Prior to kick off in a game that could inevitably define Liverpool’s season, a large banner was unfurled and held aloft in the away section of Old Trafford. “Make us it dream” it read. It was more in hope than expectation, and those holding it were unbeknownst as to what was about to transpire in front of their eyes.
The players obliged. Make them dream they certainly did.
A brace of penalties for Steven Gerrard either side of half-time and a late third added by Luis Suarez sealed what was yet another memorable victory under Brendan Rodgers. Not only was one dream realised in that 90 minutes, but another was brutally crushed. An apathetic and obsequious United side hardly put up a fight and the three goals Liverpool put past them means they have scored three-or-more a staggering 17 times this season alone, and 28 times in Rodgers’ 67 league games in charge.
Come the 84th minute, with a Maximus Decimus Meridius’ “Are you not entertained?” like look about him, Martin Skrtel, stood with Luis Suarez betwixt his legs, gazed into the upper echelons of the South stand towards the raucous congregation of Liverpool fans. Meanwhilst Suarez, who had just confirmed the three points with an adept finish, lay underneath him pointing towards the United fans and grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Above them, the flailing limbs and waving of a comical ‘David Moyes is a football genius’ banner represented the changing of the guard. In that collective moment between the supporters and the players, as they obtained 3 points in the home turf of the reigning Premier League champions, that was when it came together. That, is when they truly began to believe.
Whilst Liverpool have filled innumerable column inches highlighting their impeccable performances over the course of the campaign, it is ones like this which demonstrate the determination and endeavour from their wonderful team spirit. Admittedly, though Manchester United are merely a shadow of their former selves, the fashion in which the intensity and momentum of the Liverpool midfield outwit Carrick and Fellaini again showed that they really should be taken seriously.
Even an out-of-position Raheem Sterling continued his World Cup squad worthy performances. At the the tip of a midfield diamond, Sterling was deployed as a play-maker and though he didn’t quite revel in what was unquestionably an unfamiliar role for the winger, his superlative tactical ability rendered him noticeably more effective than his Young Player of the Year adversary Adnan Januzaj.
The midfield, despite earning criticisms earlier this season, have turned the screw and have been representative of the work ethic Brendan Rodgers has sought to imprint into his side.
Jordan Henderson’s post-match interview, had he given one, would likely have been reminiscent of a certain Forrest Gump scene. Henderson just never seems to stop running, and Gump’s “I just felt like running” line would sum up the Mackem’s attitudes adequately. Inspired by a certain Scotsman who criticised his running gait, the industrious midfielder covered more ground than any other player on the pitch. Enduring a thankless task, the 23-year-old has become dearly endowed to the Anfield faithful, and rightly so. In fact, Liverpool fans have taken to Henderson just as the crowds take to Gump on his cross-country travels. Despite the fact he was once a much maligned scapegoat of a failing team, it is now recognised that his role in the system is absolutely essential and he has grown into it with an admirable maturity. His situation is eerily homogeneous of Lucas Leiva’s “zero to hero” story.
In fact, you couldn’t really credit the second successive 3-0 performance to one or two individuals, but rather the entire team. It wasn’t the most stellar Liverpool performance of the season, the confidence and composure that they showed paid dividends. Joe Allen’s tireless pressing was worthy of plaudits and Jon Flanagan’s passion and vigour was meritorious. They got the job done, what more can you ask? They felt so comfortable in fact that Iago Aspas made a rare late cameo.
Geographically, there are 35 miles between Old Trafford and Anfield, but on the pitch on Sunday, they were world’s apart. Moyes’ tactics were inept, if not stone age, and by the time he realised the need for change, it was too late. It was the 75th minute when Moyes made his first substitution, and the game was long out of reach by that time. The baffling decision to bring Rio Ferdinand on for Juan Mata with 5 minutes to go certainly prompted a few raised eyebrows and a fair bit of maniacal laughter in the South Stand.
On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers got it spot on again. As he thwarted Arsene Wenger and Roberto Martinez within a matter of days of each other, he once again outwitted another manager in Moyes (though you may argue it’s not too difficult to outsmart the footballing genius himself.).
The zestful dynamism of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson worked wonders against Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini, as it did against Ettiene Capoue, Moussa Dembele and Sandro earlier in the season. United managed just one shot on target, despite the illustrious quadruple of Juan Mata, Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj.
Rodgers may have been likened to David Brent with his philosophising and motivational quotes during Fox Soccer’s ‘Being: Liverpool’ but his tactical panache in the past 12 months has earned him well-deserved acclamation (albeit Liverpool’s official tweet equating him to Bill Shankly may be a tad premature.).
They just get better and better, in short. Though they weren’t quite firing on all cylinders, Liverpool were thoroughly dominant and seemed comfortable all game. The result only ever looked in doubt once, and even then Simon Mignolet and Martin Skrtel produced the goods to stop Wayne Rooney levelling the scores.
