Eyes and hearts will be locked in at Anfield but the sideshow at the Etihad will not be far from the minds, but, no matter the ending, Liverpool will be given a champion’s celebration.
Mignolet, Clyne (Grujic), Lovren (Alexander-Arnold), Matip, Milner (Moreno), Can, Lucas, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Firmino, Origi – April 24, 2017.
That, over half a decade ago, was the last Liverpool lineup to lose a Premier League match at Anfield in front of a crowd. Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring, but ex-Red Christian Benteke scored twice to give Crystal Palace a 2-1 win.
Since then, Burnley, Brighton, Man City, Everton, Chelsea and Fulham have all won league games at Anfield. But they weren’t ‘I was there’ moments for their fans, because nobody was there bar match officials and a smattering of press.
COVID-19 closed Anfield’s doors and Liverpool lost those six games 1-9 on aggregate, only scoring a Mo Salah penalty against City. ‘Finished club’ went the social media banter. The doom-mongers were doing a roaring trade in dead meat.
Yet Trent Alexander-Arnold’s late winner against Aston Villa reignited the spark. Thiago got his first Liverpool goal against the Saints and Bobby Firmino saw off Man United at Old Trafford. Alisson rose like a salmon at West Brom and the Bolton Baresi, Nathaniel Harry Phillips, towered above Burnley at Turf Moor.
And then, with 10,000 supporters back inside Anfield it was Sadio Mane at the double to fire Liverpool into third place on the final day of the season, against Crystal Palace, securing qualification to the Champions League. Which hasn’t just brought a huge injection of cash and a magnificent run to the final, but helped to convince Luis Diaz that Liverpool > Tottenham.
Those who said our days are numbered can look at the Wall of Champions for confirmation. Eight League Cups are now nine. Seven FA Cups are now eight. And let’s hope they didn’t throw that number seven away as it might need to go back up a week on Sunday underneath the European Cup.
Eyes on Anfield, minds at the Etihad?
For 19 to become 20 underneath the Premier League and Football League trophies is a bigger ask. Steven Gerrard has a couple of pre-owned Liverpool Ferraris in the garage in Coutinho and Danny Ings, but Aston Villa’s record against Man City during their last 12 encounters reads like a Welsh town – LLLDLLLLLLLL.
The last time Villa won at the Etihad, Didi Hamann was in midfield for City and Rafa Benitez was preparing to take Liverpool to Athens for the Champions League final. Their last draw at the Etihad was, er, at Maine Road in 1994. So what I’m saying is they’re due one.
Irrespective of what is happening in Manchester, Liverpool have to get the job done at Anfield. The Reds aren’t on the verge of going unbeaten at home in the Premier League in four of the last five seasons because they were concentrating on what anybody else was doing.
To have only lost league games at home in the last five years when Anfield has been empty is the best review Kopites could have. Those who claimed crowds don’t make a difference have vanished into thick air. Maybe their crowd doesn’t, but ours most certainly does and Anfield has a huge part to play on Sunday.
Excuse while I pick up the name, but something Virgil van Dijk said to me in the mixed zone at Wembley after the FA Cup semi-final is particularly relevant now:
“Our fans have always been with us, that’s nothing new, but hopefully everyone can keep their nerve a little bit because it is going to be nervy at times and we can’t promise something unless we all give it everything.”
Liverpool must beat Wolves to have any hope of winning the title. Well duh, but that is a task which will become trickier simply because the players will be affected by the Anfield crowd’s reaction to what is happening at the Etihad. It’s completely unavoidable that the vibes – good or bad – will transmit to them.
A celebration, whatever the outcome
In 2014 and 2019 we lived this day before, listening for news from Man City vs. West Ham and Brighton vs. Man City when the Reds were facing Newcastle and, ironically, Wolves at Anfield.
It was a complete write-off in 2014 as the Hammers were managed by Sam Allardyce, but when a glimmer of hope filtered through after Brighton took the lead in 2019, Anfield was jubilant… only for City to equalise quickly and get the job done with a 4-1 win.
Liverpool led the ‘as-it-stands’ table for 21 minutes that day, but I’ve got two abiding memories: the Wolves fans chanting ‘City’ whenever they scored and ‘you nearly won the league’. And two false alarms as Liverpool supporters celebrated phantom Brighton goals, the most unhelpful of fake news.
It was a complete sideshow and after taking an early lead themselves through Mane, Liverpool’s performance completely fell away that day to the point where Matt Doherty almost equalised before a late Mane header made it 2-0.
They were distracted by events off the pitch and the players know they must learn from that experience and get their own job done. It’s partly why Jordan Henderson wants Sunday to be an Anfield celebration whatever the outcome of the title race.
“Up to now we have won the two domestic cups and while that is absolutely brilliant, we still want more and we are also well aware that previous Liverpool teams have won more,” he writes in the Liverpool vs. Wolves matchday programme.
“But in terms of playing every possible game in every competition, fighting to the very end in all four, and creating stories and memories that will live with all of us forever, it could only be described as incredible. That is why I want today to be a celebration. This is the best opportunity we will have to enjoy what we have achieved together so we should make the most of it.
“For the players, this means performing as we have in our previous 61 fixtures, showing pride in the shirt and playing for our wonderful supporters. For our fans, I hope that no matter what the outcome of the title race is that each and every one of you can revel in what you are part of.
“We might not be able to control what happens elsewhere, but we can control what happens at Anfield so we may as well do everything we can to turn today’s game into the kind of occasion that shows the world why this is such a special club.”
Hendo’s right. Even if, as is probable, City win the title, Anfield should – and surely will – celebrate winning the League Cup, winning the FA Cup and having a 10th European Cup final to look forward to.
Liverpool have played in every game possible, won more games and scored more goals than in any previous season and will win a double, treble or quadruple of trophies. It’s a magnificent effort and the support that makes Anfield a fortress and galvanises Jürgen Klopp and his players has underpinned everything the Reds have achieved.
Just being in such a unique position deserves to be celebrated and if Anfield is abuzz with positivity on Sunday – with or without another trophy in the collection – the boost that will give the players to take to Paris cannot be underestimated.
* Chris McLoughlin is senior writer at Reach Sport, publishers of the Official matchday programme and Liverpool FC Magazine. You can order the LFC v Wolves programme and the FA Cup Winners special magazine here.