversial spot-kick.

28 August, 2011

Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal

By 2011, this rivalry lost plenty of its meaning. While Sir Alex’s dominance ended with lots of new names in the title race, Arsenal was totally left behind with a top-four finish suddenly becoming their ambition.

After this heavy defeat at the start of the 2011/12 season, with Rooney scoring a hattrick, Arsenal’s board had to hurry in the final few days of the transfer market. Mikel Arteta was one of the names.

Played for both

Robin van Persie’s transfer to Manchester United stands tall in this category. In his first season, the Dutchman was the big reason behind Sir Alex’s tenure ending in a league trophy.

Alexis Sanchez followed a similar career path some six years later, but it wasn’t to be a successful jump. In the same summer, Arsenal signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Manchester United.

Manchester City

Manchester derby gathered more attraction since the 2008-09 season with City’s acquisition.

Why are they rivals?

4 miles (6.4 km) is the distance between the stadiums of the two clubs. But that City resurgence was needed for this derby game played in a level ground.

How did the rivalry start?

Since the 1894-95 Football League season, the Manchester derby has seen lots of stories from either side of the equation. In the 1970s, there was plenty of blood in this fixture.

George Best’s challenge on City’s defender Glyn Pardoe started the trend in 1970. Best was also involved in the next season’s 3-3 draw as Francis Lee theatrically showed the referee how he dived to get a penalty-kick decision.

In 1973, the game had to be temporarily abandoned with the teams sent back to the dressing room after two players (one from each) refused to leave after red cards.

Although all these incidents and their proximity matter, it gets to a new level of competitiveness since Manchester City started competing for titles with the help of financial backing from City Football Group.

Biggest Games

10 November, 1994

Manchester United 5-0 Manchester City

This is Manchester United’s biggest-ever Manchester derby victory. While superstars Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes scored, it was Andrei Kanchelskis’ night as the Russian international scored a hattrick. Kanchelskis later played for Manchester City, on loan from Rangers.

20 September, 2009

Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City

Michael Owen didn’t live up to the number 7 stature at Old Trafford, but he left a mark on Manchester derby history with a late winner in a seven-goal thriller back in 2009.

23 October, 2011

Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City

“Why Always Me?” Mario Balotelli unveiled an iconic message as the Italian helped City salvage a dream win at Old Trafford. The scoreline, which was a bit flattering since City scored three injury-time goals, was also significant in the end as the Cityzens pipped Manchester United for the title on goal difference.

2 October, 2022

Manchester City 6-3 Manchester United

11 years later, again in October, City scored half a dozen against United. Erling Haaland and Phil Foden both scored hattricks with the Red Devils behind by 4-0 at half-time.

3 June, 2023

Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United

By now, the FA Cup lost its grace in English football, but it was the first-ever cup final between the Manchester clubs. Ilkay Gundogan, who was the skipper of the treble-winning City side, scored the fastest FA Cup final goal with the opening strike of the night 12 seconds after kickoff.

Played for both

It’s now over a decade since we saw a player featuring for both clubs. Andy Cole, Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves are the only ones to do so in the 21st century. Following Manchester United’s long-standing goalie Peter Schmeichel, Tevez crossing that path is a controversial transfer between the clubs.

Leeds United

Roses rivalry is a heated fixture between Northern English clubs. Although there is a huge difference between the number of trophies won by the clubs, it’s one of the most heated matchups in English football.

Why are they rivals?

The two cities are located 40 miles (64 km) from each other, but there is a huge rivalry between the sets of fans. Even if there haven’t been many incidents where they crossed paths since 1982, that sentiment still lives strong at both clubs.

How did the rivalry start?

The 1977 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough was the standout fixture in the history of their rivalry. The following season, Manchester United signed Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, which didn’t leave a good impression on Leeds United fans just like three more high-profile transfers in the next decades.

Biggest Games

19 February, 1972

Leeds United 5-1 Manchester United

The 1960s and early 1970s had Leeds United achieve success both on the domestic and European stage. Meanwhile, Manchester United even faced relegation to second division in 1974.

Two years earlier, Leeds extended their dominance over United with a memorable 5-1 victory at Ellan Road. Mike Jones scored a hattrick that night after a difficult season plugged by injuries.

April 23, 1977

Manchester United 2-1 Leeds United

Leeds beat Manchester United in a tense FA Cup semi-final tie in a replay. 12 years later, the two clubs were also involved in another fiery encounter with Manchester United the winner this time around.

There were numerous incidents outside of Hillsborough that night with injuries and arrests to both sets of fans in the aftermath.

Players clashes

This rivalry is different from others in which there have been lots of individual matters over the years. Roy Keane-Alfie Haaland, Ian Harte-Fabien Barthez and Robbie Keane-David Beckham entered in multiple clashes whenever the two teams locked horns.

20 December, 2020

Manchester United 6-2 Leeds United

After Leeds’ 17-year stay in the Championship ended under Marcelo Bielsa, the Reds Devils welcomed their old foes with four goals in the first 37 minutes of their reunion. Leeds also lost to Manchester United by a 5-1 scoreline in the opening fixture of the following season.

Played for both

This part is very important to get the full picture of this rivalry. Besides the aforementioned transfers in 1975, Eric Cantona, Alan Smith and Rio Ferdinand played huge roles in this history with their controversial moves from Leeds United to Manchester United.

These transfers maintained the rivalry surrounding the two clubs even when there were no games to be played between them.

European rivals

To conclude, let’s jump over to some of the big continental rivals of Manchester United in its heyday.

Bayern Munich

The 1998-99 Champions League final played in Barcelona lives long in memory as Manchester United scored two injury-time goals against Bayern to complete a treble. It was a tough one to swallow for the Germans as they dominated the game before those iconic moments.

Contrary to that night, Manchester United only managed to beat Bayern in one of their last ten meetings. And that one was also not helpful with a famous Arjen Robben’s curler sending Bayern to the next round via away goals rule.


There have been some big games tipping the two clubs with the Catalans usually coming on top, including two Champions League finals. Manchester United’s only win against Barcelona was in the 2007-08 Champions League semi-final when they eventually lifted the trophy beating Chelsea on penalties.

Real Madrid

The 2012-13 Round of 16 tie against Real Madrid with Nani’s controversial sending-off is the final time the clubs faced. But the big stories involving the two dealt with the mega transfers of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United to Real Madrid.