Manchester United's Ravel Morrison dribbles with the ball against Sheffield United in the FA Youth Cup final at Bramall Lane, May 2011.

Recalling Man Utd 3-2 Liverpool, the wildest FA Youth Cup game ever

Manchester United versus Liverpool. It’s undoubtedly the biggest rivalry in English football and there is no love lost between the two sides.

After all, they are the two most successful clubs in England and there have been some iconic fixtures between the two sides over the years.

United fans will have fond memories of Eric Cantona’s winner in the 1996 FA Cup final, Dimitar Berbatov’s hat-trick at Old Trafford and John O’Shea’s late winner at Anfield.

Liverpool fans have also enjoyed some brilliant moments against their arch-rivals, including the iconic 4-1 and 5-0 wins at Old Trafford.

But arguably the greatest game between the two sides came in front of a 12,000 crowd at Anfield in March 2011.

New signings at both Liverpool and United are made acutely aware of the bad feeling between the two clubs. The same can be said for academy players, who grow up learning to loathe the opposing side. 

Back in 2010-11, United and Liverpool both had talented groups of Under-18s and the two sides met in the quarter-final of the prestigious FA Youth Cup.  

The young Liverpool side was captained by centre-back Conor Coady and had a fearsome front three of Suso, Adam Morgan and Raheem Sterling.

United’s starting XI was also full of highly-rated prospects, including Michael Keane, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Ravel Morrison.

The Youth Cup tie came a week after United’s first team lost 3-1 at Anfield in a heated game that saw Nani in tears after a reckless tackle from Jamie Carragher.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson returned to Anfield and was watching from the stands as he looked to identify the next set of players to promote to the first team.

“It was massive,” former United striker Will Keane told us. “That age group is probably the most important. You know that if you can perform in the Youth Cup, that’s going to get you recognised. You’d always notice that the manager was watching those games and a lot of the senior players took an interest.

“It was a good opportunity to showcase yourself. We knew that if we did well as a team, we could progress to the next level together. We had a strong squad.”

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A 12,000-strong crowd helped create a brilliant atmosphere inside the ground and flares were set off by some of the United fans. 

“That was the first proper game I was involved in, and I’d never played at Anfield before,” former United defender Sean McGinty told Goal. “All the United fans were down one end and the Kop was packed and there were flares going off. It had a real derby feel to it.”

Liverpool, who won the FA Youth Cup in 2006 and 2007, started brightly and a 16-year-old Sterling drove at the United defence before being brought down by Pogba on the edge of the area. 

Suso saw his subsequent free-kick pushed behind by United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone before a long-range strike from Morrison flew narrowly over the Liverpool crossbar.

Sterling, who had scored five goals against Southend in the previous round, continued to cause United problems throughout the first half and played a key role in the opening goal.

He played the ball through a defender’s legs and picked out Morgan, who kept his cool to fire past Johnstone before celebrating in front of the Kop. 

Liverpool started where they left off after the interval and doubled their lead in the 53rd minute when Brad Smith’s cross from the left flank was converted at the back post by Morgan.

The striker couldn’t resist the opportunity to goad the travelling United fans with a five-fingered gesture, celebrating Liverpool’s superior record in the European Cup.

Just like their senior counterparts seven days earlier, United had been completely outplayed at Anfield. But they were handed a lifeline in the 58th minute when Liverpool defender Stephen Sama was dismissed for a challenge on Ryan Tunnicliffe in the penalty area.

Pogba, who was already being tipped for a place in the first-team squad, performed his now trademark penalty run-up and managed to beat goalkeeper Tyrell Belford after fooling him with a fake shot.

But his celebrations didn’t last long. Referee David Coote gave the midfielder a second yellow card for stopping midway through his run-up. United’s man-advantage had disappeared in the blink of an eye, much to the delight of the Liverpool fans. 

Unfortunately for Pogba, the International Football Association Board decided in 2010 that feinting to kick the ball after completing the run-up is unsporting behaviour and an infringement.

“It is clever, but it isn’t allowed,” Belford later told the Manchester Evening News. “But, I wasn’t too sure about the yellow card he got for it, I’m not sure it was needed. I think it was a harsh sending off. It wasn’t needed, it should have just been retaken.

“If he could have got away with it, then why not?”

With United’s main penalty taker now off the pitch, Larnell Cole stepped up to retake the kick and there was no faffing around on this occasion. He ran at the ball and fired it into the bottom corner, sending Belford the wrong way.

After getting a goal back, United smelt blood and Cole skipped past Jon Flanagan on the right wing before drilling a low cross into the penalty area.

Morrison, who was the star attraction in the away team’s ranks, was somehow left unmarked in the box and emphatically fired home to make it 2-2.

Having watched Morgan’s shithouse celebration, the midfielder then celebrated his goal by kissing the United badge in front of the dejected Liverpool fans. 

The game looked set to be heading for extra time and nobody was going to complain about watching this engrossing cup tie for another 30 minutes. But Morrison clearly had places to be.

After a United corner was headed out by a Liverpool defender, the then 17-year-old justified all the hype with a bicycle kick from the edge of the area. 

“Ravel was by far the best player in our team for his raw natural talent,” McGinty told Goal. “I just think big moments in big games, he always managed to come up with something.”

Remarkably, the drama wasn’t quite over there. Tyler Blackett and Coady came together in an off-the-ball clash and the latter was left with a bloodied nose.

Having been brought up in Manchester and Merseyside respectively, it’s no surprise that a United versus Liverpool game brought out the fighting spirit in Blackett and Coady.

Like a supply teacher trying to stamp his authority in a class of rowdy kids, Coote responded by giving both players their marching orders.

Both sides were down to nine men for the closing stages at Anfield but United held on for the win, booking their place in the semi-final.

“It was a massive win,” Will Keane told Goal. “To come through that, it made us think that we had a real chance and we could build momentum from there. Especially as young boys to experience that atmosphere at a ground like Anfield was amazing.”

United then overcame a talented Chelsea side before beating Sheffield United in the final, winning their first FA Youth Cup since 2002-03.

While some players in those two teams have gone on to win Premier League titles and World Cups, it’s safe to say that they won’t have played in many games quite as chaotic and dramatic as this.

By Nathan Egerton

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