“Not many teams can do that,” said Alan Shearer as he rightly showered Liverpool with praise on Match of the Day.
It was January 2018 and Klopp’s side had just beaten Manchester City – the first side to do so in the Premier League that season, thus ending Guardiola’s hope of an invincible campaign. As things transpired, the ex-Newcastle forward was completely right in his statement. Across all competitions, only Liverpool, Manchester United, Wigan, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Basel got the better of Pep’s side over the course of the 2017/18 season.
Like many managers, Klopp’s journey at Anfield can be boiled down to very specific moments, each having represented a significant step, in their own right, in the club’s return to the heights they find themselves now. It’s rare though that an individual game itself contains so many of these moments for players we would now struggle to imagine the side without, not least Andy Robertson.
Liverpool came into the tie in a strong position, having gone unbeaten since a 4-1 defeat away to Tottenham in October. Manchester City on the other hand saw this as an opportunity to break their infamous Anfield curse – a ground they haven’t tasted victory at in the Premier League since 2003.
More significantly for the Reds though, this game marked the first fixture since the departure of beloved midfielder Philippe Coutinho. It’s a move that is now regarded as one of, if not the best, pieces of business in the club’s history.
Whilst the Brazilian’s struggles at Barcelona have been well documented, his transfer sanctioned the signings of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker from Southampton and AS Roma respectively. Whilst these two have been at the epicentre of the Reds’ success over the last couple of seasons, at the time of Coutinho’s departure it seemed as though Liverpool lost their best player and chief creator.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless, there was a feeling of optimism amongst fans going into the game; a feeling that if anybody could beat Guardiola’s side, it would be Klopp and his mentality monsters. Liverpool also had something to prove. In the reverse fixture, Klopp’s side where ruthlessly beaten 5-0 after Sadio Mané had been controversially sent off early in the contest.
Going into the fixture at Anfield, Klopp’s side were far from the disciplined juggernaut they are today. Defensively they were vulnerable. Loris Karius remained between the sticks, whilst a centre-back pairing of Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren patrolled in front. New signing Andy Robertson – who had only come into the side recently – was also thrown in from the start, where he would face one of the most dangerous wingers in the league in former Reds winger Raheem Sterling.
In so many ways though, that’s what makes this game so special. For me personally, it holds more memories, in terms of footballing joy than, say, the 3-1 win over Man City at Anfield during the 2019/20 despite the significance of that victory. This performance was untethered, unfiltered – pure heavy metal football as Liverpool’s manager would no doubt describe it.
To the game, which started how everyone expected it to. City dominated the ball in the early minutes, trying to lay the foundations for an onslaught that had been seen many times before during the start of this prolific runs of theirs. However, the early possession would mean nothing as the Reds would spark into life in the ninth minute. After picking up the ball in midfield, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would drive forward, bypassing several players in blue, before unleashing a fierce strike beyond Ederson in the City goal.Embed from Getty Images
This was Chamberlain’s moment; the point at which he staked his claim for greater involvement in this competitive Liverpool side. His ability to carry the ball forward and contribute from midfield has become his greatest asset, not least when he scored another beauty against the same side in the Champions League quarter-finals. This first goal against Guardiola’s side sparked form which, were it not for a bad injury, would have seen him start in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
After the goal, the Reds would go on to control the remainder of the half relatively well, nullifying what was regarded as the most dangerous attack in the league. However, a lapse in concentration from Joe Gomez at the end of the 45 saw Leroy Sané pounce on his mistake and fire past Karius at his near post. If this game represented the best of Oxlade-Chamberlain, it also served as a brutal reminder of Liverpool’s shortcomings in the goalkeeper department.
Martin Tyler splits opinion amongst Liverpool fans, but you’d struggle to find one who didn’t enjoy his commentary during, what ended up being a scintillating second half of football.
Firstly, after another searching run from Oxlade-Chamberlain, his through ball looked to be going nowhere. Step up Roberto Firmino who shrugged off the challenge of John Stones, before producing a delicious lob over his international compatriot into the City net. “They still have a Brazilian here” Tyler bellowed over commentary as he saw the Reds’ retake the lead. This was just the start of ten insane minutes of sumptuous football from Liverpool, who became simply unstoppable.
Jürgen’s gegenpressing was in full swing as the German’s side hunted Manchester City down, winning the ball back regularly and high up the pitch. After stripping possession away from Guardiola’s side again, Salah would find Sadio Mané on the edge of the area before the Senegal international unleashed a beautiful strike into the roof of the net. For the first time all season, City were on the ropes.
Moments later a fourth blow came, when an adventurous Ederson sprayed an uncharacteristic poor clearance straight to the feet of Salah, who would proceed to lob the Brazilian from over forty yards out. 4-1 to Liverpool and it was nothing short of what they deserved.Embed from Getty Images
In spite of the quality of goals though, or indeed the performance overall, there is one memory that sticks out for me. The game was approaching the 76th minute, the Reds cruising with the game drawing to what should have been its inevitable conclusion. This was not enough for Andy Robertson though who, having marshalled Raheem Sterling with ease, decided to hunt down the ball down over a 70-yard stretch for no discernible reason. If Oxlade-Chamberlain seized the day earlier in the match with his goal; Robbo did the same with his run here, securing his status as a fan favourite here on after.
Sadly, as was the normal in the earlier years of Klopp’s tenure, Liverpool simply could not go without giving their fans a nervy finish. With Liverpool tiring from there relentless onslaught, the Cityzens would take advantage. Goals from İlkay Gündoğan and Bernardo Silva in the final five minutes would bring the side in blue back into the game, before – with the final touch of the game – Aguero narrowly headed wide in front of the Kop. Seconds later full time and pure elation for those in attendance and around the world.
As luck would have it, this result was the final win of that aforementioned unbeaten run. A 1-0 defeat away to Swansea the following week would bring the Reds crashing back down to Earth, reminding them of all the work that was still needed to be done.
Without the victory against Manchester City three years ago, who knows what Liverpool might we be seeing today? Would Liverpool have so comfortably dispatched Man City in the Champions League without the confidence of this game in their mind? Would Man City, so high on confidence, have remained on track to go unbeaten and perhaps completed that task?
For me personally, bearing in mind I only remember the league from 2004 or so onwards, the Premier League has never seen a higher quality of football between Guardiola and Klopp’s sides. This game was the first indication of that. The fact they can even keep up with each other is a compliment in itself.
The Reds are often regarded as having played in the best game in the league’s history – the 4-3 victory over Newcastle at Anfield in 1997. When those ‘greatest games’ list comes up for debate again in future, I’ll find it difficult if this one doesn’t find itself rightfully at the summit of this list.
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