THE buildup to what promises to be a classic of its kind at Anfield has been slightly strange so far to these eyes.
Manchester City – despite carrying that name and coming from that place – don’t really generate any kind of raw emotion. They’re from what is traditionally a conurbation we like to outdo, yet there is no deep-seated rivalry or hatred there. Not yet.
Perhaps it’s that they’re still to truly shake the image of “old City” – of Paul Dickov legging around in play-off finals, scoring late equalisers, and hauling them out of the third tier of English football. That was 1999.
Perhaps it’s the mad things around the club that their older fans will remember calling “typical City”. You know, like wasting time against Liverpool on the last day of the season because they thought a draw was enough to stay up. It wasn’t. That was 1996.
Perhaps it’s their record against Liverpool. In the history of the two clubs, 88 games have been contested at Anfield – City have won only 14 of them, the last when Nicolas Anelka scored two goals in 2003, the time before in 1981. Twice in my lifetime.
Whatever it is, and however big this tie is, some kind of seething snide towards the club can’t be generated overnight. It’s not Everton or Manchester United. And we’re not yet at the situation where familiarity has bred contempt, as it did with the string of clashes with Chelsea.
That said, the odd Manchester media reports of an “illegal” meeting of the team buses by Liverpool fans, and City’s on-the-record dismay at the situation, has fuelled some ill feeling (and likely a bigger than usual attendance at said welcome).
“People say the fans make an extra player… at Anfield, they make an extra two.” ✊
Manchester City legend @OfficialSGoater on the Anfield atmosphere from today’s ‘Under The Lights’ show
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 3 April 2018
So too has the idea that any reference to Anfield’s atmosphere should be dismissed as dewy-eyed Kopite delusion, an Evertonian-esque wave away of something based in fact.
The grey assessment of pundits and columnists that simply say this City side will prove to be too strong over two games for Liverpool is one thing – the over obvious based on paper-based strength and quality – but to read proclamations from their players and their fans that the atmosphere in the first leg will count for nothing is quite another.
Just three months ago Pep Guardiola admitted his all-conquering side “were involved in the environment of Anfield, for many reasons,” as City lost 4-3 to Liverpool.
That day, the crowd was wonderfully partisan – our boys backed, their boys booed, everything appealed for. It raised Liverpool and in a 10-minute spell they blew City away.
Such an atmosphere may well improve Leroy Sane’s game, as he claims, but others could well crumble. Plenty have before. More, it raises OUR players, adding to the adrenaline, spurring them on – one more tackle, one more chase, another harry, another shuttle run; it prompts an extra level of graft.
It’s this that sticks in the craw most about some of the current comment about this match. Pat us on the head all you like, the famous nights are just that. And are for a reason. And it’s not something only regurgitated inside a red bubble.
Yes, in 2018, we as a collective of fans may still celebrate big nights in the dim and distant past – Inter Milan and St Etienne are weaved into Anfield folklore but belong to a different generation.
But we can also speak of nights of a much more modern age when bigging up our chances and beating chests ahead of tonight’s showdown.
Guardiola has not only witnessed it as a manager. He was part of the Barcelona side beaten by Liverpool at Anfield in the 2001 UEFA Cup semi – a result that saw bars run dry in the city centre immediately afterwards.
That wasn’t a Liverpool side of huge continental pedigree – it was The Reds’ first European final for 16 years. Yet there they were, edging past Barca over two legs, roared on by the fans at Anfield.
Throw in so many more happy memories under the lights in Europe – Olympiacos, Roma, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Manchester United – and there have been enough modern incarnations of the romantic ideal to justify giving it the big one in the buildup.
Anfield at times, like so many grounds up and down the country, can lack the partisan punch. But it won’t this time. It’s the one we’ve been waiting for.
Jürgen Klopp always, rightly, plays down historic happenings and points to the now. As manager of this side, these players, he is right to do so. It’s an attempt to concentrate on what counts with those he can influence.
But for us, the fans, we CAN lean on the past. We can point to it and say we know what we’re doing on a big European night because so many of us were there. And this is one of them. The muscle memory will kick in.
Flags and banners have been prepared. Afternoons off work have been booked. And with the first leg being at home we have a guaranteed chance to use the power of Anfield to our advantage. It could and should be the perfect backdrop for a side primed to throw punches at the big boys. We just have to pray some of them land.
Much of the buildup has focused on Manchester City as a threat; a danger, a side packed with quality managed by a boss from the top drawer. All true. But the tie isn’t a threat – it isn’t to be feared. It’s an opportunity; a chance for Liverpool to bloody the nose of a great side, to progress in a competition we love and to fly the flag over the continent with pride once more.
Two years ago some of Borussia Dortmund’s number sneered and snarked at the idea of Anfield offering up something special on a European night. They later returned to Germany knowing just why it is so often referenced and revered.
In Raphael Honigstein’s book, Klopp: Bring The Noise, Mats Hummels, BVB’s captain on the night, talks of how Dortmund were so shaken that “different parts of the team were playing different systems”.
Then manager Thomas Tuchel said: “I can’t explain it because there are no logical explanations. Emotions won the day.”
If we’re romantic, it’s because we’ve got reason to be. We’ve seen a passionate Anfield load our players with a primal advantage in the past, one that can make up for any perceived shortfall in talent. We believe it can happen again – and why wouldn’t we?
Old Manchester City is one devoid of European glory, a Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in 1970 aside. Old Liverpool has a glorious continental pedigree – one many of our fans played a part in.
We can again. We will again. It’s what we’re all in it for.
For more buildup to Liverpool’s Champions League quarter-final clash with Manchester City, and extensive reaction in the immediate aftermath, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player…
“We gave so many great nights to the supporters.” 💥@Carra23 on his European success at Liverpool and what we can expect from the current team in the season’s competition…
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 3 April 2018