It seems that Carlsberg do indeed do football matches after all…
Apart from resisting the urge to push on for a scoreline that would require one of the team’s number of goals procured to be reinforced in (brackets) on the vidiprinter, Sunday gave Liverpool supporters a glance at utopia.
Just occasionally, there are instances when Liverpool head to Old Trafford where I am totally devoid of that four-and-a-half-decade conditioned sense of dread.
Incredulous as it sounds, 5-0 popped into my head on Saturday. So did 6-0, and 7-0. I couldn’t tell you why, and I did not act upon it, but there it was, not a premonition as such, just a daydream that I would dearly ‘love it’ if we went to the home of Manchester United and truly trashed them. Symbolism, you see.
A day when a line is drawn in the sand, to show them just where we stand with each other; a day where the result and the combined performances of the two teams finally match the chasm that has grown from one side of this much-vaunted rivalry to the other.
Manchester United, are a dysfunctional team, but one that expectation and history insist will always pull themselves together for this fixture. I’ve been waiting for a day when that adage could be blown out of the water; I’ve been waiting for an event that shows just how much Jurgen Klopp vs. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer equates to a contest between footballing man and footballing boy.
A rivalry that stands the test of time
This used to be a battle to decide the cream of the north, but with the rise of Manchester City has come a different aura to the fixture. It is undeniably one of the biggest games of football in the world, yet in the north west of England it is currently placed within the shade of the significance of when Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola go head-to-head.
Our rivalry with Manchester City is only a fleeting one, however, just as how big Liverpool’s games with Leeds United were when it was Bill Shankly vs. Don Revie, or our clashes with Nottingham Forest were when it was Bob Paisley vs. Brian Clough, or our dances with Arsenal were when it was Kenny Dalglish vs. George Graham, or even those encounters with Chelsea were when it was Rafa Benitez vs. Jose Mourinho.
Some rivalries are of their time, while others are timeless, and will always be.
No matter how much Liverpool won in the 1970s and 1980s, while Manchester United swung between ineptitude and the occasional trophy via acute underachievement, their games against each other remained the biggest on the calendar; no matter how much Manchester United won in the 1990s and 2000s, while Liverpool swung between ineptitude and the occasional trophy via acute underachievement, their games against each other remained the biggest on the calendar.
Double the pleasure
There was pressure on Liverpool going into this one. Victories for Chelsea and Man City 24 hours earlier meant that anything other than a win would be damaging for Klopp and his players.
In response, Liverpool blew their hosts away, leaving a delirious travelling contingent to rejoice in both the glory of their own team and the continued unravelling of the opposing one.
This was an incredibly sweet day, Mohamed Salah plundering a hat-trick, yet spared Solskjær’s team the indignity of the sort of individual madness he spun against both Manchester City and Watford.
Salah scored three, and set up the opener for Naby Keita, but this was a collective effort that he prospered from, repetitively finding himself in the right place at the right time, his goals embossed by the intelligence of Keita’s reciprocation, and the vision of Jordan Henderson’s pass for Liverpool’s fifth goal of the day.
Shorn of the services of Fabinho, James Milner forced from the fray midway through the first half, to be replaced by a very different entity in Curtis Jones, and ultimately the loss of the excellent Keita thanks to a badly advised lunge from Paul Pogba, and even the constant need to shapeshift our midfield from one form into another made no negative impact on Liverpool’s performance whatsoever.
Klopp was bold in his team selection, with only a second Premier League start for Ibrahima Konate, and the decision to field both Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota in the same line up for the first time this season.
Keita, having experienced a sweet and sour evening in Madrid was in imperious mood in Salford. His best game yet in a Liverpool shirt was painfully curtailed, and we can only hope his injury isn’t as serious as the stretcher suggests.
This wasn’t even a day when we can genuinely say that Liverpool clicked into their highest gears, as you were always left with the feeling that there was more in the tank. Yet, at times, the image that was struck was one of footballers up against road cones.
Comedy was never far away, be it the incredibly petulant Cristiano Ronaldo’s disallowed goal, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw colliding, or Marcus Rashford’s excellent through ball that put Salah away for a chance of another goal that went begging.
Kenny Dalglish was in the stands, laughing away at the joy of it all, while Alex Ferguson’s face was set to stunned. This was the game that kept on giving.
This was a win that will echo through eternity, one we shall sing long and loud about for many moons, placing it up there with the most legendary of Liverpool days.
Beyond the delirium of it all, this was Liverpool completing back-to-back 5-0 victories on the road in the Premier League, sandwiching a Champions League win away to Atletico Madrid. A serious statement of intent.
Within that, we now must beware the potential hazard of taking the foot off the gas, with a League Cup trip to Preston, and the visit of Brighton on Saturday. It is also a concern that we are running low on midfielders.
Between now and the last international break of the year, looming beyond Preston and Brighton, sit an irate Atletico, and a trip to face David Moyes and his surprisingly consistent West Ham United.
In terms of the two Premier League fixtures, these represent games against the two left-field pacesetters, and they will likely be greater dangers than Man United proved to be.