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Big House soccer match a rivalry 'equivalent' to UM-Ohio State

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

Relevent Sports’ Charlie Stillitano cut to the chase on what will separate the third edition of the International Champions Cup from the first two events that drew 109,000 and 105,000 spectators respectively to Michigan Stadium.

“Now we are bringing here the football — or the soccer — equivalent of University of Michigan and Ohio State,” Stillitano said during a news conference Wednesday announcing the July 28 friendly between English Premier League rivals Liverpool and Manchester United. “The only difference is they are both red."

The Relevent Sports executive chairman then jokingly asked: "Are they allowed in the stadium?”

The ICC match will mark Manchester United’s second visit to the Big House. The first in August 2014 came in a friendly against Real Madrid that drew a then world record 109,318 fans.

A Real Madrid-Chelsea ICC encounter in July 2016 attracted 105,826 spectators to Michigan Stadium.

Though an exhibition, Liverpool and Manchester United are adversaries on the soccer field. Only 30 or so miles separate the two northern English cities.

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When he took over as manager in 1986, Sir Alex Ferguson made a proclamation “of knocking Liverpool off its perch,” Stillitano said.

At the time, Liverpool possessed 19 English first division titles; Manchester United 7.

At the end of Ferguson’s 27-year reign, United had 20 to Liverpool’s 19.

Liverpool still has a 5-3 edge in UEFA Champion League titles.

Finnish defender Sami Hyypia played in many Liverpool-Man United tussles, having received his only red card as a member of the Merseyside club in an April 2003 encounter.

He was sent off for a tug on Ruud van Nistelrooy’s shirt, which resulted in a penalty for United.

“The Man United game was always a special game,” said Hyypia, who had 22 goals in 318 appearances for Liverpool. “Of course, it was always for three points like any other game. The people in Liverpool would start talking three weeks before the game.

“We would have five or six games before and people would be talking about the Man United game before that and then when the game would take place it was a special atmosphere.”

Andrew Cole accumulated 93 goals in 195 appearances for Man United, many at the expense of Liverpool.

“Even if I wasn’t in the team, the manager would pick me to play at (Liverpool’s home stadium) Anfield because the manager said I would score,” said Cole, who was part of the Man United Legends delegation that visited Michigan Stadium in 2014. “Fortunately, Sami would always give me one to score. I was able to get a few.

“The atmosphere was always electric. I imagine when the two teams turn up here it’s going to be absolutely electric.”

The former striker who also played for Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and Manchester City also dismissed the notion the preseason encounter will be a walk in the park. The ICC has grown in scope as a regular-season tune-up for soccer’s elite clubs.

“I'm looking at these friendlies and I am saying to myself there is no time to get fit, because these friendlies mean a lot now,” Cole said.

“It’s a time to put your marker down on teams in your league. We're playing Liverpool, you can put our marker down there. ... They are not friendlies anymore.”