For Liverpool, it was the wildest of dreams.
For Manchester United, the worst nightmare in what has been such a promising first season in charge for manager Erik ten Hag.
Liverpool’s 7-0 rout of United in the Premier League on Sunday has the potential to have a lasting impact on both teams’ ambitions this term.
It was United’s worst competitive defeat in more than 90 years, having lost by the same scoreline on three previous occasions — the last time coming in 1931 against Wolverhampton.
The result also eclipsed Liverpool’s previous best victory against arguably its fiercest rival, which was a 7-1 win in 1895.
“A few months ago, everyone thought it was a good moment to play Liverpool — you can’t say it publicly, but everyone thought it — because they felt we were struggling a lot,” manager Jurgen Klopp said. “But now it is less of a good moment, we look much more like us. It is important that everyone knows we are here, and we are still alive.”
A landmark win could be the launchpad for a powerful finish to the campaign for Liverpool, a push for Champions League qualification and possibly more.
Ten Hag, meanwhile, must hope his players respond in the manner they did after humbling losses against Brentford and Manchester City this season, which sparked impressive undefeated runs.
A four-pronged trophy pursuit now looks highly unlikely, with third-place United 14 points adrift of league leader Arsenal. But after winning the League Cup last week, Ten Hag’s side remains in contention for the FA Cup and Europa League, in what still has the potential to be a triumphant campaign.
Not that the Dutchman was in the mood to look for the positives in the immediate aftermath of what was also his worst-ever defeat as a manager.
“That for me is unprofessional,” he said. “I’m really disappointed and angry. We let our fans down. As a squad, as a team, you cannot allow this.
“You have to stick together and support each other and fight for each other. You have to defend. We didn’t do that and for me that is really unprofessional.”
Ten Hag has endured his share of tough days in his first season in charge of the 20-time league champions.
United lost 4-0 to Brentford in only the second game of the campaign and was beaten 6-3 in his first Manchester derby.
“I know this team will reset and we have to bounce back and we have shown in the past we can,” he said.
Klopp has had his own problems this term as his team has struggled to cope with the departure of Sadio Mane last summer.
Until recently, even a Champions League qualifying top-four finish looked in doubt, with Liverpool suffering bruising losses to Brentford, Brighton and Wolverhampton since the start of 2023.
This win, however, closes the gap to fourth-place Tottenham to three points with a game in hand.
It was also evidence of a growing understanding between Liverpool’s new-look attack as Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah all scored twice, with Roberto Firmino adding the other.
“It was one of the best performances for a long, long time. Everybody saw how good the boys can be,” Klopp said. “No one was doubting Darwin’s future impact. Cody plays in the most difficult area in the pitch against a man-marking side, which is super tricky. Mo is Mo.”
With fourth place now in sight, Liverpool fans might yet dream of an unlikely comeback in the Champions League round-of-16 game against Real Madrid later this month.
While European champions Madrid lead 5-2 after the first leg at Anfield, this was the type of performance to make the Merseyside club believe anything is possible.
Klopp’s assessment of Sunday’s game was concise: “Freak result, top performance.”
Salah became Liverpool’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League with 129 goals in 205 appearances.
The Egypt international surpassed Robbie Fowler’s Premier League tally with his second goal.
“It’s very special, I can’t lie. This record was in my mind since I came here,” Salah told Sky Sports.
Salah earlier in the week became only the second Liverpool player after Ian Rush to score 20 goals for a sixth successive season.