Irresistible. This Liverpool is simply irresistible. Another game, another win, but one that required a second half performance that was nothing short of iconic.
I warned of the difficulties that might be posed by February—as weird as that sounds—ahead of what was eventually a comprehensive attacking masterclass of a 4-0 victory.
Southampton edged the first half at Anfield on Saturday. Alisson the busier keeper, the visitors playing without fear. A question asked by the team from the south coast; a question asked by a team that lost one of their home fixtures 9-0, earlier in the season.
Saturday’s visitors have been in a rich vein of form and the first 45 minutes reflected that. It isn’t often that a home team will win 4-0, yet have their keeper being one of the most compelling of candidates for the man of the match award.
So much that this Liverpool is doing is unprecedented, however. They are producing a million and one firsts, but the most important one is a first league title in 30 years.
At 22 points clear, yet another unprecedented phenomenon, we really are now just awaiting the inevitable. When and where will we clinch the title? What a party it is going to be; in many respects, what a party it already is.
This is a footballing equivalent of Channel Four’s Countdown clock, ticking its way to its jauntily theme-tuned conclusion, occasionally unnerving us, when that sense of musical peril escalates over the course of the final few seconds.
We should never spend too much time worrying ourselves though. “This Liverpool always finds a way” is becoming a very familiar assertion, that is regularly levelled toward us.
That second half though, against a team in such good form. We worked hard for it, but in being the hardest working team in the world, we have become the best team in the world. It was a second half of shock-and-awe that won us the game. It sent a shiver down the spine. We have reached a position where there are no known superlatives left to bestow.
For those who don’t want us to win the title, the pain must be intolerable.
Excuses and conspiracies are offered. The always unintentionally amusing Duncan Castles is marvellous at this. He tends to go for the slant that all the rules are being bent, to facilitate us creating the eye of this perfect footballing storm.
Surely there must be an award somewhere that he can win, for his exhaustive efforts?
Others opt for decrying the state of the 2019/20 Premier League. Imploring that we aren’t winning it because of our own bespoke greatness, but because everybody else is tripping over one another, in new levels of ineptitude, thus paving our way to an undeserved success.
Here is some food for thought though. As they head off to take on Jose Mourinho’s men, Pep Guardiola’s team are only five points behind where they were this time last season, while the best teams classed to be outside the bubble of ‘the big six’ are better than they have been for many a moon.
From a Liverpool perspective, 25 games in, they are five points better off than Manchester City’s centurions were two seasons ago, and an incredulous 12 points better off than Arsenal’s invincibles were after 25 games in 2003/04.
With 73 points on the board as February begins, Liverpool are just two points short of the total with which Manchester United took the title in 1996/97. In turn, we are already five points ahead of where that season’s runner-up finished.
No, this Liverpool really is like nothing else I have seen before. I was introduced to football shortly before Liverpool’s 78/79 vintage was doing its thing, while I was at my most impressionable when the 87/88 team swept all before them.
The 2019/20 version is genuinely unique.
The second half on Saturday was iconic. It will be pointed out as an example in years to come, in exactly the same way the 7-0 against Spurs is from 78/79, and the 5-0 against Nottingham Forest is from 87/88.
From the movement and vision of the build-up and finish to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opening goal, to the persistence of Jordan Henderson in provoking and converting the second, aided and abetted by the kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic promptings of Bobby Firmino, onward through the wonderfully chiselled third, via the impudent finish of Mohamed Salah, and the mild comedy of the fourth he put away.
That pass from Henderson for the third. Well, let’s just say it all got a bit emotional at that point.
Even in the first half you had Virgil van Dijk’s backheeled attempt, where had that one found the net, with the consent of the other 19 teams in the Premier League, we might have well as just closed the curtain on the season there and then.
Henderson was given a deserved standing ovation upon his departure from the pitch. What a man, what a player, what a captain.
Football that takes the breath away, a shiver sent down the spine; there really are no known superlatives left to make.
On Saturday, it could have been five, six or seven in the end, against a team that threatened us at Anfield better than anybody else has this season.
Added to this, our squad is strengthening suddenly, just as the winter transfer window has closed on everybody else.
Naby Keita is back and looking to make up for lost time. Fabinho is available once more, as is Joel Matip. We can throw on Takumi Minamino, while Curtis Jones’ claims to more game time grow louder and louder. Sadio Mane will be back soon, and James Milner will reappear on the horizon eventually.
Next up, an FA Cup replay and a winter break, then a trip to Norwich City. Top vs. bottom and a points chasm of 55.
Liverpool will still need to summon up every ounce of relentlessness to take the victory.
Games against Norwich are traditionally bonkers, and I see no reason for us not to view this one with suspicion.