It always happens when Liverpool are in town. The great and the good and the not-so-good descend on the old place. Hell, they even bring with them their very own punditry team: Jamies Carragher and Redknapp and Danny Murphy to name but three.
It has a different feel to almost every other visit, not always of the good kind. And when Liverpool fans are cock-a-hoop before they even arrive, blimey…
Alas, on this occasion they had plenty to be cock-a-hoop about. Following officially the best club side in Europe, the world, the cosmos. has added an extra spring in their step.
They have a team that plays with such confidence and swagger, the players believe anything is possible. Confidence oozes from every pore. Virgil van Dijk’s post-match sample would have shown 10 per cent urine, 90 per cent hubris.
They’re good. Blo0dy good. And they know it. And they’re not frightened to shout about it.
All of which adds up to an outstanding effort from City to run them as close as they did. For once it didn’t feel appropriate to be gutted as what might have been a valuable point slipped away.
How could you be pi55ed after a herculean effort like that?
Those lovable Merseysiders may mock. “Going down, going down, going down…” they sang as if to showcase that world-famous Scouse wit, As ever, they’re probably right. But, to crack open another cliché, we really are going down fighting.
So much to be proud of.
I’ve been pilloried in the last week for suggesting there could have been more done from the very top to try and stave off relegation, but that’s certainly not something that can be said of the club from Stuart Webber downwards.
The mental strength shown by the players last night to resist wave after wave of Liverpool attack was phenomenal and there is not one ounce of defeatism or acceptance in their collective being. Every player gives their absolute all, more than their all, and they have been instilled with the belief that they are good enough and that they do belong.
What City weren’t able to do as often last night as they did in the win against Man City, was to get enough of a head-of-steam up to offer the defence a breather. Against Pep’s men, they were able to break the high press and get themselves in the opposition half regularly, making for a more rounded performance.
But, as my mate to my left described perfectly, this Liverpool team is 22 (now 25) points better than that Man City team – and it showed. More intensity, more desire, more solidity. more belief. While they may be less pleasing-on-the-eye than Etihad United, they are better.
In the first-half, City had a few fleeting moments of joy in the final third. In the second, as the Reds cranked the intensity up to an eleven, they were fewer but even in the face of a relentless onslaught, that defence, led by the indomitable Grant Hanley, held firm.
We have a fine history of plonking a large chunk of Scottish granite in the heart of our defence to good effect, Big Dunc and Malky being the two most obvious examples. Add Big Grant to that group.
Since his return to full fitness, he’s been outstanding and, unless I’m mistaken, that famed coaching that occurs on the fields of Colney has turned our new favourite son of Dumfries into a much better, more confident passer of the ball. No longer just ‘a stopper’, Hanley’s modus operandi now extends beyond putting his head and his foot in.
He cut a distraught figure on opening day in the seconds that followed his horrible miscue from Divock Origi’s cross but has grown in confidence and stature as the season has progressed. Unless I was mistaken (again), there was an occasion midway through the second-half when he edged Mo Salah in a foot race, roared on by the City Stand.
Tim Krul too has looked every part the Premier League player, in his case from almost minute one, and that double-save in the second-half from first Salah and then Keïta will hopefully not have been lost on the watching Ronald Koeman. No-one deserves to be representing his country at the Euros more than Krul.
At the other end, opportunities were understandably sparse but it still needed a fine first-half intervention from Alisson to deny a joint Pukki-Rupp cock-up, as they conspired to miss the type of opportunity that Firmino/Salah/Mane would have gobbled up with their eyes closed. There’s the difference in quality, right there.
And let’s not forget Alex Tettey’s fight-foot swish that lumped against the foot of Alisson’s post, nor the subtle nudge in Christoph Zimmermann’s back that enabled Mane to control, swivel and shoot like the goalscorer extraordinaire he is. What a finish that was.
VAR did its thing. Fair play I guess, although it did appear to be concluded with undue haste. But still, it would be churlish to suggest if the nudge has been done by Pukki in the back of van Dijk our friends at Stockley Park would have offered it more than a cursory glance.
Just as it would be churlish to think if Rupp or Pukki had found a way past Alisson in said first-half incident, the VAR lads would have probably deemed a drop of spittle still attached to Lukas Rupp’s lip to have been in an offside position as the ball left Kenny McLean’s boot.
But, hey, no complaints. The deities from Merseyside deserved the win. They’re a great team. One of the very best. So to have taken them all the way and to have induced a Chambo-style fist pump from Jordan Henderson was a mini-victory all of its own.
We’ll likely end this season 19 places and 70 points apart, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team.