Neil Atkinson’s post-match review after Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2 in the Premier League at Anfield, in a clash between the two best teams…
LET’S celebrate our good fortune.
Clash of the titans, war of the worlds, two great heavy weights slugging it out. Pick your favourite cliche. This was all of them and more.
As we walk out of Anfield today the fella behind me says “you have watched the champions here today”. And that’s right. These are the best of the best and they are ours, fighting it out, grinding minute by grinding minute.
And there is this strange truth. If you offered Pep Guardiola this he would bite your hand off.
Play Liverpool 38 times a season. Winner wins the league.
Football makes no sense if you don’t test yourself against the best. Literally none. When Guardiola turns up in England, only one man builds a team to challenge his. By February 2020 Liverpool are P38 W36 D1 L1. Because we had to build to challenge this man’s vision and so we surpassed it. Jurgen Klopp and his players did that. They keep on keeping on and today is therefore its thing which matters so much.
Man City responded and today we got to see it for better or worse. It was mostly better. How they hurt us first half was the most hurt in our ground with us all in that I can remember in the league since City in April 2014. They flay us.
But I don’t know who is scoring. They always have one more but that one more is one fewer around the penalty box. We can’t get out. We are penned in. But the penning is happening because they have an extra sheepdog outside the area. All the time they have one more. Had Liverpool got away once they would have been in.
By Christ though I like them. I like them an awful lot. Not the mediocrity of their crowd. Not the sportswashing truth of their existence. As a gang of lads and a coach, I honestly like them. I want Liverpool to grind them into the dust but they play the game to play it. They aren’t cowards. They are alive.
Let’s be real. Foden and Sterling are in fine form. De Bruyne too, second half. They are such a massive threat moving ahead they make Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk look distracted at times. Bernardo Silva is a player of superlative description, defying Liverpool’s press and pronouncing forward on the pitch as if he is top of the tree. He’s remarkable Bernardo Silva. It’s such a showing and he will go under the radar yet again.
Add ours to the mix. Good god, Mo Salah. His goal is a work of genius. A magician on the pitch, passing to himself, passing beyond himself. He could well be the best player ever to play for Liverpool by the time he has finished. Think about that, I don’t say it lightly. He is our best pure attacker since John Barnes and he may be better. He could be a better footballer than Steven Gerrard. He had the biggest stage conceivable today and he delivered yet again.
Take comfort in this – he will keep delivering. Up hill and down dale, across 38 games he will keep delivering. He will end this season this league’s top scorer and if he does so by eight or by 10 then he may well prove definitive in a title challenge.
At Liverpool’s best they are formidable fighters, particularly upfront. Firmino and Sadio Mane give the whole thing shape and, despite the boa constrictor that is the Manchester City’s formation, they find the eyes in the needles nonetheless.
Manchester City have more midfielders on the pitch than Liverpool and it shows. It is surprising to me that Liverpool don’t go longer more often but City block lanes brilliantly. They are splendid both ways, splendid in and out of possession.
Liverpool strike because they have the attackers. Everyone chooses where they place Rafa Benitez’s blanket. We all compromise somewhere.
The goal that should win the game is cancelled out by a scruffy nonsense but these things happen. They happen in football up and down the country every weekend, at all levels. It’s one of the things that links the game — sometimes the ball hits someone and chaos ensues.
However, what doesn’t happen every week and what hasn’t happened often enough but what is mind boggling to conceive of is this: these are the two best teams on the planet. They have been for some time. And they face each other once a year in one of the most deprived wards on the planet, in a city that is, in global population terms, really rather small.
I’ve spent the week quietly buzzing off this. Overwhelmed by this. Delighted by this. This, right here, is our life, is our historical accident, is our good fortune. I feel like some bird of paradise. Your boy’s smile, five in the morning.
As ever, as always, as should always be the case after this sort of carry on, I am really in love.
Such a season ahead. There’s 31 hurdles. You and me together. This league isn’t going to win itself.
They will take some beating, but things I once thought unbelievable in my lifetime have all taken place.
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“Liverpool were the business second half. Mo Salah is the best footballer on the planet!”
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) October 3, 2021