Poignant. Mightily important. The crux of the season. 90 minutes which decides everything (or so it seemed). And I fancied the Reds. I fancied Rodgers’ men to blitz Pellegrini’s City to pieces.
This was Anfield at its best; vibrant and enrapturing. It was like a European game being played at daytime. The sun beamed its rays on the emerald green turf as the Anfield crowd bellowed out a hair-raising and spine-tingling rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The scene was set. The scene was serene. And what followed was a classic.
Pumped and gunning for proverbial blood, the Reds started like a house on fire. First to every ball. First to every second ball. Hard tackles greeted with rapturous acclaim. The cacophony of perpetual noise synthesised almost harmonically with the outbreak of songs and chants of old. Fans and players in perfect tandem.
Just moments in, Luis Suarez played a defence-splitting pass and found a precocious Raheem Sterling who calmly slotted the ball past a hapless Joe Hart in front of the Kop – cue pandemonium. The noise was magnificent. Boisterous and uplifting. No team, I thought to myself, can live with this. The crowd was on its feet, jeering every City touch and, in turn, roaring every Liverpool player on. Attack, attack, attack attack attack!
Soon enough the Redmen were two up. Steven Gerrard’s perfectly weighted corner was nodded home by Martin Skrtel who rose high and above Vincent Kompany and co. Just for a millisecond – as Gerrard’s ball floated in – there was a palpable silence. The 45,000 men, women and children inside Anfield held a collective breath. Then – as the ball struck the back of the net – uproar.
2-0 Liverpool in just under half-an-hour. Pinch-yourself. Then the half-time whistle. *Exhale*
That day – the 13th April 2014 – seemed almost sacred, the culmination of years of hopes and prayers. Liverpool were just four wins away from the title – a first for twenty-five years – if they could negotiate the next forty-five minutes.
The sense of poignancy was symbolised best by a plane flown over Anfield by a supporters group at half-time with a banner suspended from its rear which read: “DARE TO DREAM WILL TO WIN YNWA”.
Back underway and the game turned on its head. The likes of David Silva, James Milner (bought on shortly after the interval) and Samir Nasri got on the ball and started to impose themselves. Ten minutes after the restart, Milner and Silver combined to halve the deficit with the latter poking the ball past Simon Mignolet from close-range.
City were a side transformed. They poured forward at every opportunity and, soon enough, were level. Just after the hour mark, Silva’s cross deflected off defender Glen Johnson and the ball agonisingly squirmed its way past Mignolet. The pendulum swings – 2-2.
Then Sergio Aguero almost made an immediate impact after replacing Edin Dzeko on 68′ by finding Silva who was just inches away from giving City the lead. Liverpool suddenly looked leggy and bereft of ideas.
But these Reds were fighters. Kompany’s misjudgement on 78′ – a sliced clearance in his own six-yard box – was duly punished by a sumptuous first-time strike into the bottom left of Hart’s goal from Philippe Coutinho. A gleaming smile adorned the Brazillian’s visage as he wheeled away in celebration. His teammates – overjoyed and ecstatic – rushed over to embrace him and mark the match-winning goal. Bedlam.
Jordan Henderson saw red on 93′ for an erratic challenge – a moment which would cost Liverpool dear in the title run-in – but it did nothing to dampen the mood that day – a perfect day. It was a day which bought back memories of when Liverpool scrapped with the very best and beat the very best. It was a day when Anfield’s importance – with all its fiery verve – was once more made clear.
This was Liverpool’s game and Liverpool’s victory played the Liverpool way.