Technically and morally superior, Liverpool inflicted two very meaningful lessons on their rivals down the East Lancs Road on another night of greatness at Anfield.
Back in October, when Liverpool dismantled Manchester United at Old Trafford to the tune of 5-0, I suggested that our opponents had essentially become irrelevant. On Tuesday night, at Anfield, this was largely confirmed as Jurgen Klopp’s men swept them aside once again on an anxiety-free occasion.
Of course, you can’t glean this much enjoyment out of a game and class the opposition as a complete irrelevance, but this time around there was a unique aura to a fixture that is widely classed as English football’s El Clásico.
These are games that are built to provoke doubt and anxiety, no matter what contemporary fortunes say. Never had I entered a footballing arena for a fixture between Liverpool and Manchester United without some level of unsettling trepidation.
That all changed on Tuesday night, though, as I was eerily soothed by the current gulf in class between the two teams, both on and off the pitch, a night when Liverpool were superior both in terms of the football they played and the morals they displayed.
A lot of water has passed under the footballing bridge that stretches between these two storied football clubs, and no matter what condition we or they have been in across the decades, these have remained encounters that have been enveloped in anxiety.
For almost 80 years, either one or both clubs have been riding the crest of a wave. One of us will ebb into the margins of wider footballing proceedings for a while as the other prospers, but then roles are eventually reversed. Occasionally, there is a simultaneous rise in prominence, but these have been rare and there has usually been a relay of sorts going on, where one of us stinks and the other pulls up trees. Within this, the games between the two retain their billing and needle, and often, the team on the downward cycle will still put one over on the one in an upward trajectory.
Currently, it is we that are on the up, while they struggle to nail the basics. When all is said and done, Liverpool’s rivalry with Manchester United has never been so much fun as it is right now.
While Martin Atkinson was busy getting his communication technology sorted out prior to the start of the second half as the rest of us stood around waiting for football to happen, the players of both teams started knocking a ball or two around to keep warm. The Kop amused itself with an “Ole” to denote each successful pass that the visitors managed; it was their most impressive period of ball retention all evening.
It also probably wound them up a bit and armed with the introduction of Jadon Sancho, no longer hindered by the presence of Phil Jones, and with an altered formation, Ralf Rangnick’s side enjoyed 20 minutes or so of respite from the incessant nature of the first half.
Sadio Mane then scored Liverpool’s third goal, Thiago was removed from the fray to a resounding ovation for what was a masterclass of a performance, and those in the away end silently shuffled their way out of the stadium, presumably ashamed of their team to the type of levels they should have been ashamed of themselves.
Even outside the ground, prior to the game, there were murderer chants in the air from those visiting supporters that were cocooned behind a protective yellow wall of police officers and stewards as they moved towards the Anfield Road end visitor’s turnstiles.
Class shown inside Anfield by the home support during the seventh minute, the visitors sheepishly saved their most barrel-scraping Hillsborough themed invective for the second half. The delay would have been frustrating for them, I’m sure.
It used to wind me up, but it doesn’t lay a glove anymore because they aren’t going to suddenly change their distasteful tunes. It’s just who far too many of them are and we should take strength in how much we clearly piss them off, and that in the eyes of genuine human beings it will not come across as a particularly good look for them, just as was the case at Wembley, on Saturday, for the other team from Manchester.
From the very highest office in this country, owning your own horrendousness isn’t in fashion for a frighteningly large section of society. As the old saying goes, shit rolls downhill. Positive role models are thin on the ground, but at least we have a few to go around to sustain ourselves.
Back on the pitch, it was obvious that Mohamed Salah would choose this game to spark back into glorious footballing life, with two magnificently taken goals. Patience always pays dividends with Mo. The same can be said of Sadio Mane, while Luis Diaz continues to be shockingly good. We are blessed, and Diogo Jota emerged from the bench to play a part in our fourth goal.
That first half though.
I grew up on Dalglish and Souness, I was a streetwise teenager at the time of Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge, but this is quite probably the very best Liverpool I have ever witnessed.
Jurgen Klopp’s players were in possession of the ball for an unbroken 77 seconds prior to scoring their second goal, a beautiful work of collective art that spanned 25 passes, on a night when Alisson Becker was pulling off Cruyff turns in his penalty area.
What is so wonderful about this Liverpool vintage is the sense of utter community. On the pitch, there is a togetherness that has so much in common with those great teams of the 1970s and 1980s, but it is one that permeates its way into the stands as well.
My dad will be 84 in August, and although his memory is failing him at an ever-escalating speed, he was stood next to me giving it “Allez, Allez, Allez”, and making every attempt to master the new Klopp song, while the teenager who sits in front of us was in danger of taking his grandad’s eye out with his scarf as it twirled away.
Doubters, to believers, to devotees, old, young, and those of us in the centre-ground, everyone is casting off their inhibitions and just going for it. I’m not sure the atmosphere for our most pronounced moments has ever been better than they have under Klopp.
At Liverpool, we love nothing better than when those we have adopted ‘get it’, and by the gods of Olympus, Jurgen Klopp gets it in triplicate.
It was a man, woman, and child-made electricity that vibrated its way through Anfield on Tuesday night. Now we just have to do it all over again on Sunday.
Up the Reds.