By Sam Patterson (@sam0007ster)
It’s December 26th 2019. Boxing Day. High-flying Leicester City welcome table-topping Liverpool to the King Power.
And I’m nervous. Nervous because Leicester are a well-drilled and extremely good football team (that was – and still is – obvious); Brendan Rodgers’ men were mixing it with the big boys and beating them – Spurs and Arsenal included.
Nervous because Liverpool had just played six times in twenty-six days; the last, five days before – in Qatar.
Nervous because, well, I’m always a bit anxious before a big game – I live and breathe Liverpool (and if you’re reading this, I’d assume you probably know the feeling: ‘butterflies’ but mixed with unbridled trepidation about what may (or may not) happen, or better: what you fear could happen).
I assumed the Foxes – who up to this stage had not lost a game on their own patch in 19-20 – would come out all guns blazing. The likes of James Maddison, Jamie Vardy and Wilfred Ndidi – all high octane, quality operators – would pose serious questions to our defence – I thought. A dreary Liverpool side would struggle to contain them – I thought.
I thought wrong. So wrong. Wrong on all counts. And I’m so glad I was wrong.
As it turned out, the lucky Liverpool fans who made the trip would actually witness first-hand one of the most resounding away victories in Premier League history.
I, alas, was with family, slumped into the living-room sofa with a cold beverage in awe of a brilliant footballing machine. It was Christmas, after all.
But it’s only now I fully appreciate that this marked arguably the day Klopp’s Reds cemented themselves as one of the best – ever; certainly in my lifetime. Even the final score – Leicester 0-4 Liverpool – doesn’t do us justice.
These are the days we remember:
For me, it was a seminal 4-0 victory. Seminal not just because of the margin of victory or the context which surrounded it, but because of the way Liverpool won. It was a performance for the ages. A performance which, looking back today, made the prospect of a first league title in thirty years actuality.
Every man in red – from goalkeeper Alisson to the full-backs, from Naby Keita in midfield to Bobby upfront – was a 9+/10. The Foxes huffed and puffed but were flat out demolished.
And just remember, this was a Leicester team which from October to December had won eight on the bounce, including a 0-9 victory at St Mary’s, which makes it all the more remarkable.
Rodgers’ team, I must emphasise again, were, and are, no mugs. And they’ve proved it since as they remain on course to finish in the top four this season.
‘Complete performance’ is a cliche thrown about too often these days, but from start to finish the Reds dominated the ball, dictated the pace, and played with swagger, panache and a bullishness akin (and I say this through gritted teeth) to the Manchester United teams in the late nineties and early 2000s.
You see, this was as complete as complete gets. So complete, in fact, Leicester – the second-best team in the country at the time – failed to lay a glove on Liverpool and muster a shot on target.
The game itself:
What ensued was free-flowing exhibition football, the type of which we fans fleetingly dream up in our own little fantasy football world where just about anything goes. Liverpool’s impressive tempo that day, set right from the outset, was exactly that: dream-like. Liverpool here, Liverpool there, Liverpool everywhere.
The imperious Virgil led from the back, whilst right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold provided thrust going forward.
With just seconds on the clock, the latter unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the box which forced goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel into an early save. And just moments later Sadio Mane missed a gilt-edge opportunity after meeting a Mo Salah cross.
But the die was cast.
The Foxes retreated and thus soon found themselves camped in their own six-yard box. The Reds continued to push forward at will. No mercy. No complacency. This was domination. Utterly.
Even when the hosts did eventually get out of their own six-yard box – the eleventh minute was the first time – and win a corner, the Reds poached the ball back and broke with frenetic pace; Keita’s threaded eye-of-a-needle pass then found Salah who, from a tight angle, could only find the side netting.
Soon enough though Klopp’s men had their richly deserved lead. On 31′, Alexander-Arnold’s fizzed cross to the back post was met by Roberto Firmino who wheeled away in celebration having scored three in as many games.
Nobody, I thought to myself (with a self-congratulatory sneer), could live with this. This is laughably good; taking the mick good. Nothing I’d seen before was quite this good.
When I think about it now, nothing quite parallels it. I’d seen Liverpool smash Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield in 2009. I’d seen Liverpool romp to a 5-2 victory in a Champions League semi-final. And I’d heard all the stories of the imperious performances in the 1970s-80s – Liverpool 5-0 Nottingham Forest included – but I was just in awe of the here and now. Weren’t we all?
Every other minute there was another Liverpool corner, or another close-range free-kick, or yet another near miss. Wave after wave of Liverpool pressure synthesised inexorably with the hunger (and tactical nouse) to win back possession again, again and again.
It could have, plausibly, been 3-0, 4-0, perhaps even 5-0 before half-time, no complaints. In all seriousness, 1-0 flattered the Foxes. Had Mane had his shooting boots on, we may have been talking in double-figures; the Senegalese forward was again denied at point-blank range on 34′. Nevertheless, Liverpool had the lead and my goodness had they earned it.
Quite unbelievably, the pattern of the second 45 was much the same. (I suggest it was somewhat surprising because a traditional Premier League game ebbs and flows). This didn’t. This was not your every-day routine (i.e well-matched) encounter. The gulf was stark, and by the end of the 90, thirteen-points stark.
And the scoreline was about to reflect the foxes’ inferiority.
Leicester were pulled apart; toyed with by Liverpool’s wide men – Robbo and Trent – who switched play monotonously; left to right, right to left, left to right, right to left. And their midfield was run all over by a possessed Jordan Henderson who must have circumnavigated the pitch ten times over. So much so he departed towards the end having been kicked in the shin – the Leicester lads had evidently given up trying to track him!
Continuous Liverpool pressure was absorbed until 71′ when centre-half Çaglar Söyüncü handled in his own penalty area. The ever-reliable James Milner – who had just entered the fray in place of Salah – calmly slotted the ball past Schmeichel. 2-0.
If Rodgers’ men had the option of waving the white flag, the time was now. Klopp’s Liverpool smelt blood.
After some incisive interplay between Milner and Alexander-Arnold on 74′, Firmino was on hand to caress the ball into the upper netting, his second of the game and Liverpool’s third.
And the scoring didn’t stop there. With ten minutes to play, Alexander-Arnold, who’d had a hand in just about every Liverpool attack, hit a pinpoint strike to make it 4-0, crowning off a man of the match display.
Behold the to-be-champions:
The demolition job done on an immensely capable Leicester team will always stand out as one of, if not the, defining moment of the 19-20 title tilt (certainly in my mind). So when you see the Reds emerge at Goodison Park this Sunday, remind (or re-remind) yourselves of how we got here. And how these Reds are the best in the country, demonstratively and justifiably.
Don’t be underwhelmed by the lack of atmosphere, and/or the artificial crowd noise, or the sly jibes by rival supporters about the ins-and-outs of Project Restart. Enjoy – once again – arguably the best Liverpool team we have ever seen, live and in audio (literally, if you prefer the crowd noise switched off). You won’t fully appreciate it until it’s gone.
What follows 19-20 is, ideally, a period of domination. It’s a mouthwatering prospect but, at the moment, just that – a prospect, a possibility. Don’t let these amazing times pass you by.
Not so long ago, the chances of Jordan Henderson doing his little pigeon shuffle before lifting the Premier League trophy above his head in June/July seemed painfully slim. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to appreciate the good times and to bask in the glory of the great moments which got us here. Leicester away is a prime example.
Embrace it. We are the lucky ones. Two wins to go. Six points needed.