Situated on the broadcasting gantry within Anfield’s main stand, Oliver Miller offers his view on Liverpool’s Champions League match against Manchester City.
Liverpool showed it all. Both halves of football were different in style and approach but ended with the home side taking a strong grip of this Champions League quarter-final tie. The damage was done in the first half an hour but the advantage was maintained throughout the period of resolute defending that followed. The belief harboured at kickoff somehow developed into something else come the final-whistle.
It all started hours before. The streets were lined – five to six people deep in places. The team coaches were on their way. In keeping with Jurgen Klopp’s demand to be bold, flares were lit and banners unfurled. Songs sung at the top of people’s voices. It was a ‘welcome’ to put off even the most hardy of soles. But against the will of the club, the police officials and the majority of the fans, some took it too far and crossed the line.
Once the Liverpool coach had passed through the crowds into the serenity of the stadium, the fans followed. Soon enough, inside Anfield was just of lively as the streets that line the old ground. Correlation is not causation but it would be foolish to separate the atmosphere on Wednesday evening from the outcome. The best team in the country – and quite possibly Europe – were reduced to wrecks by their rampant hosts. Pep Guardiola strode to the edge of his technical area midway through the first half and gestured to his side to stay calm, which kind of summed it all up. Liverpool were two goals up and soon afterwards there was to be another.
The clinical attack that Liverpool exhibited in the first half was blistering and left City in a state of shock. The away side dominated the early exchanges but Liverpool took control with quick successive goals. In reality, Ederson had very little to do apart from pick the ball out of his net. His defence, in front of him, were left stunned, tangled up in a web of Liverpool pressure and presence. Was this down to the quality of Liverpool’s display? Of course, but something else was also at work within Anfield.
The connection between players and fans was there to see. There was a confidence and a belief that both shared. A bravery and a boldness. The manner in which Liverpool swept aside their opponents in the “15- or 20-minutes spell” that Guardiola later said cost his team the game was as clinical and precise as you are likely to see this season. City are simply not accustomed to teams coming up against them and not allowing them to play; their unfamiliarity was apparent.
City did all they could to stifle the noise, forcing Liverpool to play toward the Kop in the first half, rather than the second, and then spending the first few minutes in calm possession of the ball, hoping to quiet the crowd. None of it worked. Anfield crackled from start to finish. It roared and roared as Liverpool attacked, attacked and attacked some more. And then it offered encouragement and lifted the team when they stood tall in the second half to protect the clean sheet and deny City of a precious away goal. There were few urges from the supporters to push forward or to attack when Liverpool rocked back on its heels. They realised the quality that City had and valued the clean sheet just as much as the three goals.
Up front, City missed Sergio Aguero massively – his experience just as much as his presence. Gabriel Jesus did not offer either and, in fact, he looked raw. There was a nous that was absent which Aguero would have provided. Guardiola ‘had a plan’ and that involved starting Ilkay Gundogan rather than the in-form Raheem Sterling. It left City looking lopsided and unbalanced – the majority of their attacks came down the left. The reliance on Leroy Sane was particularly noticeable but despite the German seeing plenty of the ball, he also saw a lot of Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Liverpool right-back thrived in the cauldron of noise and put in some performance to stem the flow of attacks coming down his side in the second half.
It was an evening where everyone stood up to be countered. Picking a standout performer would be difficult – and harsh – as this was a collective effort, both on the pitch and in the stands. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal was immense – a strike that caught many people out, as they only realised that the ball had been struck when it had already bulged Ederson’s net. His goal was flanked by those of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane which really gave Liverpool some breathing space.
In the second half, the focus was more on the defence. Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were well protected by those in front of them, although the pressure was constant, it certainly wasn’t penetrating. Loris Karius had little to save. A City attempt on target never came.
One blow to Liverpool did though – Salah limped off injured with 30 minutes still to play. Will Salah recover in time for next week’s second leg will be one of the questions asked by Liverpool fans. There will be doubt over the next few days, what-ifs will rain down but so long as belief remains then so does the confidence. Momentum in these ties is huge and that is what Liverpool will be carrying into the return leg. Their position is a good one thanks to the part played by all. Liverpool really did show it all.