Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 1 Manchester City 1 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…


NO excuses.

I looked at our likely lineup and theirs and all I thought of were the excuses.

But then I am not Liverpool. And then I remembered Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp, and remembered what has defined this campaign.

No excuses. No fucking excuses ever.

Would you have taken the draw? Of course I would. Before. At half time. Now. Everything to play for, everything in our hands. Arsenal still have to go to the Etihad. Nothing is determined. Nothing is done.

But it becomes Schrodinger’s draw. But.

But. But. But. The chances. Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, they have to be so proud of themselves and yet want so bad to have landed just one of the incredible chances they created. The penalty not given.

But. But. But. Jeremy Doku hits the post and I am right down the barrel of it and would have given organs for the gift reality gave us.

Everywhere magnificence and everywhere misses. The second half became a story of unlikely and overwhelming Liverpudlian dominance with underlying Mancunian threat.

Luis Diaz’s pace was too much for other humans and he just kept running at them. For all the arrogance and ferocity of Kyle Walker, he couldn’t stop it. He could catch Diaz, but he couldn’t defend him.

We could have won that impossible, ridiculous battle. Not should have — could have. No one deserves any blame or approbation for the draw. The physical task of the thing is so deeply impressive. But what is more impressive is that The Reds will walk away from Anfield tonight even more hungry, knowing that we could have won.

Their game plan works in the first 15. Who of Virgil van Dijk, Jarell Quansah, Joe Gomez or Conor Bradley is looking at their front four thinking, this will be fine? None of them. It was the overload on the overload. Foden is as fast and creative as Haaland is forceful.

They always have an outlet, a chance, an option, an angle. They must have looked at our defence and thought, this is makeshift. This is doable for them.

They come out strong and dominate possession. They win the toss and turn us round and the objective seems to be to upend Liverpool. To exploit the weakness injury has created by preying on players who are new to the hell of City’s forwards.

But then we work it out. Wataru Endo works it out. Alexis Mac Allister works it out. And then they prosper.

Mac Allister is a marvel. He becomes the planet the moon of the game orbits. He finds every bit of space and wins every battle. His decision to dwell over his penalty is needly as fuck, which is sound because I am needly as fuck. He is man of the match.

Their goal is against the run of play when it comes and is none of the forwards’ business. A chancey effort from John Stones flicked in while Kelleher is on the floor after a goal mouth tussle. And it does not tell a story of a Liverpool team working Manchester City out. For all their power and ferocity, we are quicker and more creative.

Conor Bradley is like Spiderman. Limbs everywhere, grabbing at balls and suddenly finding he can stick to players moving impossibly fast. His newness is beguiling. Waturo Endo becomes an absolute rock in midfield finding ways to switch the ball away from City.

We get to half time and Anfield is alive to the idea that we are going to lose this game. Sometimes you just feel it. We would take a draw. Who wouldn’t?

The second half, though. The second half. The big debate is the subs. Who and when. The pace of this ridiculous game of football demands a change and it’s the one action Klopp has under his control. His bench isn’t deep right now, but at least we have the possibility of Mo Salah.

But before we can get into all that, the reality of Manchester City’s game becomes clear. They are going to be more than physical. Foolish of them to risk a penalty, but they do and on the 50th minute Mac Allister is full of needle.

The subs happen and Liverpool open up. Andy Robertson has this incredible spatial awareness. NASA should use him to find new planets such is his instinctive understanding of the field around him. His experience is our fifth element, our guidance system.

And the forward play. Mo Salah. He criss-crosses the pitch without fear, but without fitness.

Virgil Van Dijk deserves an Oscar, an Emmy, and an Olympic Gold medal for his tackle against Haaland towards the end of the game to rob them of yet another chance. He is the best centre half anyone has ever witnessed play the game, which is useful as he is also determined to play centre forward.

Whole books could be written about this game. It’s a whole story just by itself.

At some point we will find out the true story of this Manchester City side. How – financially – they came to be, and what the conclusion is of the Premier League’s investigation into them. That is for another day, but it is the only cloud that hangs over what has been the greatest game we have been privileged to watch.

Because it has been a privilege. Over and over between these two managers it has been something that has taken football to another level. The quality of these games, the demands it places on the players, the fine line everyone has to walk.

We watch this sport, obsess over it, discuss it endlessly and this has been its best invocation. The best one. The very, very best one.

Today’s story is of a Liverpool side that — whatever the story behind the scenes – worked them out on the pitch. The reason I’d take the draw and not take the draw. The reason I am so proud of them today, but want the best for all of us in the long run. Why I would risk it all for any win today is being so impressed by them.

No excuses. No fucking excuses. Not now, not today, not injuries, not charges, not budgets or pitches, not the weather or the cold for the crowd. No excuses. No fucking excuses. We are in this together and we can have it all. Promise. The atmosphere is a torrent, a tornado and it is all organic. Needing more than wanting and wanting for all time.

In the second half, I no longer wanted the draw. I wanted to win.

Jürgen Klopp’s great gift is this. He always believes. He always thinks we can work out how to win. Today he showed — even in not winning — that the effort is worth it. He has showed us how to have dignity, always, in the effort of believing we can win. We love him for it. We will love him forever because of it.

We should be so very proud of them. Sometimes, you would take a draw. Sometimes there is dignity in not winning, but there is always dignity in never feeling sorry for yourself, for always making the best of where we are, for digging your mate out because you love him, for working together and needing and wanting and understanding.

No excuses is the only way home. Ten to go and we can define our way home.

No excuses. We can win this league, you know. The best sentence you can ever say, ever write.

We can win this league, you know. No excuses.


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