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The best forwards to play for Man United and Liverpool

ESPN staff
January 11, 2013
Robin van Persie has been prolific for Manchester United this season. © Getty Images

The Premier League's top two goalscorers go head-to-head this weekend as Manchester United's Robin van Persie welcomes Liverpool's Luis Suarez to Old Trafford. But would either of them get a game if this lot were still around?

*Worth noting we don't consider George Best or Sir Bobby Charlton to have been forwards

10. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Kicking off our list is one of the game's ultimate poachers, but also one of the least successful strikers of his class. Ruud van Nistelrooy, scorer of 150 goals for United over a five-year period (that averages out at a lacklustre 30 goals per year) actually only won one league title, one FA Cup and one League Cup during his time at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, his instinctive ability to score a goal was almost unrivalled, and his records speak for themselves. He scored in a record 10 consecutive league games as a United player, he is the second-highest Champions League scorer in history (with 60 goals), and he is United's top European goalscorer of all time. His style would have been an ideal foil for Van Persie.

9. Kevin Keegan

A two-time winner of the Ballon d'Or, Kevin Keegan was plucked by Bill Shankly out of the modest surroundings of Scunthorpe United. Keegan will always claim he made up for limited talent with his enthusiasm and work ethic, but unbiased observers would confirm he was a real talent. Much like Suarez he never gave defenders a moment's rest, dropping off his strike partner to cause havoc with his low centre of gravity and eye for goal. A winner of three league titles with Liverpool, an FA Cup, a European Cup and two UEFA Cups, Keegan was one of the figureheads of the Shankly era and left Liverpool as Europe's best player.

8. Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney's medal collection is outstanding, and he is still only 27 years of age. Four league titles, two League Cups, a Champions League success, as well as two runners-up spots in Europe's premier competition. As England's youngest ever goalscorer, he is closing in on the all-time record, currently sitting on 32 goals - 17 shy of Sir Bobby Charlton. He is also fourth on United's all-time list, ahead of the mercurial Best. However, Rooney is not an out-and-out goalscorer in the Van Nistelrooy mould, and it is his ability to make and take goals that makes him one of United's best.

7. Robbie Fowler

It has been said so many times that it is almost a cliche, but Robbie Fowler is - in the eyes of many - the most natural finisher to ever grace the Premier League. Blessed with speed off the mark, deadly instincts and a left boot that appeared to carry some form of sensor for the corner of a net, Fowler plundered goals in two spells for Liverpool. Such were his goalscoring exploits (he netted 183 for the Reds) that his vision was vastly overlooked and unheralded, and only a dire Liverpool defence cost him several more trophies in the 90s. His crowning moment came as part of the squad that won a cup Treble in 2001, with Fowler scoring in the League and UEFA Cup finals. Known as God by the Kop.

6. Cristiano Ronaldo

Technically not a forward in the typical sense of the word, Cristiano Ronaldo still qualifies given that the best part of his career has been spent as part of an attacking triumvirate either at Manchester United or Real Madrid. The most athletically gifted man on this list, Ronaldo was - at times - unplayable during his time in England. The Portuguese has a Ballon d'Or to his name, and would have several more but for the existence of a certain Lionel Messi, and he smashed over 100 of the most spectacular goals United fans have ever witnessed before leaving for Spain. As modest as they come (a questionable claim on our part), Ronaldo won three leagues, an FA Cup, two League Cups and a Champions League while in Manchester. He left for a world record fee to boot.

5. Roger Hunt

The drawback to Hunt is the fact all his best work was done in front of black-and-white cameras, making it difficult to compare grainy images of him breaking Liverpool records to modern day magicians like Suarez and Co. However, while stats lie often, they are as honest as they come when it comes to Hunt. A scorer of 286 goals in all competitions, only one man (Ian Rush) bettered him at Liverpool. As for league competition, Hunt remains the standard bearer, netting 245 times to remain the best the Reds have had. Had he played in the modern day, he would still have excelled, boasting pace, power and a tremendous finish, and like Keegan he was a Shankly great.

4. Denis Law

The King of the Stretford End before Eric Cantona was later also given a royal crown, Denis Law was named European Footballer of the Year in 1964 and won the European Cup four years later. Domestic honours also came his way in the shape of league titles and FA Cups, and he even smashed 46 goals in one season. A tally of 237 goals for United sits Law only behind Charlton in their all-time list and even a certain master craftsman by the name of Dennis Bergkamp was named after him.

3. Ian Rush

If ever the word "predator" was made for a footballer, it must have been for Ian Rush - Liverpool's all-time record goalscorer in all competitions. A whopping tally of 346 strikes does justice to a career that saw him puncture nets all over Europe, and his 287th - which broke Hunt's record - came against United. Armed with searing pace and an inherent ability to know where the ball would drop, Rush simply did not stop scoring. He won five league titles for the Reds and once scored 47 goals in a season, but the cups were perhaps where he made most headlines, becoming the post-war record holder for FA Cup goals (44) and the joint-highest League Cup marksman with 49. Twice he netted braces to defeat Everton at Wembley, and he holds the record for FA Cup final goals with five. Not bad for a man who was purchased for £300,000 from Chester.

2. Eric Cantona

Sometimes a man's legacy is best judged by how easy it is to remember him. Utter the name "Eric Cantona" to any football fan and the image of an upturned collar and puffed out chest instantly spring to mind. "King Eric" he became at Old Trafford, and if ever there was a catalyst for the glorious era under Sir Alex Ferguson, it was surely the Frenchman. Famous for his kung fu kick on a fan that earned him a lengthy ban, Cantona was just as dangerous to opposition defences. His goalscoring stats don't live up to others, although 82 in 185 appearances is very healthy, but his trophy cabinet compares favourably to almost everybody. Four league titles, including two league and FA Cup doubles, in five years displayed his mesmerising influence over Manchester United, and his name is still sung long after he left.

1. Kenny Dalglish

Marginally ahead of King Eric is King Kenny, voted by Liverpool fans the best player to have ever graced the club - and there have been a few. Charged with replacing the adored Keegan when he arrived from Celtic, Dalglish was so good that the European Footballer of the Year was soon forgotten. The Scotland international was the perfect foil for the pace and intelligent runs of Rush, and he went on to win 15 major trophies with Liverpool, including six league titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups and three European Cups. In 2009, FourFourTwo magazine voted him the greatest forward in post-war British football, and it is hard to dispute. Able to bamboozle a keeper with either foot, Dalglish possessed vision and creativity in abundance, often seeing openings long before anybody else on the pitch. His 1978 European Cup-winning goal, a deft dink over the keeper, perhaps embodied best the artistry that defined Liverpool's greatest.

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