I can’t get that game out of my head.
Lucas Moura slotting it past Alisson and the realisation that Liverpool just aren’t going to be able to find a way of finishing ahead of this City side. The feeling of descending dread when you convince yourself the Reds are only going to take a respectable, yet inadequate 15 points out of the last 21 on offer. The moment you know the season is going to end without silverware and without even pushing Guardiola’s side right up until the finishing line.
Sissoko’s streaming through on goal. “Just score it, put us out of our misery. Let us concentrate on Europe. I can’t be arsed sticking with this City side any longer”.
He fires over. “Fuck that, we’re winning this game. I’m sure of it.”
It was akin to Dudek’s mystifying double-save at the end of extra-time in Istanbul. In essence, the game is over as soon as the French midfielder fires the ball into the Anfield Road end. Everything you’ve ever seen or heard from this football club tells you they were going to win. The own-goal is a mere formality.
It’s borderline impossible to describe to someone just how big that win is. The last ten minutes were a crossroads in Liverpool’s season. But a crossroads in which each turn would bring you onto a motorway with no further exits until mid-May.
No chance to turn around or reset if you pick the wrong option. Trying to pick up the pieces after a defeat would’ve been like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands. Pointless, futile.
Like most supporters, I believed this Liverpool side would win the title for much of the middle section of the season. I’ve been racking my brain and I think the belief started with Everton at home and ended with Everton away.
I never thought we were out of it, but after the final whistle at Goodison last month it just seemed like Liverpool wouldn’t have the consistency to do it. Before Origi’s winner against the Blues in December, it was remarkably difficult to envision City ending up with anything less than 95 points, a total I never thought Klopp’s team were capable of achieving.
Now I believe. 100%. Through much of the season, the performances have been flawed in their own ways. We’ve probably pushed the narrative of Liverpool ‘finding a way to win’ a bit too often when this side have looked disjointed and patchy.
Yet after Sunday, it all makes sense.
79 points from 32 games isn’t luck, it can’t be.
Liverpool will now almost certainly finish with at least 90 points, something only achieved seven times previously in the Premier League era. They could still drop points and finish on 95 points, something only ever achieved twice (Chelsea 05 and Man City 18, sides bank-rolled by Abramovich and the Sheikhs respectively).
I think for much of the season, the reason why it didn’t feel written in the stars was because of the way the Reds were playing. I thought for years that when we eventually win number nineteen we’d be brilliant all year, probably playing some slightly overzealous, yet mind-blowing football in the process. In other words, the season of 2013/14.
Conventional wisdom makes you think that the only way to ‘play well’ in football is to dominate possession and create a load of chances, before sticking a few of them away.
If Liverpool do win the league, it won’t be through that idealistic vision of total football, nor will it have come from a side who kills games inside thirty minutes as Manchester City have done all year.
It’ll have been through them wanting it more, being brilliant in the right moments, making it as uncomfortable an experience as possible for the opposition and most importantly, pure graft.
I thought Sunday would be the day we’d have to come to the worst of all the realisations, but Mo Salah’s goal brought me to best of all the conclusions.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The goal that made everything else make sense. No side can get to 95 points and not be a brilliant football team.
Liverpool aren’t dogging their way to a league title, nor are they very lucky to be in the position they are, as plenty of people in football would have you believe.
There is a reason why opposing managers have praised this Liverpool side to the highest of heights repeatedly following defeats at the hands of the league leaders. There’s a reason why Liverpool can go away to Bayern Munich or take on Spurs at home, seemingly not play well and still emerge as winners.
They are the masters at efficiency, constantly targeting all the important areas. They are clinical with any chance that comes their way at 0-0, ever-competent at controlling the game at 1-0.
They are drilled to desperation not to concede, and yet they are almost completely unfazed on the odd occasion that the ball ends up in the back of their own net.
They are unexplainably brave and trusting of each other when defending set-pieces, and they are maximising their output at the other end from corners and free-kicks.
Origi nodding it past Pickford in December and Salah directing it back into the danger zone late on against Tottenham showed they are incredible at squeezing out every last drop of opportunity from a game. They are adept at playing the percentages and having belief that they will add up throughout a game and across a season.
All of a sudden, everything makes sense. Sissoko firing over, Lloris parrying the ball into the shins of Alderweireld.
If you haven’t already realised, this Liverpool side are great. They’re a proper football team, albeit maybe not a conventional one.
They might just win the league you know.