I’D have taken it. Before a ball was kicked I would have taken it. Both the manner of it and the eventual result.
I’m not going to be mad about the fact that your Manchester United seemingly offered it. That is their business, not mine, and they will be expecting to feel the benefit of it come the end of the season. There’s no morality in how you approach a football match and remember what this game does to people who get on high horses — it contrives a way to knock you right off.
Instead, The Reds. And for the first time since Leicester, almost a month ago, I was genuinely impressed with Liverpool. Impressed with their patient tempo and their general common sense. These are rarely praised virtues for this side and yet they showed them today in spades.
There will be a rush to say this game reminded people of last season’s encounter between the two sides but it reminded me more of our game in May against Southampton, a game many people said we had to win but, like today, actually a game we couldn’t afford to lose.
Like that game Liverpool were clearly the better side against a side who had come to keep it tight and hope to break in patches but they didn’t get sucked into over committing and leaving the door open. Instead today, as then, they stayed responsible and didn’t get swept away in the occasion or with the emotion of the encounter.
They didn’t decide it was a cup final, didn’t create a mindset where they played like they simply must score at all costs. They didn’t make it win or bust in their own minds. That all of these virtues aren’t particularly exciting means they are easy to overlook, but we’ve got a supporter base who love talking about them when they aren’t there.
This game and performance today reminded of some Rafa Benitez games against United, but perhaps with Liverpool better able to create both chances and chances for chances — Roberto Firmino just overhitting the ball for Mo Salah to nod in an example of a chance of a chance.
Though United’s approach will always be effective to some degree, Liverpool actually spent a fair amount of time in United’s penalty area today, but at no stage did they react emotionally and overcommit when they failed to get their reward. They plugged away and ensured the following sentence was true: the only side likely to win the game was Liverpool.
And that is responsible football, if not pulsating football. Liverpool showed mostly strong game management. There was a minute in the second half when United had worked some momentum up, and Liverpool scrapped it out, won a throw and then took 30 seconds over it. Got their shape back. Took a breather. They didn’t rush into the attack.
All the talk I hear about this Liverpool side is that they can’t or won’t control a game, that they are irresponsible. We shouldn’t rush to criticise when they show control and responsibility. Inside all of us were a voice willing The Reds to throw the kitchen sink, on the pitch from the players, using the bench from the manager.
Loads of talk about Phil Coutinho dropping into midfield and sacrifice one of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can on 60 I bet, yet those three were doing what was asked in creating a platform for possible victory while offsetting potential defeat.
The back four all impressed, all showed they can concentrate on their task for 90 minutes. Manchester United got very little change out of any of them; Joe Gomez coming out on top against three different opponents across the course of the 90 minutes in his personal battle.
The question I suppose becomes one of how much you think this was a game Liverpool needed to win versus how much you think they needed to not lose. It’s here there is the greatest similarity for last season, for me.
Last season Manchester United came to Anfield and simply couldn’t afford to lose. A season was threatening to slip away. But they dug in and showed something. Got something. They went on to win a couple of trophies and spend six months unbeaten. That’s what we all think we need. To find a route back to the season’s target from this point and this game today was step one for that. Step two is Maribor. Step three is Tottenham.
We do need to look a little bit likelier in front of goal, do need to find a little edge there. But sometimes with this thing of ours, you have to shrug your shoulders, acknowledge you’d have taken it, remember there are 30 games to go and take being deserving of three points and acquiring one as a positive. Today is one of those days.
It’s not right, but it’s OK.