IT was one of those moments when a stadium falls silent and the action seems to unfold in front of your eyes in slow motion.
An understrength Liverpool side had battled and fought in a game that always demands those qualities by the bucketload.
Manchester United v Liverpool is never a fixture that is a stroll for either side. Nor should it be, but this one had more of an edge; there was more at stake – it was extra special.
A resurgent Liverpool – flying this season under Jürgen Klopp – was desperate for three points to close the gap on Chelsea, stave off the challenge of Spurs and provide another answer to the continued questions about the sustainability of this title charge.
Manchester United and Jose Mourinho were desperate to prove that they are made for each; that they are the real deal – that they win games and aren’t worried about the magic happening at Anfield this season.
With 84 minutes on the clock a Liverpool side low on gas but still high on intent was defending against a Manchester United side that had long since switched to plan B, was going direct and arrowing balls onto the beacon-like bonce of Marouane Fellaini.
The tactic told when a deep-lying defence lost out to the elbow-swinging Belgian, the ball cannoned off the post, a chance fell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and you know the rest.
Three points were reduced to one, the Manchester United fans celebrated like a cup final had been won and Liverpool failed to reclaim second place in the league, the gap to Chelsea set at seven points.
Post-match, much focus has been trained on the officials. Was referee Michael Oliver too lenient when ruling on Wayne Rooney’s studs-up challenge on James Milner? Did he handle the Ander Herrera v Roberto Firmino spat correctly? And why didn’t assistant referee Mick McDonough flag Antonio Valencia offside in the build up to the goal?
Yet more questions have focused on Liverpool’s squad. Is it lacking in the necessary depth to continue to challenge for the title? Should Liverpool buy more players to supplement the players that have battled so manfully so far?
Some are fair points. The analysis asks why Liverpool couldn’t hang on. Why Manchester United were able to breach the Reds’ defence. So why then hasn’t the mainstream media given more prominence to why Liverpool’s standout defender wasn’t starting at Old Trafford?
Had Joel Matip lined up on Sunday would Liverpool have been so susceptible to the high ball? Would The Reds have been sitting so deep at the time the ball was delivered into the box towards Fellaini? Matip is taller than the Belgian. Liverpool’s defence performs more efficiently – and higher up the pitch — with him in the side. And the statistics show Matip, the free transfer from Schalke, wins the majority of his aerial duels.
If we are finger pointing as to why Liverpool could not claim a victory after holding three points in their hands for 57 minutes at Old Trafford, the unnecessary absence of a central defender who has proven himself to be one of the best in the Premier League this season is surely worth more prominence.
Matip hasn’t played for Cameroon since September 2015. Liverpool understand him to be retired from international football. It is explicitly clear he does not want to play for his country. Yet Liverpool say the same clarity is not being provided by FIFA and the Cameroonian FA seem in no mood to help the situation either.
And so arrive at the situation we have now. A grey area. Indecision. And Liverpool paying the price with nowhere to turn.
Football administrators at the very top of the world game are sitting on their hands and sticking their fingers in their ears while Matip twiddles his thumbs and watches Liverpool pay the price.
We’re paying the price, too. What if our best defender had played at Old Trafford? Why can’t he play against Plymouth Argyle, Southampton and Chelsea?
Why can’t FIFA clarify the situation? Why don’t the Premier League get involved? Has no one got a phone number for Cameroon?
It shouldn’t be too much to ask that with all the money washing around the sport that rules and situations can be clarified quickly and clearly and in a manner that isn’t leaving a club in the lurch.
Watching Klopp’s press conference today his frustration was clear. He first batted away the question – as it was the first one asked – before returning to field it later.
He is an expressive man, and the exasperation was written large on his stubbled face. “There are not a lot of times in my life when I have been in a situation like this, not even a similar situation,” he said.
“I don’t want to blame anybody but I think our supporters deserve to know about the process we are in.
“In this moment, we are sure we did nothing wrong. We are sure Joel Matip did nothing wrong. He didn’t play for Cameroon since 2015. Since he has been here he has not been a Cameroon national player.
“In this moment he is not in the squad of Cameroon, so he cannot play for them, but in this moment we have not a 100 per cent guarantee he could play for us. That is the situation.”
We now remain in the dark about what the next move is. Do Liverpool risk potential sanctions by playing Matip anyway for the FA Cup match at Plymouth Argyle?
Klopp added: “I would consider lining him up tomorrow but I don’t know if I can. From the sports side it would make sense — perfect game for him, but I am not sure if I can.”
Regarding contact with FIFA, he added: “FIFA told us that this Friday they will decide if they open a case on it or not.
“I accept rules in life but I think they should always be based on human sense. For me, not a lawyer or a legal person, it is pretty difficult.”
As much as possible, football should be about the players on the pitch and the fans in the stand. Yet again, those who care about the game most are left wondering quite why their club is being punished.
If Liverpool can take a stand on this, perhaps they should. Because as Klopp says, if sense prevails there can surely only be one winner. And it isn’t the people at FIFA seemingly counting zeds in Zurich.