It wasn’t three points, but in every other conceivable sense, Liverpool came away from the Etihad as winners on Saturday afternoon.
The Reds are no strangers to doing it the hard way against Man City, coming from behind twice in April 2022 at a stage when the quadruple was more than just a pipedream.
It is a stadium that hasn’t yielded much joy for us in recent years, winning just once in our last 15 league attempts at the home of last season’s treble winners.
In fairness, not many teams go there and come away with the spoils. As football fixtures go, it is as difficult as they come and leaving unscathed is typically the first order of the day.
As Liverpool fans, we almost never admit to being content with a draw. But when you wear scars from big defeats – and there have been a few under Pep Guardiola – common sense tells you to be more lenient with your expectations.
Crushing reality check
The 4-1 thrashing on April Fools’ Day was the latest of those and it came at a time when we didn’t know what to expect of Liverpool from one week to the next.
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring that afternoon, that I had zero recollection of that goal goes some way to explaining how much of the ordeal I had tried to erase from my memory.
Liverpool followed that perfect start by hitting the self-destruct button. Man City are more than good enough to punish without encouragement, but the Reds offered them plenty that day.
Jurgen Klopp‘s side were fortunate to get into the break at 1-1, but a series of sloppy errors were enough for the hosts to put themselves out of sight in the second half.
That was at a time when we were suffering a bit of an identity crisis. The manager set his team out in a 4-2-3-1 with Salah leading the line, let’s just say there’s a reason we’ve not really seen that since.
Alexander-Arnold came under fire for failing to track his man as Man City made it four, but he was far from the only guilty suspect that day.
In the past, that result and performance would have sunk the Reds and battered confidence, but since then they have rediscovered their mojo and haven’t (legitimately, we’re still not counting Spurs) lost in the league.
A lot has happened in that time, it feels a lot longer ago than April, that’s for sure.
Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s move into a hybrid role elicited a run of seven straight wins and an unlikely late push for a top-four spot.
While ultimately unsuccessful, the Reds regrouped and replenished their midfield with four fresh faces to give the manager a new lease of life.
It wouldn’t have taken much to improve upon April’s showing, but what we saw was night and day from the side who took one too many body blows from their previous encounter at the Etihad.
Heads dropped when Julian Alvarez levelled the scoring almost eight months ago, but Liverpool haven’t felt sorry for themselves in that manner since.
While they were the architects of their own downfall again for Erling Haaland’s opener, there was a spirit and a sense of energy that were severely lacking last time around.
Changes off the bench made a world of difference and demonstrated the depth of quality Liverpool now boast within the squad, which is truly the only way anybody can live with this Man City side.
Make no mistake about it, the Reds are in this title race.
That was a fact before Saturday’s game and it would have remained a fact had they suffered defeat at the hands of Guardiola once again.
Liverpool 2.0 is as much about the players who have been with us on this journey already as it is about the fresh blood that was injected into the midfield over the summer.
While we were falling over ourselves to tell the world how much of a good point it was, Mo was sat in the dressing room pondering what might have been.
Not the result we wanted but we’ll keep fighting… pic.twitter.com/I9EW3WRIxG
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) November 26, 2023
They believe they can match Man City this season and that is truly all that matters. They proved it on the pitch on Saturday and they have proved it ever since they were humbled in their last visit.
We were worried that the comprehensive nature of the midfield surgery would lead us down a path towards another ‘transition’ season, but the evidence so far suggests that the transition is merely towards becoming a better version of a team that were pretty good to begin with.
Saturday gave us a glimpse of our growth since the 4-1 defeat, but the real test of our resolve will be what comes between now and Man United on December 17th.
We can win this league, you know.