The rivalry has been fuelled by the proximity of the two major cities that they represent, their historic economic and industrial rivalry, significant periods of domestic footballing dominance and European success, and their popularity at home and abroad, as two of the biggest-earning and widely supported football clubs in the world.
The two clubs are the most successful English teams in both domestic and European competitions; and between them they have won 38 league titles, 8 European Cups, 4 UEFA Cups, 4 UEFA Super Cups, 19 FA Cups, 13 League Cups, 1 FIFA Club World Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 36 FA Community Shields.
Each club can claim historical supremacy over the other: United for their 20 league titles to Liverpool's 18 and Liverpool for being European champions five times to United's three. Manchester United have won more total trophies than Liverpool, and they also lead the Merseysiders in so-called "major" honours as well.
The cities of Liverpool and Manchester are located in the north west of England, 35 miles (56 km) apart. Since the industrial revolution there has been a consistent theme of rivalry between the two cities based around economic and industrial competition. Manchester through to the 18th century was the far more populous city, and held a position of significance and notability as representative of the north. By the late 18th century, Liverpool had grown as a major sea port – critical to the growth and success of the northern cotton mills. Over the next century, Liverpool grew to supersede Manchester and throughout the late 19th and early 20th century was often described as the British Empire's second city. The links between the two cities were strengthened with the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for the transport of raw materials inland.
The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, funded by Manchester merchants, was opposed by Liverpool politicians and bred resentment between the two cities. Tension between working class Liverpool dockers and labourers in Manchester was heightened after its completion in 1894, just three months prior to the first meeting between Liverpool and Newton Heath in a play-off match that would see Newton Heath relegated to the Second Division.