The win means the Reds have 12 out of 12 points from the last four games of Fulham away, Swansea at home and Southampton and Manchester United at home is wonderful, and represents a six point improvement on their tally from the corresponding results last season. The improvement means they are 17 points better off than they were after 29 games in 2012-13.
Steven Gerrard’s wry smile in the post-match conference says it all. The Reds are emitting confidence from every single sweat pore. With Brendan Rodgers’ tactical brilliance and the on-field sorcery from the likes of Sturridge, Suarez and Sterling, there is a belief that Liverpool really could go the full way.
Right now, it’s almost as if Liverpool and Manchester United are two trains passing each other. One seems like it’s on it’s way to glory and greatness, quite when it will get there nobody knows, and the other, whilst frequently threatening to fly off the rails, is on the way to a dystopian city of Hodgson-esque misery that the other train only recent escaped from.
Moyes’ United reign resembles Hodgson’s Anfield tenure more and more every day. The Scot is simply out of his depth and the mistake not to keep any of Ferguson’s back room staff may eventually prove vital. Many are losing patience, particularly after a transparent lack of heart and passion in their performance against their biggest rivals.
Liverpool’s situation is very dissimilar, but they can certainly relate. The club was stricken by previous owners’ Hicks and Gillett’s empty promises and endless debts and also the huge transfer fees and wages squandered at the hands of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. Nowadays however, at the hands of FSG and Rodgers, the club’s condition is considerably healthier.
Their season has drastically differentiated from the dismal demise the club suffered for four seasons. Liverpool now, are a completely different animal. Contrast to Rodgers’ comments that the Reds were only the chihuahua running besides the horses, they are very much in within a chance of claiming a 19th title.
In keeping with the zoological theme, Gerrard is currently like Bruce off of Finding Nemo. Similarly to Bruce’s natural instincts kick in after he sniffs Dory’s blood and turns into a fish-craving blood-lusting monster, Stevie can smell that he could actually win the league and he is determined to take the opportunity by the scruff of the neck. He can sense it. His team can do it. This could FINALLY be his year. He could finally rid himself of that “the best player never to win the league” tag-line. He could realistically procure that one elusive medal missing from his otherwise complete collection. It’s to his credit that it’s almost like he’s re-winded the clocks, and his form of late is comparable with his form under Rafa in the infamous 2008-09 season.
Simply, he’s a man on a mission. This is the greatest opportunity the captain will ever get. Fate has outstretched it’s hand towards the Liverpool captain, and it’s grasp is certainly within reach. Gerrard is the one clambering above Iago Aspas and the others attempting to reach it, and you can bet he’ll put blood, sweat and tears in trying to be the one lifting that trophy on the final day. It’s clear that he hasn’t forgotten the years of hurt and envy watching his rivals and England teammates lifting that famous trophy, instead of him.
Dubbed “James Bond” by Daniel Sturridge for his well-rounded abilities, since the turn of the year the skipper has flourished in his new holding role. He’s dictated games and inspired those around him. He may have aged, but he’s still the beating Scouse heart of this Liverpool team, and he will be until the day he hangs up his boots for the last time.
If the dominant performance didn’t already feel like enough of a 2008-09 flashback with Gerrard’s customary camera kiss, Nemanja Vidic added some footballing romanticism by getting his fourth red card against the Reds, a new Premier League record of the amount of dismissals against one opponent. It was the perfect day and it was the exemplary trademark of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side’s intentions.
They may not necessarily have played to their full, but the performance will go down long in the memory of Liverpool fans. After finishing 28 points ahead of Liverpool on the way to their 20th title last season, Moyes’ side sit a dismal 14 points behind the Merseysiders. Whether that rise and fall can be attributed to either Brendan Rodgers’ brilliance or David Moyes’ incompetence or even a mixture of both is debatable, either way it is bewildering.
All things considered, the Reds now sit nine (yes, NINE) points ahead of 5th placed Tottenham with a game in hand. Whilst things are never safe, in this position and in current form you’d be backing Liverpool to secure Champions League football. Eight wins and two draws from their last 10, means they are the form team. Five wins on the bounce means that only Bayern Munich are on a longer winning streak in Europe. Not only are Liverpool winning, but they’re winning with style. They’ve been the most exciting to watch for both good and the bad reasons this season, but they are certainly redolent of the Liverpool of old.
The greatest compliment paid to yesterday’s win, was Wayne Rooney’s acknowledgement that it was one of the worst days of his footballing career. It’s stunning to see how far Liverpool have come, with such a small amount of money spent under Rodgers. Though no-one expected it, we’re coming over the hill and sit just four points off 1st place with a game in hand.
All together now, “And now you’re gonna believe us, and now you’re gonna believe us..”