It’s not too often you emerge from a 4-1 mauling and feel immense pride, but last night was one.
Battered, bruised and bewildered at half-time, the only question in town was ‘how many’, a question that also hung in the air during those nerve-jangling opening ten minutes of the second half.
But this group are made of stern stuff.
Lily-livered they most certainly are not, and it was that steely resolve to battle and not veer from the chosen path that saw them emerge with more than just pride intact. The warm words of Gary Neville and Jurgen Klopp meant something, and will hopefully serve as a confidence booster for the 37 games that remain.
The big fear at half-time, of course, was the longer-term psychological impact of an absolute hiding, but we needn’t have worried because behind the stern stuff and the belief in the system, there’s a young team that learns quickly.
By the time the game had entered its final half-hour, the wide-eyed bewilderment of the opening 60 minutes had been replaced with focus and determination, and a growing sense that as nightmarish as it had felt early on, this was a stage to be embraced rather than feared. And that’s what they did.
And in 92 minutes, in the crash-course from hell, Messrs Aarons, Lewis, Cantwell and Godfrey probably learnt more than they did in the whole of last season. So too the other lads who were experiencing Premier League football for the first time.
The overriding wish before it all began was that City give a good account of themselves, show the Premier League some glimpses of the football they are capable of and are then able to look ahead to the Newcastle game with confidence.
In that regardless, as point-less as it ended, I’d say it was mission accomplished.
The size of the task was enormous and while we all secretly hoped for a miracle, the fact that Liverpool have not lost in the league at Anfield since May 2017 rather puts it in perspective. So too the fact that Barcelona were on the end of that famous 4-0 Champions League drubbing.
And while we’re on the subject, here’s a selection of the Reds’ home results from last season:
12/08/18: Liverpool 4 West Ham Utd 0
27/10/18: Liverpool 4 Cardiff City 1
16/12/18: Liverpool 3 Manchester Utd 1
26/12/18: Liverpool 4, Newcastle Utd 0
29/12/18: Liverpool 5, Arsenal 1
26/04/19: Liverpool 5, Huddersfield 0
Even ignoring the fact that two of those big wins were against teams now in the Championship, there’s plenty of comfort for City, with United and Arsenal both enduring similarly difficult experiences in the glare of Anfield.
It was mission impossible, even if none of us wanted to say the words.
But even from the debris of the first half, there were some heroes to emerge, not least Tim Krul who stood tall, made some fine saves and never stopped encouraging those around him. Any lingering niggles around who should start the season in goal should hopefully now be put to bed.
He was a colossus.
Todd Cantwell too shone brightly and showed confidence and technique that not only justified his head coach’s faith, but also suggested that the rarified air of the Premier League may well be to his liking.
And let’s not forget, as traumatic as it felt at the time, City were able to hurt and get in behind the European champions, several times, and if Teemu Pukki and Marco Stiepermann’s radar had been slightly more attuned there were goals to be had.
The problem, of course, came in the transition, when City lost possession in attacking positions, and there were some basic defensive issues that would be problematic whoever you’re playing. But it didn’t feel like anything was broken, just work to be done and plenty of room for improvement, as you would expect.
Liverpool’s foot did come off the gas after an hour – Jurgen Klopp ackno9wledged as much – but by then City had found their feet and cleared their heads. To attribute the fairly even final half-hour down to just the Reds taking their foot off ignores the City improvement, helped considerably by the calming presence of Mo Leitner.
That City found the composure to play some of the football that got them to Anfield in the first place was hugely encouraging and it really does whet the appetite for what’s to come. The Premier League has now seen glimpses of what we can do and what great players we have, it’s now a case of unleashing it on those outside the top six from whom we need points.
Encouraging too is that Pukki got off the mark and that his telepathy with Emi Buendia has been undiminished by the summer months; our little slice of Argentinian footballing heaven too showing enough to suggest a productive campaign is incoming.
So, not necessarily what we had hoped for, but it was what most of us expected.
What we didn’t necessarily expect is to feel this good about what’s to come but we’re here because we’ve earned the right, and there was enough on show last night to suggest we can hang around.