Both Liverpool and Manchester United have been prominent fixtures within English football from the get-go, the Merseysiders winning their first league title as early as 1901, their future fierce rivals following suit a mere seven years later. 

That was an era dominated by the great Billy Meredith who inspired United to all manner of silverware and though Liverpool had fantastic teams in the days of baggy shorts and net-less goals they had to wait several decades for their own stonewall legend to emerge. 

As football resumed from the devastation of World War II, so substantial was Billy Liddell’s influence on his team they became known for a spell as ‘Liddellpool’.

Soon after, an exhilarating young side christened as the ‘Busby Babes’ lit up Old Trafford on a fortnightly basis, that was until the awful events on a Munich runway on February 6th, 1958, curtailed their immense promise.

The widespread goodwill and heartfelt admiration for how the club managed to rebuild itself – going on to win a European Cup just a decade later – in part explains how Manchester United went from being a big club to a globally renowned behemoth.

As for Liverpool, their critical turning point occurred around the same time, with the appointment of Bill Shankly

What came next was half a century of shared dominance, as first Liverpool enjoyed a stranglehold on English football for an entire generation, before ceding to United who did likewise.

In those fifty years, from 1963/64 to 2012/13 either United or Liverpool won the league title on 28 occasions. 

And so to the modern era, and a sustained period of struggle apiece for these huge institutions.

Though they are now routinely cast as favourites in the latest football odds and betting under Jurgen Klopp it took Liverpool 28 attempts to secure their inaugural Premier League crown. United meanwhile have consistently floundered post-Sir Alex Ferguson. 

What is interesting however, is that these years of underachievement have not unduly impacted on either club’s stature.

They still sell shirts by the millions each season. They are still held up as the standard bearers of the English game. They are still written and talked about more than any of their peers.

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All of which leads us to the obvious conclusion that in the modern game results and trophies won are not everything.

Indeed when determining the scale of a football club it requires five different factors to be weighed up, these being success on the pitch; a club’s fanbase and reach; a club’s history versus the now; their commercial might; and lastly, and most abstractly, their status and standing, both domestically and around the world.

Calculating which is the bigger club therefore, from Manchester United and Liverpool, is a more difficult task than it first appears.

Regardless, let’s start with their respective returns on the pitch, with United leading the way for league championships, with 20 to Liverpool’s 19, but the Merseyside giants boasting twice as many European Cup / Champions League successes

Add in a welter of FA Cups and League Cups and between them they are unquestionably the most successful teams in English football.

In reality though, would a young boy or girl, looking around for a club to support, choose one based on titles won in previous eras?

Even United’s magnificent sides of the Nineties would feel sepia-tinged and too attached to the past to a ten-year-old, while Kenny Dalglish conjuring up magic on a muddy field would be positively prehistoric. 

No, it’s who they are now that truly matters, to a player weighing up signing for either club, or to a potential new supporter. And in this regard, Liverpool are lightyears ahead of their major rival.

Revitalised under Klopp, the Reds have a clear identity and a winning formula that derives from an exciting, attacking brand of football. Watching them as a neutral, it is hard not to be seduced by it all.

By stark comparison, and as previously stated, United have floundered this last decade, searching in vain for an identity and never more than a couple of defeats away from their next crisis.

After assessing their successes on the pitch and their histories – both of which are storied and esteemed – to the now, at this juncture, Liverpool edge it as the bigger club.

Turning our attention to their respective commercial heft though tilts the contest back to an even keel. 

Forbes recently valued Manchester United as the second most valuable club in the world, it’s £4.9 billion valuation based not on what takes place on the Old Trafford pitch but on the aggressive, highly competent work done off it.

For having long recognised that they are a brand as much as a football club, United have considerably strengthened their position in the market place in recent years with a slew of business partnerships, with everyone from noodle companies to luxury car manufacturers. 

To put some context on that, across 2023/24, it is estimated that the club will bring in $324m in sponsorship revenue, a figure unsurpassed in the British game.

Moreover, this is a club that saw the value in expanding their brand recognition into then untapped territories long before others did, ingratiating themselves with Australia, Asia and the US and in doing so becoming the footballing version of the New York Yankees. 

In the last financial year, they brought in £113.3m from merchandise sales alone, a great deal of it purchased overseas.

It should be said that Liverpool are hardly slouches in this regard either. To United though they pale. 

Which, in a roundabout way, leads us to their fan-bases, both colossal and far-reaching, but again it’s United who come out on top.

A recent study concluded that the Red Devils have 82 million online fans, compared to 45 million Liverpool followers, while United’s own website insists they have a ‘global community of 1.1 billion’ supporters.

We can quibble about how sincere some of that support is but that would only be reductive. The plain truth is that in terms of reach, nobody compares to the Mancunian reds.

And this leads us directly to the final consideration, that of each club’s standing.

Ask a random stranger in Jakarta or Brisbane to name an English club and who would they say, United or Liverpool?

Ask a fan of a club that has just achieved promotion from the Championship where they are most looking forward to visiting next season and would the answer be Old Trafford or Anfield? Granted, the second response is more negligible but still, United win out.

If the question concerns who is currently more admired for their footballing ability then it’s a different story. But Manchester United is England’s biggest club, in so many ways.

*Credit for the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.