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Can Liverpool end two decades of hurt?

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 1:04 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Liverpool is one of the most successful clubs in English football history, but it has failed to win a league title for 24 years. Hwover the goals of Uruguayan Luis Suarez (left) and England striker Daniel Sturridge (right) have propelled Liverpool up to second in the Premier League table ahead of Sunday's match against Manchester United. Liverpool is one of the most successful clubs in English football history, but it has failed to win a league title for 24 years. Hwover the goals of Uruguayan Luis Suarez (left) and England striker Daniel Sturridge (right) have propelled Liverpool up to second in the Premier League table ahead of Sunday's match against Manchester United.
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Dare to dream?
24 years of hurt
Moyes' misery
Fall from grace
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Liverpool plays Manchester United in the English Premier League on Sunday
  • Liverpool is bidding to win the English championship for the first time since 1990
  • Man Utd is the most successful club in English history, with 20 championships
  • But United has struggled under new manager David Moyes

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(CNN) -- A familiar refrain for many football fans is that it's "the hope that kills you."

Over the last two decades for one of the world's most famous sports teams Liverpool, there's been a lot of hope extinguished as a 121-year-old football institution has failed to recapture its former dominance of English football.

Between 1973 and 1990, the English championship was placed in the trophy cabinet at the club's Anfield stadium on 11 occasions.

That domestic success was accompanied by continental glory as the European Cup was taken to Merseyside four times between 1977 and 1984.

But then came the famine.

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After sealing a then record 18th English title in 1990, Liverpool has only sporadically shown signs of mounting a genuine Premier League challenge -- until this season as the club makes an unlikely bid to win the league.

Like Liverpool fans, one of their outstanding performers this season Daniel Sturridge is dreaming big.

"I think it's important that we just go out there, work as hard as we can as a team in every game and perceive what the future holds," Sturridge told CNN ahead of a key league match against Manchester United.

"We hope to have some success, we hope to be successful. There are 10 games to go so we'll see where that takes us."

During that title famine, Liverpudlians had to watch on as great rival United established itself as the preeminent force in English football.

In April last year, United beat Aston Villa 3-0 to clinch a 20th league title, meaning it stands alone as the most successful team in English soccer history.

The two teams meet on Sunday in a match which is about more than sporting pride. It's a simmering century-old rivalry, shaped by resentment between the two cities -- separated by roughly 30 miles -- that has its roots in industrial history.

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Read: Liverpool and Man Utd's tempestuous past

But for the first time in two decades, the balance has shifted in the battle for power between these two storied clubs.

United is floundering in seventh place in the table following a disastrous campaign which has so far seen manager David Moyes struggle to emulate his illustrious predecessor Alex Ferguson.

While United are struggling to even qualify for Europe's premier tournament -- the Champions League -- Liverpool is riding high.

An exciting, vibrant team built by Northern Irish coach Brendan Rodgers sits second in the Premier League table, seven points behind leaders Chelsea but with a game in hand.

The driving force behind Liverpool's rise have been goalscorers Luis Suarez and Sturridge, who have put the team in with a serious chance of ending a 24-year wait for a 19th league title.

Uruguay's Suarez and England international Sturridge, dubbed the "SAS" by the British media, have scored 24 and 18 Premier League goals respectively, rocketing Liverpool towards the top of the table.

"SAS dynamic and dominant, but everyone contributing and effective," tweeted Liverpool's American owner John W Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox, after the recent 4-0 drubbing of Merseyside rivals Everton.

It has been suggested the rivalry between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool can be traced back to the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. Tired of paying their dues to import through the Mersey estuary, Manchester merchants built their own waterway, leaving Liverpudlian dock workers disgruntled and out of pocket. It has been suggested the rivalry between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool can be traced back to the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. Tired of paying their dues to import through the Mersey estuary, Manchester merchants built their own waterway, leaving Liverpudlian dock workers disgruntled and out of pocket.
A deep rivalry
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Liverpool vs. Manchester United: A rivalry in pictures Liverpool vs. Manchester United: A rivalry in pictures
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Lionel Messi of Barcelona went up against his fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero of Manchester City in the second leg of the last 16 Champions League clash between the two sides at the Camp Nou. Aguero had to be substituted at halftime after suffering a hamstring injury. Lionel Messi of Barcelona went up against his fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero of Manchester City in the second leg of the last 16 Champions League clash between the two sides at the Camp Nou. Aguero had to be substituted at halftime after suffering a hamstring injury.
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So with 10 games to go of the 2013-14 season, Liverpool fans are daring to hope.

The turnaround in the team's fortunes has been startling.

It finished the 2012-13 campaign in seventh position, 28 points behind table-toppers United, 12 points adrift of fourth-place Arsenal and qualification for the lucrative Champions League.

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Last season Liverpool finished with 61 points, but it has 59 points so far in the 2013-14 campaign with 30 points still to play for.

Rodgers' team has already won more matches than it did in the whole of last season -- 18 compared to 16 -- and it's the most in-form team in the Premier League with five wins from its last six games.

The team's recent positive results have been a source of encouragement for former Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, who made over 500 appearances for The Reds before calling time on his career at the end of the 2012-13 season.

The former defender is even starting to believe that Rodgers' emerging squad is capable of taking the title ahead of mega-rich powerhouses Chelsea and Manchester City.

"The way Brendan has put the team together and the way they're playing at the moment, they're the most in-form team and the best time to be in-form is towards the end of the season," Carragher told CNN.

"They've put themselves in with a great chance. You'd still have to fancy Chelsea and Manchester City slightly ahead of them, but both those teams have to play at Anfield. I think it will depend on how they do in those games."

Steve McManaman, who is a former Liverpool teammate of Carragher, has also been impressed by Rodgers' flourishing team.

"Can they win the league? Of course they can, but I still think they're two, three, four players short of having a squad to rival Manchester City and Chelsea," said McManaman, who enjoyed two Champions League triumphs with Real Madrid after joining the Spanish club from Liverpool.

"I would always plump for those teams before Liverpool. A great year for Liverpool would be to just get into the Champions League," added McManaman.

"The step from finishing seventh last year and so many points behind to winning the league is huge. If they do it, I think it would be a monumental feat, but I think Champions League football would be incredible this year."

Like Carragher, Sturridge predicts two potentially season-defining matches against Chelsea and Manchester City.

"I think they're both favorites and they're both a threat," said the 24-year-old of Liverpool's title rivals. "We're going play them both at Anfield. It's going to be a great occasion for myself and for the fans and my teammates of course.

"But it's important that we go out there and play the Liverpool way and enjoy it."

If Sturridge and Suarez can fire in those two games, Liverpool could well end 24 years of hurt and give its fans renewed hope that the club can return to its former glories.

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