On an emotional day on Merseyside, the Reds beat title rivals Manchester City 3-2 in a pulsating clash and must now be considered favourites to win the title
By Greg Stobart at Anfield
Liverpool stand on the brink of making history and the enormity of Sunday’s victory over Manchester City pulsated around every inch of Anfield at the final whistle. They have won 10 games in a row, just four more and they will become champions for the first time since 1990.
The significance of beating their title rivals was encapsulated as Steven Gerrard fought back tears at the final whistle. As the Reds captain addressed his team-mates in an emotional huddle, he implored them to reproduce this display against Norwich next week, the passion and belief caught perfectly by the television cameras.
Gerrard, at the age of 33, must have thought he had missed his opportunity to lift the Premier League trophy. Now just Norwich, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle stand in his way.
What a wonderful game and what a perfect result for Liverpool. It was more than just a statement that they mean business – we already knew that – Brendan Rodgers’ men are now favourites to win the title.
As early as two hours before kick-off, Liverpool supporters lined Anfield Road, a sea of red scarves and shirts singing great songs from the club’s past and laying tributes at the Hillsborough memorial.
Even the arrival of the home team bus was greeted with a roar that matched the noise you might hear for a goal at some Premier League grounds. The inescapable feeling before kick-off was that Liverpool wanted this more than City, more than anyone.
It was an emotional afternoon on Merseyside. The pre-match rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was hair-raising, the minute’s silence to commemorate the Hillsborough disaster a painful reminder that, after all, this is still just a game.
How appropriate it would be if Liverpool were to win the title on the year of the 25th anniversary of he tragedy that has affected this club so deeply.
Once the action got underway, Liverpool matched the intensity in the stands with their performance on the pitch. They were so hungry, so sharp, snapping into tackles and attacking with breathtaking speed and ambition.
If Liverpool finish the job, it will be one of the great stories of the Premier League era. A side that finished seventh in the Premier League last season have developed into a wonderful team playing in keeping with Liverpool’s richest and best traditions.
As Manchester City, the division’s other great entertainers, rolled into town, Liverpool produced a performance that rather summed up this fairytale season. Joyful, almost naive, attacking abandon, some ropey defending and a mindset that the Reds will simply outscore their opponents. It seems to work.
It took just six minutes for Raheem Sterling to open the scoring. The winger brilliantly kept his cool after being played in by Luis Suarez, shifting the ball on to his right foot and finishing emphatically past Joe Hart. The only word to describe the scenes in the Kop would be delirium.
The Reds turned the screw at could have been four up at half-time. As it was, they went in at the break with a two goal advantage thanks to Martin Skrtel’s glancing header from Philippe Coutinho’s well taken corner.
When City pegged them back to 2-2, it felt as though the visitors would be the team to find the winner – and they almost did when David Silva poked just wide of an empty net at full stretch.
But Liverpool showed the character of champions just when they needed it most. Coutinho pounced on Vincent Kompany’s sliced clearance to whip a wonderful low shot into the bottom corner.
The whole stadium went wild. Rodgers, so often the epitome of cool, could not resist a jig and a dance on the pitch, turning to owner John W Henry in the directors box with an enormous smile and a clenched fist. “We’re going to win the league,” rang around Anfield and it sounded like 400,000 – not 40,000 – were in this famous old ground.
“I thought we were incredible today,” said Rodgers. “We showed so much spirit, so much quality. We were outstanding in the first-half. It showed you the character in this group to come back.”
Rodgers will do his best this week to make sure his players stay calm and focused. He has already lost Jordan Henderson to a three-game ban for a nasty studs-up challenge on Samir Nasri in added time for which he was shown a straight red card.
Luis Suarez was also fortunate to escape a second booking for a blatant dive, while he was constantly in the ear of referee Mark Clattenburg. They need the Uruguayan to play every minute of the remainder of the campaign, particularly if the injury that forced off Daniel Sturridge proves more serious than first appeared.
But the players’ reactions at full-time show they believe. A year after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, they sense this is the time to get back on their perch.
And nobody here today could disagree.